Survey: Majority of Evangelical Leaders Believe in Rapture; Imminent Return of Jesus

Harold Camping may have been wrong about the date but he isn't alone in his beliefs in the Rapture.

A survey released Wednesday shows the majority of evangelical Christian leaders worldwide believe in the Rapture, the teaching that as the end of the world draws near, Christians will be instantly taken up to heaven, leaving non-believers behind to suffer on Earth.

Six in 10 evangelical leaders, or 61 percent, say they believe in the Rapture of the Church compared to 32 percent who say the End Times doesn't happen exactly this way, according to the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life survey.

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The survey was based on responses from nearly 2,200 evangelical leaders at the Third Lausanne Congress on World Evangelization – a global gathering of 4,500 evangelical leaders from over 190 nations that was held last fall in Cape Town, South Africa.

Majorities of leaders from the Global South – which included Asia & the Pacific, Central & South America, Middle East/North Africa, Sub-Saharan Africa – and the Global North – which included Europe and North America – with the exception of Europe believe in the Rapture of the Church.

Evangelical leaders from sub-Saharan Africa were the most likely to believe in the Rapture, with 82 percent subscribing to this End Times belief.

When it comes to teachings about the Second Coming of Jesus, slightly more than half, 52 percent, of respondents believe that Jesus will return in their lifetimes. Eight percent say that the Second Coming of Jesus would definitely occur in their lifetimes and 44 percent say the event would probably happen while they are alive.

Among evangelical leaders who don't believe Jesus' return was imminent, 37 percent say Jesus will probably not return in their lifetimes but only 2 percent say it was definite he will not return in their lifetimes.

Global South leaders are more likely than those in the Global North, 67 to 34 percent, to believe that the Second of Coming of Jesus will occur in their lifetimes.

Other findings of evangelical beliefs from the Pew Forum survey include: 

Evolution:  Almost 9 in 10 leaders (88 percent) reject the notion that human beings evolved over time due to natural processes. About half (47 percent) believe humans and other living things existed in their present form since the beginning of time while 41 percent believe that a supreme being guided the evolutionary process. Only 3 percent believe natural processes such as natural selection were part of human evolution.

Salvation:  95 percent say that believing Jesus Christ is not the only path to salvation is incompatible with being a good evangelical Christian.

Women: 75 percent support allowing women to serve as pastors.

Alcohol:  52 percent say drinking alcohol is not compatible with being a good evangelical compared to 42 percent who say it is compatible.

Spirituality: Over 90 percent of evangelical leaders say that the following are incompatible with being a good evangelical: engaging in yoga as a spiritual practice (92 percent), believing in astrology (97 percent) and believing in reincarnation (96 percent).

Politics: 84 percent say religious leaders should express their views on political matters.

Threats: Those surveyed classify secularism as a bigger threat to Evangelical Christianity than Islam. About 71 percent of leaders called secularism a major threat compared to 47 percent who thought of Islam as a major threat to the religion.

Evangelism: Nearly three-quarters of the evangelical leaders or 73 percent say it is a "top priority" to evangelize among non-religious people. Fewer (53 percent) say it is a top priority to evangelize among Muslims.

The Pew Forum surveyed 2,196 evangelical leaders from 166 countries. The survey was conducted in nine languages, including English, from August to December 2010 through Web and paper questionnaires.

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