WASHINGTON – "What are the top issues of concern to American evangelicals today?"
Leaders of the country's largest evangelical organization say dealing with changes in American culture is of utmost concern.
The National Association of Evangelicals recently surveyed its leadership and found little concern centered on national politics or the war in Iraq. Culture concerns including consumerism, materialism, family finances and the preservation of traditional families were listed as top issues of concern to the evangelical leaders representing about 30 million members.
Highest in culture concerns was reduction of abortions and defense of the sanctity of human life, according to NAE president Leith Anderson, who summarized the responses of the survey conducted in September.
The next likely issue of concern identified by evangelical leaders was helping the hurting, which included HIV/AIDS, poverty reduction and immigration reform. Hispanic evangelical leaders were the most likely to cite immigration.
"Since evangelicals have always cared for the poor it's no surprise that these concerns are high priorities," said Anderson.
The NAE board's third top response was evangelism. More specifically, leaders called for clarity of the Christian message, freedom of religion in other countries, credibility and integrity of Christians, and increased evangelistic passion in churches.
NAE's response comes as more Americans have a negative impression of Christianity. The latest Barna Group report revealed that the majority of non-Christians in their late teens and twenties believe Christianity is judgmental, hypocritical, old-fashioned and too involved in politics. Also, nearly a quarter of both young non-Christians and born-again Christians say "Christianity in today's society no longer looks like Jesus."
Some evangelical leaders expressed concern about misunderstandings and misrepresentations of evangelicalism as primarily political rather than spiritual and interested in a few issues rather than many, according to the NAE survey. Some also focused on the need for evangelicals to better represent Christian values in their beliefs and behavior. Restoring the definition and value of the term "evangelical" was the fourth most likely response listed by the NAE leadership as a concern for American evangelicals.
On a more controversial issue, evangelical leaders rounded out the top concerns with "creation care" or environmental stewardship.
In recent years, evangelicals have debated global climate change, disagreeing about the cause and severity of the global warming issue. The NAE was urged last year by a group of conservative evangelical leaders not to adopt an official position on global climate change. In January, evangelicals, including the Rev. Rich Cizik, NAE's vice president for government affairs, and scientists joined in an unprecedented collaboration to protect the environment. Not all evangelicals, however, backed the coalition.
Evangelicals in general are least likely to be concerned about global warming that other Christians and American adults, a Barna study showed. Only 33 percent of evangelical Christians view global warming as a major problem facing the country compared to 55 percent of non-evangelicals.
Other topics of concern cited by NAE leaders include health care, teaching of Christian doctrine, homosexuality, Islam, racial reconciliation, financial pressures on churches, ministering to youth and issues of church law.
"Answers were so diverse that they were difficult to categorize," Anderson noted in the summary. "Maybe that's the whole point – that evangelical leaders have a long list of concerns."
The Evangelical Leaders Survey is a monthly questionnaire to 100 members of the NAE board of directors that includes heads of evangelical denominations with about 45,000 local churches, executives of para-church organizations and colleges plus a limited number of individual evangelicals who hold at-large seats.