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29% Say God Punishes Nations for Sins of Citizens (PRRI/RNS 2011)

God Punishes Nations for Sins?


Only a minority of Americans believe that God punishes entire nations for the sins of some of its citizens. According to a 2011 PRRI poll, 13% completely agreed and 16% mostly agreed with the idea of God punishing nations. A whopping 40% completely disagreed. These numbers are interesting given the fact that God punishing entire nations for the sins of some is standard biblical fare and a part of orthodox Christian theology.

The Public Religion Research Institute and the Religion News Service conducted a survey on Americans' views about God in the wake of the 2011 earthquake and tsunami in Japan. When asked how much they agree or disagree with the statement "God sometimes punishes nations for the sins of some of its citizens," people responded:

  • Completely Agree: 13%
  • Mostly Agree: 16%
  • Mostly Disagree: 21%
  • Completely Disagree: 40%
  • Don't Know / Refused: 3%
  • Every time there is a disaster somewhere, conservative evangelical preachers appear in the media denouncing the victims by proclaiming that they aren't really innocent. Instead, they are being justly punished by God for the sins of neighbors. Others denounce those statements as heartless and cruel, the media moves on to new stories, and later the cycle repeats again.

    No progress is made and nothing is learned because no one seems to want to engage the essential theological issues. There are lots of biblical examples of God punishing entire nations and entire peoples. What's more, there is ample support throughout Christian theology for the idea that it's appropriate to punish a group for the sins of a few members and that God engages in exactly such "justice."

    The theology of those who believe that God punishes nations for the sins of some citizens may not be the most common and popular theology today, but it is a theology that is consistent with traditional and orthodox Christian beliefs over the centuries. You cannot engage the former without an honest engagement with the latter, but it doesn't seem as though many Christians today want to do that. Yet that "head in the sand" attitude is a good way to ensure that problems like this persist and fester.

    This survey was by the Public Religion Research Institute was done with phone interviews of 1,008 adults between March 17 and March 20, 2011. The margin of error is +/- 3%.

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