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2 Out Of 3 Churchgoers: It's Safe To Resume In-Person Worship


A new survey has some interesting findings on how the coronavirus pandemic has affected the way Americans think about going to church. The Pew Research Center says most Americans seem comfortable with restrictions placed on worship services. NPR's Tom Gjelten reports.

TOM GJELTEN, BYLINE: By a 4 to 1 margin, Americans in the Pew survey say houses of worship should have to follow the same rules on public gatherings that apply to other institutions in their local area - no special dispensation or exemptions. That holds across all religious denominations and for Republicans and Democrats alike - or generally alike. More Republicans than Democrats think churches should be given extra flexibility in reopening. But even so, two-thirds of Republicans don't think houses of worship deserve special treatment.

Another important finding concerns how church attendance patterns will be changed by this pandemic. Claire Gecewicz was the lead researcher on the Pew survey.

CLAIRE GECEWICZ: So about 8 in 10 U.S. adults say basically that their habits won't change after the outbreak. They say either that they intend to go to religious services in person at the same rate as they did before the outbreak or that they just didn't go to services before the outbreak, and they don't intend to go after.

GJELTEN: Of the other 20%, some say they'll be more inclined to attend church when the pandemic is over. A few say they'll be less likely. Another interesting finding - 2 out of 3 regular churchgoers say they think it's now safe to resume in-person worship, that they can do so without catching or spreading the coronavirus. Still, Gecewicz says there are some distinctions.

GECEWICZ: We do see some divisions on this question between racial and ethnic groups and also among religious groups.

GJELTEN: With respect to religious groups, Catholics and evangelical Protestants are more ready than other Christians to return to regular worship. Catholics are obligated under church teachings to attend Mass weekly. Evangelical Protestants may be generally less deferential to government authority.

GECEWICZ: We also see a similar breakdown among racial and ethnic groups. White worshippers are much more confident that it is safe to go to religious services right now than Black and Hispanic worshippers.

GJELTEN: That's logical. Blacks and Hispanics have been hit harder by COVID-19. They're more likely to be essential workers, so they have more exposure while on the job. Plus, many live in extended family households - no surprise they're less inclined to take any added risk at church.

Tom Gjelten, NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Tom Gjelten reports on religion, faith, and belief for NPR News, a beat that encompasses such areas as the changing religious landscape in America, the formation of personal identity, the role of religion in politics, and conflict arising from religious differences. His reporting draws on his many years covering national and international news from posts in Washington and around the world.