LifeWay Research has found that most Americans believe suicide is not a selfish act that sends one to hell. Instead, most are responding with compassion to victims of suicide and their families.
A new survey shows that most Americans, including large numbers of Christians, hold compassionate views about people who kill themselves.
But some Baptist ministers remember times, not all that distant, when that wasn’t the case.
Barry Howard, senior minister at First Baptist Church in Pensacola, Fla., is one of them. He remembers preaching funerals for suicide victims as recently as the early 1990s and being asked if the deceased was doomed to hell.
But Howard said he’s noticed a different trend emerging since those days: “I don’t get asked that question anymore.”
Data newly published by LifeWay Research may explain why Howard and other ministers are hearing less anxiety around the theology of suicide.
The poll found that most Americans believe their country is experiencing a suicide epidemic. And LifeWay researchers found that most do not believe suicide to be a selfish act and they don’t believe it’s an automatic ticket to hell.
For evangelicals with years of ministry experience, the LifeWay research has evoked childhood and young adult memories of how pastors and congregations dealt with suicide. It has also given them and others a glimpse of how far some Americans have come on what used to be a dark and ugly secret in homes and congregations.
A revealing survey
“Americans are responding with compassion to a tragedy that touches many families,” Scott McConnell, LifeWay Research vice president, said in a LifeWay article about the survey. “For example, as researchers learn more about the effects of mental illness, people may be more likely to react to suicide with mercy.”
The phone survey of 1,000 Americans found that 56 percent believe suicide has become an epidemic in the United States. More than a third of those surveyed said they had a friend or relative die by suicide.
It also found that a slight majority — 55 percent — say suicide is not a selfish act. Another 36 percent believe it is selfish and 9 percent said they are not sure.
One of the greatest disparities came on a theological question about suicide: 62 percent disagree with the belief that people who kill themselves go to hell as a result. That’s compared to 23 percent who do believe that and 16 percent who are unsure, LifeWay found.
On this question, researchers discovered significant differences based on race.
African Americans are more likely to see suicide as selfish (44 percent) and to lead to hell (38 percent), the survey found. Only 19 percent of whites and 25 percent of Hispanics hold that view.
In general, 27 percent of Christians believe hell is the punishment for suicide. The number is 32 percent among evangelicals, the survey found.
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SOURCE: Baptist News Global