Attitudes about other faiths, among all Protestant clergy...

Study shows Protestant ministers want to cooperate with

non-Christian faith groups, but also to evangelize them

(Original release date:  September 13, 2004)  Study results released in the September/October edition of Facts & Trends magazine show the vast majority of Protestant clergy in this country feel strongly that salvation comes only through Jesus Christ, and that they believe Christians have a responsibility to try to convert active members of non-Christian faith groups to Christianity.

 

At the same time, a majority also was willing to partner with non-Christian faith groups to accomplish something good for their community, and called for more interfaith cooperation for the good of society.

 

The study was conducted by Grey Matter Research (formerly Ellison Research) of Phoenix, Arizona, among a representative sample of 700 senior pastors of Protestant churches throughout the United States.

 

In the study, ministers were asked how much they agreed or disagreed with six different statements about interfaith relationships.

 

Ministers made it quite clear where they stand on the validity of other faiths.  When asked to react to the statement, “Regardless of what other faiths believe, Jesus Christ is the only path to salvation,” 88% said they agree strongly with this, and another 5% agreed somewhat with the statement.  Four percent disagreed somewhat, while 3% disagreed strongly with this perspective.

 

Although a majority of all types of ministers agreed strongly with the statement, there were some differences in the findings.  Among ministers from denominations that are members of the National Association of Evangelicals (NAE), 96% agreed strongly with this statement.  Among ministers from denominations with membership in the mainline National Council of Churches (NCC), 65% agreed strongly with the statement.  

 

The level of agreement also varied by denomination.  Although all Protestant denominations were included in the study, five main denominational groups had enough respondents to allow for separate analysis.  Every single Pentecostal/charismatic minister in the study agreed strongly with this statement, and 98% of Southern Baptist ministers agreed strongly.  In addition, 96% of other Baptist ministers (American Baptist, National Baptist, etc.) agreed strongly with the statement.  Strong agreement was much less likely to come from Lutherans (77%) and Methodists (65%). 

 

Eighty-two percent of clergy agreed strongly with the statement, “It is a Christian’s responsibility to try to lead people to belief in Christ, including active members of non-Christian faith groups.”  Another 10% agreed somewhat with this, while 4% disagreed somewhat, and 4% disagreed strongly.  

 

Breakdowns on this statement followed the patterns for the statement about salvation coming through Christ alone, but the differences were even more severe.  Among NAE members, 92% agreed strongly with the statement, compared to just 51% among NCC members.  Denominationally, the strongest agreement came from Southern Baptists (98%), Pentecostals (94%), and other Baptists (94%).  While a majority of Methodists (61%) and Lutherans (55%) agreed strongly, the feeling was considerably less than unanimous in those denominational groups.

 

Whether or not their purpose is to evangelize, a majority of ministers disagreed with the statement, “Religious tolerance includes not saying anything negative about other faith systems.”  Just 9% agreed strongly with this perspective, and another 21% agreed somewhat with it.  Twenty-six percent disagreed somewhat, while the most common response (44%) was strong disagreement.  

 

Most likely to disagree strongly were pastors under the age of 45 (55%), those in churches with under 100 people (50%), and members of the NAE (50%).  Denominationally, Methodists were really split on this issue, with half agreeing and the other half disagreeing.  Especially likely to express strong disagreement on the issue were Southern Baptists (52%), other Baptists (55%), and Pentecostals (49%). 

 

While most Protestant clergy felt responsible to evangelize people who are involved in non-Christian faiths, this did not stop many of them from being willing to work with members of those faiths for the good of society.  In general terms, a majority agreed with the statement, “Churches, temples, and mosques from different faiths should cooperate to tackle societal problems.”  Thirty-seven percent agreed strongly with this, while another 41% agreed somewhat.  Twelve percent disagreed somewhat, and 10% disagreed strongly. 

 

Members of the NCC were twice as likely to agree strongly with this as were NAE members (62% to 31%).  Strong agreement was also more likely to come from clergy in larger churches (i.e. 200 or more regularly attending), and from older ministers.  A majority of Methodists (58%) and Lutherans (52%) agreed strongly.  Among Pentecostals, Southern Baptists, and other types of Baptist clergy, a majority agreed, but most only agreed somewhat with the statement. 

 

In more specific terms, a majority also agreed that, “You would be willing to partner with a local non-Christian faith group to accomplish something good for your community.”  Thirty-four percent agreed strongly, 38% agreed somewhat, 16% disagreed somewhat, and 12% disagreed strongly.  Again, strong agreement was more likely among pastors in larger churches (44%), pastors who were 60 or older (45%), NCC members (57%), and Methodists (56%).  

 

Although Lutheran clergy were more likely than average to agree strongly with the concept of different religions working together (52%), they were no more likely than average to feel strongly that they would be personally willing to work with non-Christian faith groups in their own community (40%). 

 

Although most clergy expressed at least some willingness to partner with non-Christian faith groups for the good of society, relatively few ministers had any strong relationships with religious leaders from those groups.  Just 15% agreed strongly with the statement, “You are personally friends with one or more clergy from non-Christian faith groups.”  Another 27% agreed somewhat with the statement, hinting at casual acquaintances rather than friendships.  Thirty-two percent disagreed somewhat, and 27% disagreed strongly.

 

Friendships with non-Christian clergy were considerably more common among ministers in larger churches (21% agreed strongly), older ministers (25%), and members of the NCC (26%).  Although Methodists and Lutherans were especially likely to call for interfaith cooperation, they were no more likely than average to agree strongly that they have friendships with any non-Christian clergy.  The only denominational difference was that Southern Baptist pastors were particularly unlikely to have any of these friendships. 

 

Ron Sellers, president of Grey Matter Research, noted that many ministers may be setting themselves up for tension regarding interfaith cooperation.  “Logically, it would seem pretty hard to say to someone, ‘Your faith cannot lead you to salvation, and it is my responsibility to evangelize you – so let’s work together to feed the homeless,’” Sellers said.  “It also may be desirable to believe you’re willing to work with other faith groups, but when so few pastors have relationships with any non-Christian clergy, it’s hard to see much interfaith cooperation developing.”

 

Study Details:

The study was conducted by Grey Matter Research (formerly Ellison Research), a marketing research company located in Phoenix, Arizona.  The sample of 700 Protestant ministers included only those who are actively leading churches.  The study’s total sample is accurate to within ±3.6 percentage points at the 95 percent confidence level with a 50 percent response distribution.

 

The study was conducted in all 50 states, using a representative sample of pastors from all Protestant denominations.  Respondents’ geography, church size, and denomination were carefully tracked to ensure appropriate representation and accuracy.

You can do very little with faith, but you can do nothing without it.

Samuel Butler, English Poet

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Attitudes about other faiths, by denominational group

Attitudes about other faiths, by geography

 

Statement

Agree Strongly

Agree Somewhat

Disagree Somewhat

Disagree Strongly

Regardless of what other faiths believe, Jesus Christ is the only path to salvation

88%

5%

4%

3%

It is a Christian’s responsibility to try to lead people to belief in

   Christ, including active members of non-Christian faith groups

 

82

 

10

 

4

 

4

Churches, temples, and mosques from different

   faiths should cooperate to tackle societal problems

 

37

 

41

 

12

 

10

You would be willing to partner with a local non-Christian

   faith group to accomplish something good for your community

 

34

 

38

 

16

 

12

You are personally friends with one or more clergy from non-Christian faith groups

15

27

32

27

Religious tolerance includes not saying

   anything negative about other faith systems

 

9

 

21

 

26

 

44

Statement

Northeast

Midwest

South

West

Regardless of what other faiths believe, Jesus Christ is the only path to salvation

86%

84%

93%

88%

It is a Christian’s responsibility to try to lead people to belief in

   Christ, including active members of non-Christian faith groups

84

76

89

80

Churches, temples, and mosques from different

   faiths should cooperate to tackle societal problems

41

37

42

31

You would be willing to partner with a local non-Christian

   faith group to accomplish something good for your community

31

36

36

33

You are personally friends with one or more clergy from non-Christian faith groups

13

10

18

17

Religious tolerance includes not saying anything negative about other faith systems

6

9

9

10

 

Statement

Southern Baptist

Other Baptist

 

Methodist

 

Lutheran

 

Pentecostal

All Others

Regardless of what other faiths believe,

   Jesus Christ is the only path to salvation

 

98%

 

96%

 

65%

 

77%

 

100%

 

86%

It is a Christian’s responsibility to try to

   lead people to belief in Christ, including

   active members of non-Christian faith groups

 

 

98

 

 

94

 

 

61

 

 

55

 

 

94

 

 

78

Churches, temples, and mosques from different faiths

   should cooperate to tackle societal problems

 

20

 

26

 

58

 

52

 

38

 

39

You would be willing to partner with

   a local non-Christian faith group to

   accomplish something good for your community

 

 

15

 

 

25

 

 

56

 

 

40

 

 

38

 

 

36

You are personally friends with one or more

   clergy from non-Christian faith groups

 

7

 

11

 

20

 

17

 

19

 

15

Religious tolerance includes not saying

   anything negative about other faith systems

 

7

 

8

 

10

 

11

 

10

 

8