Support/oppose increased federal funding for faith-based public assistance programs...

Research shows ministers have doubts

about faith-based public assistance

(Original release date:  February 1, 2001)  One of the issues George W. Bush addressed during his first 100 days as the new president is the idea of providing religious organizations with public money in order to assist with programs that benefit the local community.  President Bush recently announced the creation of the White House Office of Faith-Based and Community Initiatives.

 

In a nationwide study of Protestant ministers conducted by Grey Matter Research (formerly Ellison Research) of Phoenix, Arizona, the data show that most pastors are not yet willing to support this concept strongly.  Just 17% of all ministers strongly supported “increased federal funding for faith-based public assistance and charity programs.”

 

However, few pastors (13%) strongly opposed this concept, either.  Seven out of ten pastors were not willing to take a strong stand one way or another on this issue.  When forced to choose, almost twice as many offered a weak level of support for this idea as somewhat opposed it (46% to 24%).

 

The study was conducted in 2000 among 518 ministers who were currently actively pastoring a Protestant church.  This is the first time findings on this subject have been released to the public.

 

Overall, 63% of ministers supported increased federal funding for faith-based programs, and 37% opposed it, but most did not feel strongly about their positions.  Pastors – apparently like many in the public arena – seem to be taking a wait-and-see attitude toward federally funded faith-based public assistance.

 

The younger the pastor, the more likely he or she was to support this concept.  Seventy-two percent of the youngest ministers supported this idea, compared to 62% of those between the ages of 45 and 59, and 54% of the older pastors.

 

Support for this did not vary significantly by region of the country.  And interestingly, it appeared this was one of the very few issues on which ministers with varying political views all appeared to be equally confused over what to think.  Sixty-four percent of Republicans, 59% of independents, and 62% of Democrats supported increased federal funding for faith-based charity, but in each case, only a minority strongly supported it.  Similarly, there was little difference among political conservatives (63%), moderates (68%), and liberals (56%) in their likelihood of supporting this concept.

 

It appears that theological perspective had more impact on attitudes about this issue than did political perspective.  While 62% of all churches from denominations within the mainline National Council of Churches of Christ supported this idea – which was about the average among all pastors – 77% of pastors from denominations within the National Association of Evangelicals supported this.  (Many denominations are not members of either ecumenical body.)

 

It further appears that the strongest support within the NAE for federally funded programs may have come from the Pentecostal members of that body.  Pentecostal and charismatic ministers were one of the few groups within the entire study that came out fairly strongly on either side of the issue, as 82% supported the increased funding (including 33% who supported it strongly).

 

Ron Sellers, president of Grey Matter Research, notes that the study findings will help keep comments from individual religious leaders in perspective on this issue.  “We will undoubtedly hear from individual pastors or religious leaders who feel strongly that federal money should flow into faith-based programs, as well as from individuals who feel very strongly that this shouldn’t happen,” Sellers noted.  “It will be important to keep in mind that these strong opinions represent the minority of all ministers.  Most Protestant pastors don’t currently have strong feelings one way or another about this concept.”

 

Sellers also hypothesized that the issue may not have received strong reaction because while many pastors may like the concept of increased funding to allow them to help the local community, they may at the same time be concerned at the governmental red tape or limitations such funding will impose on them.

 

Study Details:

The study was conducted by Grey Matter Research (formerly Ellison Research), a marketing research company located in Phoenix, Arizona.  Although Grey Matter Research has numerous clients, this study was funded and conducted independently by the company. 

 

The sample of 518 Protestant ministers included only those who are actively pastoring churches.  The study’s total sample is accurate to within ±4.3 percentage points at the 95% confidence level with a 50% response distribution.  The study was conducted in all 50 states, using a representative sample of pastors.  Respondents’ geography, church size, and denomination were carefully tracked to ensure appropriate representation and accuracy.

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Type of Pastor/Church

Strongly Support

Somewhat Support

Somewhat Oppose

Strongly Oppose

All Protestant ministers

17%

46%

24%

13%

Northeast U.S. location

23

43

23

11

Midwest U.S. location

15

46

26

13

Southern U.S. location

20

45

23

13

Western U.S. location

15

50

21

14

Democrats

16

46

21

17

Independents

12

47

30

11

Republicans

18

46

24

12

Self-described political liberals

9

47

25

20

Self-described political moderates

19

49

22

10

Self-described political conservatives

18

45

24

14

From an NAE-member denomination

30

47

16

7

From an NCC-member denomination

14

48

24

14