by Lisa Cannon Green
In a nation founded on religious liberty, most Americans believe God has a special relationship with the United States, and they’re optimistic the best is yet to come.
Despite headlines lamenting the global decline of the United States since the Cold War, 54 percent of Americans believe the nation is on the upswing, according to a September survey by Lifeway Research. Only 4 in 10 think “America’s best days are behind us.”
And though the U.S. Constitution makes no mention of God, 53 percent of Americans say they believe God and the nation have a special relationship, a concept stretching back to Pilgrim days. Even a third of atheists, agnostics, and those with no religious preference believe America has a special relationship with God.
“‘God Bless America’ is more than a song or a prayer for many Americans,” said Ed Stetzer, executive director of Lifeway Research. “It is a belief that God has blessed America beyond what is typical for nations throughout history. I am sure that would spawn many theological conversations, but it’s important to note most Americans think God has a special relationship with their country.”
Both ends of the political spectrum—from President Obama to the Republican Party platform—have touted American exceptionalism, the belief that the United States plays a unique role in human history. For some, the concept includes the idea of a special relationship with God, although beliefs about the nature of the relationship vary.
“Some Christians view America as an archetype of biblical Israel, chosen and uniquely blessed by God,” Stetzer said. “That’s why Christians sometimes speak of God ‘healing our land,’ when most theologians say this American ‘land’ is not in the same category as the ‘land’ of biblical Israel.”
Americans have emphatic opinions on the matter, with 35 percent strongly agreeing God has a special relationship with the United States and 25 percent strongly disagreeing. Smaller segments say they somewhat agree (19 percent) or somewhat disagree (13 percent).
Americans also have a firm belief in the nation’s bright future. In recent years the nation has faced an economic downturn and reports of dwindling political power, academic skills, and moral fiber. Nevertheless, 35 percent strongly disagree with the statement “America’s best days are behind us,” and 20 percent somewhat disagree. In contrast, just 21 percent strongly agree and 19 percent somewhat agree.
Education increases optimism. Only one-quarter of those with a graduate degree believe America’s best days are gone, compared to 38 of those with some college and 46 percent of those with a high school degree or less.
Protestants are more pessimistic, with 43 percent believing America is past its prime, compared to 34 percent of Catholics.
Women are more likely to believe God has a special relationship with the U.S.—58 percent to 49 percent of men.
Americans over 45 are more likely to believe in the special relationship. Nearly two-thirds (63 percent) of those 45-54 years old feel that way, compared to 48 percent of those 18-44.
African-Americans are more likely as well—62 percent compared to 51 percent of whites.
Living in the South also increases the odds someone will believe God has a special relationship with America. Almost 6-in-10 (59 percent) of Southerners agree, compared to 50 percent of Westerners and 49 percent of Midwesterners.
Additional education makes one less likely to accept a special relationship. A clear majority (66 percent) of those with a high school degree or less agree. That drops to 40 percent of those with a bachelor’s degree and 29 percent of those with a graduate degree.
Evangelical Christians are the most likely to believe in a special relationship, with 67 percent agreeing. Evangelicals 45 and older are even more likely to agree—71 percent to 60 percent of those 18-44.
For more information about this study, visit LifewayResearch.com.
LISA CANNON GREEN (@lisaccgreen) is senior writer for Facts & Trends magazine.