Christian Post: “Survey Offers In-Depth Look at Mainline Protestant Clergy”


Most of the clergy of mainline Protestant denominations are sitting on the left—in a manner of speaking.

Last week we reviewed a major survey on religion in the United States. One of the major findings of that survey was that the proportion of Americans attending mainline (usually theologically liberal) Protestant churches has declined a quarter in seven years—down from 17.2 percent in 2001 to just 12.9 percent last year.

Protestants are an important group to study because “they make up 18 percent of all Americans.”

A separate survey, conducted by Public Religion Research, asked a series of questions to ministers from the United Methodist Church, Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, American Baptist Churches USA, Presbyterian Church USA, Episcopal Church, United Church of Christ, and Christian Church (Disciples of Christ). The results are compiled from the 2,658 respondents.

Ironically, the report claims mainline Protestants are an important group to study because “they make up 18 percent of all Americans” (obviously an out-of-date statistic, as last week’s study showed).

Although Answers in Genesis is a nondenominational, parachurch ministry, we must express our sadness at several of the results, since it appears a majority of mainline Protestant clergy stand at odds with biblical views on fundamental issues of the Christian faith.

As with last week’s survey, we went through the survey results of this one ourselves and pulled out some of the highlights:

  • Sadly, only 29 percent of mainline clergy agreed with the statement that ”the Bible is the inerrant Word of God, both in matters of faith and in historic, geographical, and other secular matters.” 67 percent disagreed, with 4 percent unsure (in opposition to 2 Timothy 3:16).
  • 44 percent agree that “evolution is the best explanation for the origins of life on earth,” with 43 percent disagreeing and the remaining 13 percent unsure (in opposition to Genesis 1 and 2).
  • Asked how often they speak out on the teaching of evolution in public schools, 42 percent responded never, 42 percent answered seldom, and 16 percent said they do often. However, the survey did not distinguish between speaking out in favor of vs. against public schools’ treatment of evolution.
  • Only 23 percent of clergy call themselves “born again” (in opposition to John 3:7), and only 43 percent consider themselves “evangelical” (in opposition to the idea in Mark 16:15). According to the survey we covered last week, 38.6 percent of their congregations identify with either or both terms. Only 1 percent of mainline clergy called themselves “fundamentalist.” (Clergy could check all labels that they felt applied.) Ironically, only 60 percent consider themselves “mainline.”
  • Regarding political views, 48 percent of mainline clergy consider themselves “liberal,” while 33 percent call themselves “conservative” (the rest described themselves as moderate). Similarly, but more pronounced, 56 percent identify with the U.S. Democratic Party while 34 percent identify with the Republican Party.
  • Clergy were divided on hot-button social issues. The question of abortion brought about half (51 percent) in favor of it being legal in some or all cases (in opposition to Psalm 139), while 49 percent said it should be illegal in most or all cases. Similarly, a question on gay marriage resulted in a third (33 percent) supporting gay marriage (in opposition to Matthew 19:3-5), a third (32 percent) supporting civil unions but not marriage, and a third (35 percent) opposing any legal recognition of homosexual relationships.

Our vision and mission are centered on proclaiming the truth of the Bible as the foundation for our faith.

The final report includes limited analysis of the analysis of the data along with many helpful graphs, including many that break the answers out along denominational lines. Some highlights:

  • On whether the Bible is the inerrant Word of God, at one end of the spectrum were Episcopal clergy, of whom only 9 percent agree and 89 percent disagree; at the other end of the spectrum were those from the American Baptist denomination, of whom 58 percent agree and 38 percent disagree. American Baptists are the only mainline group for whom a majority of clergy agree with the statement.
  • Clergy from the United Church of Christ were by far the most liberal, at 74 percent. Two denominations had a plurality (but not a majority) of clergy who consider themselves conservative: United Methodists, at 39 percent conservative (vs. 38 percent liberal), and American Baptists, at 49 percent conservative (vs. 32 percent liberal).

It is not the role of Answers in Genesis to take denominational stances. However, our vision and mission are centered on proclaiming the truth of the Bible as the foundation for our faith. We continue to emphasize how the rejection of God’s Word and the acceptance of millions of years of evolution undermines the very foundation of Christianity. We believe that is an important element (though far from the only one) in the steady decline of mainline Protestant churches in the United States, as many congregants are continually taught that the foundation of their faith is fictitious and that one can choose truth apart from—in fact in opposition to—the Scripture.

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