Survey: Southern Baptists Differ Starkly with Public on Key Issues

Southern Baptist pastors are still very conservative especially when compared to the average Americans on politics and issues such as global warming and stem cell research.

A new study by LifeWay Research showed 80 percent of pastors from the Southern Baptist Convention – the largest Protestant denomination in the country – plan to vote for Republican nominee-in-waiting John McCain despite suspicion from the Christian right of his conservative stances.

"While many have spoken of the weakening of evangelical support of some conservative causes and candidates, that does not seem to be reflected in the voting plans of SBC pastors," said Ed Stetzer, director of LifeWay Research.

Only 1 percent of SBC pastors said they would vote for Barack Obama, who is poised to win the Democratic nomination, and none plan to vote for Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton.

Fifteen percent of the pastors are still undecided about their vote for the next U.S. president and 4 percent said they plan to vote for a candidate other than the three major contenders.

Global Warming

Global warming has grabbed more media spotlight as evangelicals have increasingly hopped on board to voice concerns for the environment. But Southern Baptist leaders have been less enthusiastic about adding their voice to campaign for "creation care," as supporters call it.

According to the latest LifeWay survey, 86 percent of SBC pastors believe the "media has overstated the threat of global warming." Only 6 percent disagreed with the statement and 8 percent said they were not sure.

While 51 percent of all Americans strongly agree that the earth is warming and that humans are contributing to that warming to some degree, only 6 percent of Southern Baptist pastors held that same belief. Thirty-two percent of SBC pastors strongly disagreed compared to 11 percent of all Americans.

Among those with less strongly held convictions, 30 percent of SBC pastors, compared to 26 percent of all Americans, said they "somewhat agree" that global warming is real and that humans are contributing to it; and 24 percent of SBC pastors, compared to 10 percent of all Americans, said they "somewhat disagree" with the statement.

Earlier this month, several prominent Southern Baptist leaders, including Dr. Barrett Duke, vice president of SBC's Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission, launched a national campaign called "We Get It!" telling Christians that they must not believe all the hype about global warming. While still promoting care for God's creation, signers of the "We Get It!" declaration say science does not absolutely support humans being the main cause of warming and that there is no hard evidence showing the devastating degree of climate change claimed by mainstream society.

Last summer, Southern Baptists adopted a resolution urging members of the denomination to "proceed cautiously in the human-induced global warming debate in light of conflicting scientific research."

The resolution further stated that they "consider proposals to regulate CO2 and other greenhouse gas emissions based on a maximum acceptable global temperature goal to be very dangerous, since attempts to meet the goal could lead to a succession of mandates of deeper cuts in emissions, which may have no appreciable effect if humans are not the principal cause of global warming, and could lead to major economic hardships on a worldwide scale."

Seventy-five percent of SBC pastors said in the LifeWay survey that they disagree with the statement that "the government should take significant action to reduce carbon emissions to combat global warming even if the action causes serious, negative economic impact on average Americans' living standards."

The survey additionally showed that while 17 percent of the pastors believe the SBC has been "too timid" in its resolutions on climate change, 65 percent do not feel that way.

"The majority of Southern Baptists are comfortable with the stand of the convention from past resolutions," Stetzer made clear.

Physician-Assisted Suicide

While debate over physician-assisted suicide remains heated in America, Southern Baptist leaders indicate a clear stance on the issue – they strongly oppose it. The LifeWay survey found that 88 percent of SBC pastors strongly disagree with the statement "When a person is facing a painful terminal disease, it is morally acceptable to ask for a physician's aid in taking his or her life." Only 33 percent of all Americans held that same strong conviction.

Only 2 percent of SBC pastors said they agree with physician-assisted suicide compared to 50 percent of all Americans.

The sharp contrast between Southern Baptists and the average Americans was also noted on the issue of embryonic stem cell research. Ninety percent of SBC pastors disagree that embryonic stem cell research is morally acceptable given the potential for medical breakthroughs. Only 28 percent of all Americans disagree. Meanwhile, 6 percent of Southern Baptist pastors agree with the research being morally acceptable compared to 66 percent of all Americans.

"Americans are clearly looking at a different moral compass in terms of stem cell research and physician-assisted suicide," Scott McConnell, associate director of LifeWay Research, noted.

The study findings are based on surveys conducted April 10-12 on 1,201 American adults and April 16-May 5 on 778 Southern Baptist pastors.

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