The majority of Protestants and evangelicals believe that good people and people of other religions can go to heaven, according to author David Campbell.
Campbell, who co-wrote American Grace, How Religion Divides and Unites Us, contends that surveys of 3,000 Americans, used to write the book, show that American people of faith, though devout, are very tolerant. So much so that most believers also believe that good people, despite their religious affiliation, can go to heaven.
Among the faiths, 83 percent of evangelical Protestants agreed that good people of other religions can go to heaven. Ninety percent of black Protestants also believe good people can go to heaven.
When prodded further, more than half – 54 percent – of evangelical Protestants said yes, people of religions other than Christianity can go to heaven. Sixty-two percent of black Protestants agreed with the statement.
Notably, the author mentioned that there may be some in the evangelical category that don't belong.
Campbell, an expert of religion, politics and public policy, explained at a Thursday discussion of his book that the numbers can be explained with the "Aunt Susan" theory. Aunt Susan, he said, is the nice family member who is well-loved and is an all around do-gooder.
"You know that if anyone is destined to go to heaven, it's Aunt Susan," described Campbell.
However, Aunt Susan is of another religion. Rather than condemn that person to a lost eternity, Campbell said, most American believers choose instead to believe that that person is heaven-bound.
He also shared that knowing an Aunt Susan opens believers up to other faiths.
"You become warmer not only to people of that group, but to people of other groups," Campbell contended.
Simply put, interlocking social networks allows believers to accept tenants of other faiths.
Richard Land, president of the Southern Baptist Convention's Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission, works with leaders of many faiths on issues such as stopping pornography, abortion and religious persecution.
"That doesn't mean that I'm going to abandon the New Testament teaching," he stated.
Those who do so to accommodate other beliefs "aren't very good evangelicals," in his view.
Land lamented that more evangelicals are being taught the doctrine of universalism. "It's emphasized from the pulpit; it's emphasized in the seminaries," he decried.
Universalism is the theological doctrine that all people will eventually be saved despite a relationship with Christ.
He said this is especially true of youths because the messages from the pulpit have changed.
"I think the doctrine 'In Christ alone' … was emphasized more 25 years ago than it is today so young [people] are hearing about it less," he revealed.
While Land said it is possible for Methodists, Baptists, Lutherans and even Catholics to follow the tenants of their faiths and have salvation in Jesus Christ, he stated that the same is not true for Buddhists, Muslims and Mormons.
"It is impossible to believe what Mormons believe and be a Christian. It is impossible to believe what Muslims believe and be a Christian," he said.
Likewise, he acknowledged that there may be unsaved believers among Methodists, Baptists, Lutherans and Catholics. Salvation, the biblical requirement for heaven, is an individual and personal choice, he told The Christian Post.
Land said he quotes the Bible's New Testament which states that there is one mediator between God and men and that Jesus is the way, the truth and the life to all those who ask about heaven. If missionary work and evangelism is to continue on into the future, other Protestants must do the same, he asserted.
"If the price of respecting your faith is to deny mine, then that price is too high," declared Land.
Campbell's discussion was held at the Pew Forum in Washington, D.C.