Amid COVID-19, Hispanic Americans Turn to Their Faith Communities
The pandemic has disproportionally impacted the Hispanic community in the U.S.; however, this resilient group of people is finding support in their faith communities
American Bible Society today honors the start of National Hispanic Heritage Month in the United States and shares new insights on how Hispanic Americans have found support in their faith communities amid a global pandemic that has impacted them in disproportionally severe ways.
In a June 2020 general population survey by American Bible Society, researchers found that those identifying as Hispanic were the most likely of any group to report they had personally been infected with COVID-19 (12%), most likely to have been hospitalized due to COVID-19 (11%), and the most likely to have had a close family member infected with COVID-19 (17%). Over one-third (35%) knew someone who died due to COVID-19.
These survey data are corroborated by the CDC, which also reported that the novel coronavirus was disproportionately sickening Hispanic communities. In New Jersey, 19% of the population is Hispanic, but this group makes up 30% of the state’s COVID-19 cases. Similarities are seen in Utah (14% of total population representing 38% of cases) and Washington (13% of total population compared to 34% of cases). Additionally, according to the same report, 26% of COVID-19 deaths as of May were among Hispanic people, who make up 18% of the U.S. population. In Pennsylvania, where American Bible Society is headquartered, 7.6% of the population identifies as Hispanic, but accounted for 11% of COVID-19 deaths.
“One doesn’t have to look far to see the insidious impact of systemic health and social inequities that have placed the Hispanic community at increased risk for COVID-19,” notes the Rev. Enid M. Almanzar, Director of Global Access Partnerships at American Bible Society. “These are not just data points, they’re our friends, families and neighbors, and we stand with them in solidarity during this crisis.”
Amid growing concern regarding higher rates of infection and even death, American Bible Society’s recent State of the Bible survey found that the Hispanic community is one of the most likely demographic groups to say they have found support through their faith community during these challenging times. Three out of five (59%) Hispanic respondents said that their faith community has been a source of support to them.
“This trend is particularly impressive,” commented Dr. John Farquhar Plake, Director of Ministry Intelligence at American Bible Society. “Hispanic Christians are finding support through their faith communities, even though their church services and other gatherings have been disrupted by social distancing and challenges engaging with technology. People are really going out of their way to personally care for one another.”
While 77% of Hispanic respondents listed “Christian” as their religion, only 20% are “practicing Christians.” Practicing Christians were defined as those respondents who self-identified as Christian and had attended at least one church service in the past month. In fact, the nature of digital church may have had a particularly profound impact on Hispanic communities: 27% said they had not participated in a church service at least since March 2020, including any virtual or socially distant gatherings, which is two times higher than the general population who reported no attendance.
“The Hispanic culture is highly relational,” added Rev. Almanzar. “Therefore, it should not surprise us to see lower levels of Hispanic engagement in virtual church services since the digital adaptations. While important to implement, these cannot possibly replace the intimate connection and support that comes from in-person gatherings. For Hispanic individuals, the church and community are so synonymous that we cannot separate one from the other!”
However, on ABS’ Scripture Engagement Scale, which through a series of assessments places survey respondents in one of five categories of Scripture engagement (Bible Disengaged, Bible Neutral, Bible Friendly, Bible Engaged and Bible Centered), Hispanic respondents were slightly less likely to be Bible Disengaged than the general population. Still, despite more than 80% of Hispanic households owning a Bible and more then 90% reporting that they have access to a Bible they can read and understand, the Hispanic community is curious to learn more about Jesus and the Bible. Three-quarters (73%) said they’d like to know more about Jesus, and again, 73% said they are curious about what the Bible says.
Overall, 72% of Hispanic Americans say that their religious faith is important to them. But the Hispanic community is split on whether the pandemic has strengthened their faith (49% disagree, 51% agree).
“What we’re seeing here is an opportunity for the Church to engage with the Hispanic communities in their area on a spiritual formation level. The data show us that the Hispanic community not only prioritizes religious faith, but also has found support from their faith community amid the pandemic. What’s still needed is discipleship from the church that fosters biblical engagement,” continued Plake. “Churches should also keep in mind that a high percentage of the Hispanic community is young, in the Millennial or Gen Z generations, and engagement will need to be customized to meet those unique needs. Many may likely seek mentorship and discipleship from their places of worship.”
For over 200 years, American Bible Society has served the Hispanic community with culturally and linguistically relevant resources for the entire family. Today, this legacy continues in partnership with thousands of Hispanic leaders as they deepen Bible engagement in cities around the nation. To access free or low-cost Spanish resources during Hispanic Heritage Month, visit Biblias.com.
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