NASHVILLE, Tenn. – Protestant pastors in the U.S. have a negative view of Islam and more than half agree with Franklin Graham's statement that Islam is an "evil" religion, according to a just-released study by LifeWay Research. More than 4 in 10 agree that Islam is dangerous and promotes violence.
Graham, son of Billy Graham, stirred controversy in 2001 by saying Islam is an "evil" religion. Recently, Graham called Islam offensive and wants Muslims to know Jesus died for their sins. In response, the U.S. Army yesterday rescinded an invitation to Graham to speak at a May 6 prayer service at the Pentagon, calling his comments "not appropriate."
Most Protestant pastors, however, agree with Graham according to a telephone survey of 1,000 church leaders conducted March 1-9, 2010, before the current controversy.
The survey included questions about the differences between the religions, giving the respondents the opportunity to choose between positive and negative descriptors.
"When given the choice, they consistently chose the negative descriptions," explained Ed Stetzer, president of LifeWay Research. "This should not surprise us – Protestant Christianity is, in a sense, a competing faith, and that comes through in the survey."
Protestant pastors were asked which is closer to their beliefs: Graham's widely reported comment that Islam is "a very evil and a very wicked religion," or former President George W. Bush's remark that "the Muslim faith is based upon peace and love and compassion."
Forty-seven percent of the pastors surveyed believe Graham's assessment of Islam is accurate, and an additional 12 percent agree with both Graham's and Bush's statements. Twenty-four percent agree with the former president's statement only. The rest could not decide.
"This means a majority of Protestant pastors chose statements that agree with Franklin Graham's statement," Stetzer said. "Of those who chose only one statement, respondents agree with Graham over Bush at a 2-to-1 rate.
"Franklin Graham's belief about Islam is a mainstream view among Protestant pastors."
Additionally, those identifying themselves as evangelical are more than twice as likely to agree with Graham's assessment of Islam.
- Three out of 4 pastors disagree with the statement, "Christians and Muslims pray to the same God" – 69 percent disagree strongly.
- Eighty-two percent say Islam is "fundamentally different from Christianity."
- Forty-two percent agree that Islam "promotes violence."
- Four in 10 say the religion is "spiritually evil."
- One in 3 says Islam "promotes charity."
- Twenty-eight percent consider the religion "relevant today."
However, a minority of pastors, especially those from mainline denominations, hold a more positive view of Islam.
One-quarter of all pastors agree "the Islamic religion is a relevant and viable religion for today," including 11 percent who strongly agree. Similarly, 19 percent say Islam is "spiritually good" and 16 percent characterize the religion as "tolerant."
Those who strongly agree they know a Muslim personally are more likely to agree with Graham that Islam is "evil" (43 percent) than with Bush's statement that it is a religion of "peace and love and compassion" (28 percent). Despite agreeing that Islam is an "evil" and "wicked" religion, those who strongly agree they know a Muslim personally were more positive in their reaction to statements about Islam promoting charity and being spiritually good.
"We should not say that Protestant pastors are uniform in their view and in no way does this study show they think that Muslims are bad people, but it does show concerns about the religion and its impact," said Scott McConnell, associate director of LifeWay Research.
Regardless of their views about Islam, 6 in 10 pastors agree that Christianity and Islam should seek to coexist in America.
"This is not the first survey to look at the perception of Islam," explained Stetzer. "Pew and others have pointed to negative perceptions among the American people. However, it is important to consider the religious view of the leaders of the largest faith group in America: Protestants. The fact is Protestant pastors tend to hold a negative view of Islam, but they also believe they should seek to coexist."
LifeWay Research is an evangelical polling organization in Nashville, Tenn. More details of the study may be found at www.lifewayresearch.com.
Methodology: LifeWay Research commissioned Zogby International to conduct a telephone survey of Protestant pastors March 1-9, 2010. The completed sample of 1,000 phone interviews with senior pastors, ministers and priests provides 95 percent confidence that the sampling error does not exceed ±3.2 percent.