NASHVILLE, Tenn. – With last Friday’s release of the Manhattan Declaration – a 4,700-word statement from evangelical, Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox signers declaring their commitment to the sanctity of human life, biblical marriage and religious liberty – newly released data from LifeWay Research describe the beliefs of Protestant pastors on these issues, and how often they discuss them in church.
In a telephone survey of 1,002 senior church leaders conducted in October 2008, Protestant pastors who identified themselves as politically conservative or very conservative are more likely to speak to their churches on homosexuality and the unborn than their liberal counterparts, according to Ed Stetzer, director of LifeWay Research.
Eighty-nine percent of very conservative Protestant pastors said they speak to their churches at least once a year on the unborn, and 79 percent indicated they address the topic of homosexuality about once a year or more often. This compares with 25 percent of liberal or very liberal pastors who address the issue of the unborn at least annually, and 53 percent who speak on the topic of homosexuality.
"When you use the language ‘the unborn’ in your question, it impacts your answer," said Stetzer. "Sixty-five percent of all Protestant pastors, regardless of political ideology, talk about the unborn at least once a year. When you filter out the number who would be pro-choice but perhaps would not use that language, 80 percent are speaking on it at least once a year."
Most Protestant pastors whose political ideology is conservative do not believe gay marriage should be legal, but almost half of liberal pastors do. Ninety-nine percent of very conservatives surveyed strongly disagree with the statement, "I believe gay marriage should be legal," compared with 16 percent of pastors who are liberal or very liberal.
"It appears that Protestant pastors are much more vocal about the unborn than about the issue of homosexuality," said Stetzer. "It is interesting to note that in many cases their fervency of belief does not line up with their frequency of comments. For example, 42 percent of all Protestant pastors rarely or never speak on the subject."
On the issue of the unborn, 98 percent of very conservative pastors describe themselves as pro-life, compared with 14 percent of pastors who are liberal or very liberal.
When forced to choose, three-fourths of all Protestant pastors surveyed said they are pro-life, and 13 percent said they are pro-choice.
Stetzer noted, "Although the self-identified liberal clergy indicate different views, the vast majority of Protestant pastors consider themselves pro-life."
More than politics
Among pastors who speak to their congregations on homosexuality several times a year or more, 84 percent also speak on poverty that often. This is significantly higher than among pastors who rarely or never speak on homosexuality, of whom 78 percent speak on poverty several times a year or more.
Likewise, among pastors who speak to their church on the unborn several times a year or more, 85 percent also speak on poverty that often.
"Many will debate which is the driving force: the political beliefs or religious beliefs of these pastors," Stetzer said. "The fact is that most pastors who speak up on the unborn and homosexuality also speak up on poverty and consider Scripture their authority."
Among pastors who strongly disagree that gay marriage should be legal, 98 percent strongly agree with the statement "Our church considers Scripture to be the authority for our church and our lives." In contrast, among pastors who do not strongly disagree that gay marriage should be legal, 71 percent strongly agree that Scripture is their authority.
Similar differences occur between pro-life and pro-choice pastors. Ninety-seven percent of pro-life pastors, compared to 65 percent of pro-choice pastors, strongly agree with the above statement regarding Scriptural authority. Also, 97 percent of pastors who speak to their church on the unborn several times a year or more strongly agree Scripture is their authority.
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