America’s Top Five Sins

We Christians don’t determine what is sin by taking a poll. Nevertheless we preachers are interested in what our listeners say is sin or isn’t sin.  It’s a feedback channel on the effectiveness of our preaching to the church…and to the world.  We evangelicals might think that the whole notion of sin has gone out the window and the America is going to hell in a hand basket. Yet at least one researcher has tested Americans view of sin and it might be helpful for us preachers to know what Americans say—both the evangelicals and the rest of America.

The #1 sin in America is Adultery. By that I don’t mean adultery is the most common sin—but that adultery is the most commonly agreed upon sin by most people, and not just by church folk.  87% of all Americans <[1]> believe in the concept of sin, with more listing adultery as any other sin—81% of them say adultery is sin.  100% of evangelicals believe adultery is sin and 82% of Catholics or other worshippers say adultery is sin.  In America when we call adultery sin we are mainstream—even among the unchurched.

The #2 sin in America is Racism.  Almost three quarters of Americans (74%) listed racism as sin—the second most commonly listed. More folk over 55 (75%) listed racism as sin than those under 35(69%) but still there is wide agreement that racism is sin. Southerners were slightly more inclined to say racism was sin than others. Evangelicals roundly condemned racism (96%) and even more listed racism as sin than abortion. In America we can preach forthrightly against racism in the church—calling it sin—and still be mainstream, even in the world.

The #3 sin in America is using Hard Drugs <[2]>.  56% of Americans consider using hard drug as sin. Older folk (68%) are more inclined than those under 35(60%) to condemn drugs, but still the vast majority of American consider drug use is sin. In America we can condemn hard drug use as sin and say nothing unpopular, even among unbelievers.

The #4 sin in America is “Not saying anything if a cashier gives you too much change back.” Just two percentage points less than using hard drugs(63%) of Americans believe if a cashier gives you extra change and you say nothing about it you have sinned. Actually, slightly more evangelicals listed this as sin (94%) than listed the sin of using hard drugs (91%). In America we can preach against this “little” sin and be totally mainstream—even among unbelievers.

The #5 sin in America is Having an Abortion. Really.  63% of all Americans think abortion is sin—not just a bad choice, or unwise, but a sin. As we would expect, 94% of evangelicals (74% of Catholics) believe having an abortion is sin. We are succeeding at convincing people that having an abortion is sin—both among those under 35 (56%) and those over 55 (53%).  In America we can preach about the personal sin of getting an abortion and not be outside the majority mainstream—even among unbelievers.

Sins #6-12 show Americans believe in sin. There are two more sins the majority of all Americans agree on: #6: homosexual activity and #7: not reporting income on a tax return. After these top seven sins which the majority agree on condemning, still a large number of Americans condemn sins #8-12 including pornography, gossip, swearing and premarital sex.


Americans list of sins #6-12

52%   Homosexual activity or sex  (#6)

52     Not reporting some income on your tax returns  (#7)

50     Reading or watching pornography (#8)

47     Gossip    (#9)

46     Swearing  (#10)

45     Sex before marriage   (#11)

44     Homosexual thoughts  (#12)


Evangelicals have a strong sense of sin. Though the survey was an opinion survey (it did not measure behavior) there is a strong sense of sin among evangelicals. Here is how evangelicals listed sins in order of most condemned tp ;esser agreement (and there are differences here from non-evangelicals:


Evangelicals order of sins

           100%    Adultery

98        Gossip

97        Swearing

96        Racism          

94        Not reporting some income on your tax return

94        Not saying anything if a cashier gives you too much change back             

94        Having an abortion

93        Reading or watching pornography

93        Homosexual activity or sex

92        Sex before marriage

91        Using “hard” drugs such as cocaine, heroine, meth, LSD, etc.   

90        Getting drunk

84        Sexual thoughts about someone you are not married to

80        Smoking marijuana

76        Homosexual thoughts

69        Not taking proper care of your body

66        Telling a “little white lie” to avoid hurting someone’s feelings

65        Gambling

48        Doing things as a consumer that harm the environment

47        Using tobacco

45        Watching an R-rated movie

43        Playing the lottery

42        Not giving 10% of your income to a church or charity

39        Being significantly overweight

33        Not attending church or religious worship services on a regular basis

28        Drinking any alcohol

18        Working on Sunday/the Sabbath

3          Spanking your child when he/she misbehaves

3          Dancing

1          Making a lot of money


The full study is located on the Ellison Research site<[3]> with even more data. But even if you don’t like reading research projects like this (I do) there is enough data above for you to make an insightful comment for others to think about and discuss intelligently.  Ponder the list then make a thoughtful observation for the rest of us on the comment page below. What do we learn from this list?


So what do you think?

During the first few weeks, click here to comment or read comments


Keith Drury   December 9, 2008


[1]  90% of women believe in the notion of “sin” with 85% of males agreeing. There is little difference between the under-35 year olds (83%) and Over 55 year olds(88%). Blacks (97%) accept the concept more than whites(88%) with Hispanics rating 80%. As for evangelical Christians 100% believe in the idea while Catholics rate 91%--and even among those who do not attend church at all 80% agree there is such a thing as sin. Politically conservative folk are more inclined to believe in sin (94%) than political moderates( 89%) or politically liberal (775) But the big news to those of us in the church is the vast majority of people believe there is such a thing as sin.

[2] The hard drug question listed it like this: <Using “hard” drugs such as cocaine, heroine, meth, LSD, etc.> 


[3] The study was conducted by Ellison Research, a marketing research company located in Phoenix, Arizona.  The sample of 1,007 adults is accurate to within ±3.1 percentage points at the 95 percent confidence level with a 50 percent response distribution so slight variance of a few percentage points cannot be taken too seriously.  Would it be interesting to survey your church (or our students) with a blank survey to see how they compare?  The study has some flaws (For instance I don’t see “divorce” on the list) but it still is an indicator worth considering. Even a flawed study still can trigger insight.