Religious trends in Ulster

Below is the heading and an article in today’s ‘Belfast Telegraph’ by Mr Sam McBride. It was sent to me by a kind friend and I am sending it to you at the risk of burdening you with yet another email, for I believe it reveals the spiritual wilderness our Province has become.

Amongst the causes of this dreadful spiritual decline from what Ulster used to be is the failure of many of God’s ministers to speak out and protest against the defiance of God that is seen clearly amongst the ranks of those who profess allegiance to God or at least once did.

That silence has aided the decline very greatly and has encouraged the enemy and has given the impression that consent is being granted to the ongoing departure from God.

“In the day that thou stoodest on the other side, in the day that the strangers carried away captive his forces, and foreigners entered into his gates, and cast lots upon Jerusalem, even thou wast as one of them,” Obadiah 1:11.

It is an analysis of a recent poll on religion in Northern Ireland. What it says is that’Northern Ireland, long long distinguished from the religious trends in the rest of the UK and the world in general, has just about caught up with the departure from God and the rejection of His Word that is the norm in other lands!

This tragic development has been going on for years. It can particularly be traced back to when the three main churches here, the Presbyterian Church in Ireland, the Church of Ireland and the Methodist Church in Ireland, became founding members of  the World Council of Churches back in 1948.

That organisation became the channel by which every unclean and blasphemous doctrine was streamed in to Ulster via the modernistic and  ecumenical pro-Roman Catholic ministers, who increasingly have taken over the three denominations.

Today, these denominations, to varying degrees, sanction every perversion of the devil, or at least fail to denounce and oppose them as God would have done! The apostasy is not stagnant, though it gives off the stench one associates with that which is, but is ever moving downward and carrying the blinded populace with it.

It is clear that the old words and terms by which religious matters were looked upon in the past, have been twisted, misconstrued and given a false meaning!

To link ‘evangelical’ with ‘Roman Catholicism’ is like attempting to mingle oil and water!

The comment by Paddy Monaghan of The Evangelical Catholic Initiative, is significant. “Many Catholic respondents may understand the word evangelical to mean that they have come into a personal relationship with Jesus.”

What that means is that the Roman Catholic who claims to be an ‘evangelical’ is but a Roman Catholic who has reaffirmed his/her allegiance to the idolatry of Romanism and is now more fervent in that darkness than ever!

That is the sum and substance of the findings of this poll which the ‘Belfast Telegraph’ reports upon today!

Sincerely in Christ’s name,

Ivan Foster

Dramatic rise in NI Catholics identifying as evangelical — but growing number of people never read Bible or pray

Evangelical Christianity — which emphasises the centrality of the Bible, personal conversion, and proselytising — has long been identified with Protestantism

For years the term ‘evangelical’ has been associated with right-wing republicans in the US and the DUP in Northern Ireland, but far more Northern Irish Catholics than previously thought identify with the Christian term, according to new research.

Some of the most detailed new polling into religious practice in Northern Ireland for two decades has found that 38% of practising Catholics in Northern Ireland describe themselves as evangelical — not far behind the 46% of practising Protestants who self-describe as evangelical.

That represents a significant increase in evangelical beliefs among those who adhere strongly to their faith.

In 2004, the Northern Ireland Life and Times survey found that just 14% of the population identified that way; this data suggests it is about 21% of the population, even though religious observance as a whole has declined significantly.

Young people are far more likely to identify as evangelical — 70% of 18- to- 24-year-old practising Christians associate themselves with the term, in contrast to just 46% of over-65s. It is also more associated with men than women.

Evangelical Christianity — which emphasises the centrality of the Bible, personal conversion, and proselytising — has long been identified with Protestantism.

The 2004 research found Protestants were three and a half times more likely than Catholics to say they were evangelical.

Indeed, the Evangelical Alliance (EA), which commissioned the research, is overwhelmingly a Protestant organisation. A search of its member database for Catholic churches returned no results, although it emphasises that it has individual Catholic members and works on a cross-community basis to promote understanding and reconciliation.

The research involved two separate components: a poll of more than 1,000 people by Savanta, and EA research of individuals who were likely to hear of the project because they have some link to it.

Just 0.9% of the responses to that self-selecting survey came from Catholics, emphasising the surprising fact that the polling of the general population found such high numbers of Catholics identifying as evangelical.

The census gives an exceptionally accurate account of the population’s religious beliefs, but not the strength of those beliefs.

The 2021 census showed that 42% of people said they were Catholic, 37% said they were Protestant, just over 1% adhere to another religion, 17% had no religion, and fewer than 2% declined to say.

The new polling, however, shows that 23% of people in NI say they go to church once a week. That’s a massive drop from research in 1993 which found that 68% of people said they were “frequent” or “regular” in church attendance.

The new research found that just over 12% of people read the Bible once a week, while almost 35% pray once a week.

Half of the population never reads the Bible, 31% never pray and 25% never go to church.

The data shows Protestants to be more secular than Catholics: Protestants are more likely than Catholics to never go to church (26% to 15%), more likely to never pray (32% to 20%) and less likely to say they are a practising Christian (46% to 62%).

In the general population, some 21 % of people said they had never even heard of the term evangelical before, with a stark demographic split. Only 7% of over-65s said they hadn’t heard the word ‘evangelical’, compared to half of 18- to 24-year-olds.

In the poll, respondents frequently described evangelicals they hear in the media as being “extreme” or “loud”, but said that the evangelicals they know personally are “friendly”, “kind” and “honest”.

The polling shows that 31% of the population believe churches should be compelled to undertake same-sex marriages.

It also shows more Catholics (64%) than Protestants (47%) are welcoming of asylum seekers, refugees and other newcomers.

In EA’s survey of evangelicals — which, unlike the poll, was self-selecting — evangelicals were far more religiously committed than Christians in general, with 95% attending church weekly.

It found that evangelicals are broadly similar to the general population in their political views on climate change, economics, refugees, peace and reconciliation and reform of Stormont, but they differ from the rest of the population on issues such as abortion and gay marriage.

The survey found that evangelicals are almost twice as likely as the general population to volunteer in their community.

But it also hinted at challenges for the ideology. One of those who said they used to identify as an ‘evangelical Christian’ no longer does so, she said, because of “what’s happened in the USA” where “evangelicals there no longer seem to believe what I believe in and are Trump worshippers”.

Large-scale polling by the Pew Research Centre in the US has shown that 85% of white evangelicals who attend church regularly voted for Trump in 2020 — even after four years in which they’d seen behaviour which is the antithesis of Christian.

In a report on the research, EA identified three types of evangelicals — something which suggests the word can mean very different things to different people.

Within ‘broad-church evangelicals’, which encompasses everyone who uses the term, it specified ‘classic evangelicals’, who are mostly Protestant and for whom worship, prayer and the Bible are central, and ‘Catholic evangelicals’, who associate with the ‘new evangelisation’ of Pope Francis and the broader opening up of the Catholic Church since Vatican II.

Paddy Monaghan of The Evangelical Catholic Initiative said: “Many Catholic respondents may understand the word evangelical to mean that they have come into a personal relationship with Jesus.”

David Smyth, who is head of Evangelical Alliance in Northern Ireland, said: “We always suspected that the Christian faith continued to play an important role in life here and this research confirms high levels of religious identification and practice. The findings in this report have challenged, surprised and encouraged us.

“Evangelicals show up at church, but also in their local communities, and care deeply about wider society. Evangelical Christians are just like our neighbours in many respects, but are understandably distinctive in many ways too.”

Dr Gladys Ganiel, a professor in the sociology of religion at Queen’s University Belfast, said she was “surprised that these surveys found such high rates of religious practice, as well as a much more widespread willingness to identify with evangelicalism, than I would have anticipated”.

She said the data is the first in almost two decades to provide such detail on religious belief in NI.