Level of church’s political involvement as perceived by clergy, by denominational group…

Study shows little agreement over what’s an

appropriate mix of churches and politics

(Original release date:  September 5, 2006)  Research results being released in the September/October edition of Facts & Trends magazine show Protestant clergy and laity are very far from being of one mind about religion and politics. 

 

Two studies were conducted for Facts & Trends by Grey Matter Research (formerly Ellison Research) of Phoenix, Arizona. One is a representative sample of 797 Protestant church ministers nationwide, and the other is a companion survey of 1,184 adults who attend Protestant churches at least once a month. The studies asked each group about their personal political views, as well as how appropriate it is for churches to be politically involved in a number of different ways.

 

Most clergy and laypeople agree that their church is not heavily involved in politics.  Only 6 percent of clergy, and 11 percent of laity, feel their own church is very involved in local politics or political issues; the numbers are nearly identical for involvement in national politics or political issues.

 

Among ministers, 36 percent say their church is somewhat involved in local political issues, while 46 percent say it’s not very involved, and 11 percent actively try to avoid these issues.  On national politics or political issues, 7 percent of clergy say their church is very involved, 41 percent somewhat involved, and 40 percent not very involved, while 12 percent try to avoid these issues.  Perceptions of the laity involved in these churches are very similar.

 

The churches most likely to be involved politically are Pentecostal and Southern Baptist congregations, but even in those denominational groups, few churches go beyond being “somewhat involved” in national or local political issues.  Lutheran clergy are the denominational group least likely to report significant political involvement by their church.

 

Overall, there are no major differences in involvement in local politics according to the pastor’s theology (mainline or evangelical), or the pastor’s personal political views (conservative, moderate, or liberal).  On national issues, pastors who are evangelical and/or politically conservative are slightly more likely than others to report some political involvement, but the difference is small.

 

One reason for this lack of involvement in politics is likely that there is so little agreement among clergy or laity as to what is an appropriate mixture of religion and politics.  The studies asked respondents from both groups to rate how appropriate it is for local churches to be politically involved in a number of different ways, using a scale of 1 (not at all appropriate) to 5 (extremely appropriate).  Clergy and laity are almost equally divided among all five points of the scale on some of the issues.

 

The only type of political involvement deemed appropriate (a rating of 4 or 5) by a majority of ministers and laypeople is encouraging the congregation to vote (88 percent of ministers and 65 percent of laity feel this is appropriate for local churches to do).  A majority of pastors also feel discussing controversial issues such as gay marriage, abortion, or the war in Iraq from the pulpit is appropriate (65 percent), although only 47 percent of their laity agree with them.

 

Right around half of all pastors also feel it is appropriate for their church to serve as a polling place during an election, hold voter registration drives, publish information about what individual politicians stand for, or work with politicians to address local issues, but only about one-third of all laypeople agree.

 

Less likely to be seen as appropriate in churches are encouraging people how to vote on certain issues (41 percent of ministers and 24 percent of laity), encouraging people to protest or get personally involved in controversial issues (35 percent of ministers and 23 percent of laity), and inviting political candidates to speak in church (just 14 percent of ministers and 20 percent of laity).

 

In many of these areas, pastors and laity who are either politically conservative, or who are evangelical (or both), are more likely to see involvement by local churches as appropriate.  For instance, 34 percent of evangelical ministers believe publishing information on what individual politicians stand for is extremely appropriate, while only 12 percent think this is not at all appropriate.  Among mainline ministers, these numbers are exactly reversed.  Thirty-six percent of politically conservative pastors believe this is extremely appropriate, compared to 13 percent of moderates, and 17 percent of liberals.

 

Evangelical ministers are also more likely than their mainline counterparts to see as extremely appropriate encouraging the congregation to vote (74 percent to 62 percent), discussing controversial issues from the pulpit (43 percent to 27 percent), and encouraging people how to vote on certain issues (24 percent to 12 percent).

 

People who attend evangelical churches also show these same differences from their mainline counterparts, along with a greater willingness for the church to encourage people to protest or get involved in controversial issues.  Still, although these differences exist, it is important to note that only a minority of pastors and laity see most of these areas as highly appropriate for a local church.

 

Personally, 62 percent of all senior pastors in Protestant churches describe themselves as politically conservative, while 23 percent are moderate, and 15 are liberal.

 

This varies quite a bit by denominational group.  Conservatives represent 86 percent of Southern Baptist ministers, 79 percent of ministers from other Baptist groups, and 73 percent of Pentecostal ministers.  Lutherans are divided among conservatives (43 percent), moderates (28 percent), and liberals (29 percent).  Even more divided are Presbyterians (38 percent conservatives, 27 percent moderates, and 35 percent liberals), and Methodists (27 percent conservatives, 38 percent moderates, and 35 percent liberals).

 

The people in the pews are substantially more likely to consider themselves politically moderate than are the people in the pulpits.  Among all adults who regularly attend Protestant churches, 38 percent describe themselves as politically conservative, 45 percent as moderate, and 17 percent as liberal.

 

The political gap between clergy and laity is particularly large in Baptist and Pentecostal churches.  Among Southern Baptist laity, 47 percent are politically conservative, 39 percent moderate, and 14 percent liberal, while 86 percent of Southern Baptist pastors are conservative.  In other Baptist denominations, 40 percent of laity are conservative, 46 percent moderate, and 14 percent liberal, while 79 percent of other Baptist ministers are conservative.  Similarly, in Pentecostal churches, 49 percent of laity are conservative, 40 percent moderate, and 11 percent liberal, while 73 percent of ministers are conservative.

 

Lutheran and Methodist churches also show a gap between clergy and laity, but in the other direction.  While 29 percent of all Lutheran clergy are politically liberal, only 14 percent of laity describe themselves in this manner.  Among Methodist laity, just 12 percent are politically liberal, while the figure is 35 percent among Methodist clergy.  Presbyterians are the only major denominational group in which the political positions of clergy and laity are much the same (about equally divided among conservative, moderate, and liberal).

 

Interestingly, a majority of all clergy believe their political views are about the same as the views of their congregation.  Sixty-four percent see themselves as politically on the same page as the congregation, while 19 percent feel they are significantly more conservative, and 17 percent believe they are significantly more liberal.

 

Among laity, 59 percent feel their own political views are similar to those of their church, while 8 percent see themselves as significantly more conservative and 18 percent as significantly more liberal than their own church.  Fifteen percent have no idea what their church’s political views are.

 

Ron Sellers, president of Grey Matter Research, noted that these findings really bring to light the struggle surrounding the mixture of politics and churches. “In describing how appropriate various levels of political involvement are, leaders and laypeople are all over the board,” Sellers explained.  “There is virtually no consensus among either clergy or laity as to what is appropriate for a church to do, beyond general agreement that it’s okay to encourage people to vote, but not a great idea to have political candidates speak in the church.”

 

Sellers also noted that this lack of consensus is true among a wide range of denominational, theological, and political perspectives.  “There are a lot of stereotypes about churches and politics:  mainline churches are liberal, evangelicals represent a politically active ‘religious right,’ conservative churches are raising Cain politically.  It’s just not true.  Mainline ministers are almost equally divided among political conservatives, moderates, and liberals.  Fewer than half of all evangelical pastors or conservative pastors believe it’s appropriate to encourage people how to vote on specific issues, and even fewer feel it’s appropriate to encourage their congregation to get involved with controversial issues.  It’s really time to look beyond the stereotypes of churches and politics, and start dealing with the reality of the situation,” he advised.

 

Study Details:

Both studies were conducted by Grey Matter Research (formerly Ellison Research), a marketing research company located in Phoenix, Arizona.  The sample of 797 Protestant ministers included only those who are actively leading churches.  The study’s total sample is accurate to within ±3.3 percentage points at the 95 percent confidence level with a 50 percent response distribution.  The sample of 1,184 people who attend a Protestant church once a month or more is accurate to within ±2.7 percentage points under the same parameters.

 

Both studies were conducted in all 50 states, using a representative sample of pastors and laity from all Protestant denominations.  Respondents’ gender, age, geography, church size, and denomination were carefully tracked to ensure appropriate representation and accuracy.

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Level of church’s political involvement, by theology and political perspective of clergy…

Perceptions of how appropriate various types of political involvement are, among all clergy…

Personal political views of clergy, by denominational group…

How personal political views of clergy compare to those of their congregation, by denominational group…

Level of church’s political involvement as perceived by laity, by denominational group…

Perceptions of how appropriate various types of political involvement are, among all laity…

Personal political views of laity, by denominational group…

How personal political views of laity compare to those represented by their church, by denominational group…

 

Level of Church Involvement

 

All

Southern Baptist

Other Baptist

 

Methodist

 

Lutheran

 

Pentecostal

 

Presbyterian

All Others

Local politics/political issues:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

    very involved

6%

9%

5%

8%

2%

11%

--

3%

    somewhat involved

36

36

41

40

23

44

35

31

    not very involved

46

46

44

44

61

36

45

51

    actively avoid

11

8

9

8

15

9

20

15

National politics/political issues:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

    very involved

7

13

6

4

4

12

8

4

    somewhat involved

41

36

46

39

18

54

31

39

    not very involved

40

43

38

47

63

26

40

42

    actively avoid

12

9

9

10

16

8

20

16

 

Level of Church Involvement

 

Mainline

 

Evangelical

Politically

Conservative

Politically

Moderate

Politically

Liberal

Local politics/political issues:

 

 

 

 

 

    very involved

7%

6%

6%

4%

11%

    somewhat involved

35

36

38

34

34

    not very involved

46

48

45

50

43

    actively avoid

13

10

10

12

12

National politics/political issues:

 

 

 

 

 

    very involved

6

7

9

3

6

    somewhat involved

32

44

44

36

38

    not very involved

50

38

37

49

42

    actively avoid

13

11

10

12

14

 

Types of Political Involvement

5 – Extremely

Appropriate

4

3

2

1 – Not at All

Appropriate

Encouraging the congregation to vote

70%

18%

8%

3%

2%

Discussing controversial issues (e.g. same-sex

   marriage, abortion, the Iraq war) from the pulpit

 

39

 

23

 

22

 

9

 

6

Serving as a polling place during an election

30

20

26

11

13

Holding voter registration drives

27

21

25

14

13

Publishing information on what politicians stand for

27

20

21

14

18

Encouraging people how to vote on certain issues

22

19

22

15

24

Working with politicians to address local issues

21

26

28

15

10

Encouraging people to protest or get

   involved personally with controversial issues

 

13

 

22

 

28

 

22

 

15

Inviting political candidates to speak in church

6

8

19

20

47

 

Personal Political Views

 

All

Southern Baptist

Other Baptist

 

Methodist

 

Lutheran

 

Pentecostal

 

Presbyterian

All Others

Conservative

62%

86%

79%

27%

43%

73%

38%

53%

Moderate

23

10

16

38

28

20

27

28

Liberal

15

4

5

35

29

7

35

19

 

Compared to the Congregation...

 

All

Southern Baptist

Other Baptist

 

Methodist

 

Lutheran

 

Pentecostal

 

Presbyterian

All Others

Pastor’s views are more conservative

19%

30%

13%

16%

15%

18%

7%

20%

Pastor’s views are about the same

64

65

76

52

54

74

49

59

Pastor’s views are more liberal

17

5

11

32

31

8

44

21

 

Level of Church Involvement

 

All

Southern Baptist

Other Baptist

 

Methodist

 

Lutheran

 

Pentecostal

 

Presbyterian

All Others

Local politics/political issues:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

    very involved

11%

14%

11%

10%

5%

12%

3%

12%

    somewhat involved

34

38

34

23

33

30

47

37

    not very involved

43

40

46

47

54

51

46

38

    actively avoid

11

8

9

20

8

6

3

14

National politics/political issues:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

    very involved

11

13

12

7

5

11

7

12

    somewhat involved

34

46

34

26

24

35

40

35

    not very involved

43

32

42

48

63

45

47

41

    actively avoid

12

9

12

20

8

8

6

13

 

Types of Political Involvement

5 – Extremely

Appropriate

4

3

2

1 – Not at All

Appropriate

Encouraging the congregation to vote

42%

23%

18%

8%

8%

Discussing controversial issues (e.g. same-sex

    marriage, abortion, the Iraq war) from the pulpit

 

28

 

19

 

23

 

12

 

18

Serving as a polling place during an election

16

15

24

15

30

Holding voter registration drives

18

15

24

15

28

Publishing information on what politicians stand for

18

14

22

14

33

Encouraging people how to vote on certain issues

12

12

20

17

39

Working with politicians to address local issues

16

18

26

16

24

Encouraging people to protest or get

    involved personally with controversial issues

 

13

 

11

 

25

 

18

 

32

Inviting political candidates to speak in church

10

10

21

17

42

 

Personal Political Views

 

All

Southern Baptist

Other Baptist

 

Methodist

 

Lutheran

 

Pentecostal

 

Presbyterian

All Others

Conservative

38%

47%

40%

36%

41%

49%

34%

35%

Moderate

45

39

46

52

45

40

32

46

Liberal

17

14

14

12

14

11

34

19

 

Compared to the Church’s Views...

 

All

Southern Baptist

Other Baptist

 

Methodist

 

Lutheran

 

Pentecostal

 

Presbyterian

All Others

Own views are more conservative

8%

8%

7%

6%

8%

12%

8%

9%

Own views are about the same

59

62

71

54

65

57

47

57

Own views are more liberal

18

21

14

14

13

13

34

20

Have no idea what the

    church’s views are

 

15

 

9

 

8

 

26

 

14

 

18

 

11

 

14