Evangelicals Rank Low in Survey of Non-Christians

By Michael L. Betsch | July 7, 2008 | 8:04 PM EDT

(CNSNews.com) - A California-based Christian marketing research company says non-Christians in the United States view evangelical Christians "somewhat more kindly than prostitutes, but with less affection than lesbians and lawyers."

According to George Barna, president of Barna Research Group, many non-Christians expressed negative impressions of evangelicals because they don't know who or what an evangelical is. Barna categorizes people as 'evangelical' based upon their answers to nine questions about faith issues.

When determining if a Christian is truly an evangelical, the Barna Research Group (BRG) considers whether a person meets the criteria for being born again; whether they say their faith is very important in their life; and whether they believe they have a personal responsibility to share their religious beliefs about Christ with non-Christians.

The BRG, which analyzes cultural trends in Christianity, asked non-Christian respondents to rank and compare their impressions of evangelicals against eleven categories of people, including military officers, ministers, born-again Christians, Democrats, Republicans, real-estate agents, movie and TV performers, lawyers, lesbians and prostitutes.

While evangelicals received favorable marks from 22-percent of the non-Christians polled, Barna noted that they received only a 5-percent higher public approval rating than prostitutes did. He said almost 23-percent of respondents look more favorably upon lesbians and lawyers than they do on evangelicals.

"This is most likely a result of the thrashing evangelicals receive in the media," Barna said. "It seems millions of non-Christians have negative impressions of evangelicals, even though they cannot define what an evangelical is, accurately identify the perspectives of the group or identify even a handful of people they know personally who are evangelicals."

BRG's most recent profile of the American evangelical population reveals that there are approximately 15 to 20 million evangelical adults nationwide.

BRG data also shows that four out of five evangelicals are white and 58-percent are affiliated with the Republican Party. Additionally, 59-percent of evangelicals describe their political and social ideologies as "mostly conservative" compared to 4-percent who identify themselves as liberals.

Christian viewpoint

A nationwide survey of Protestant church ministers conducted by Ellison Research takes a more in-depth look at the evangelicals from a Christian point of view.

Unlike the Barna survey that featured the opinions of 270 non-Christians, Ellison Research respondents included 567 pastors from 457 Protestant churches across the nation.

Ron Sellers, president of Ellison Research, said his study examined the social, political and theological viewpoints of pastors from every Protestant denomination in America. He simplified the pool that includes Baptists, Lutherans, Methodists, Pentecostals and Charismatics down to two categories: "mainline" and evangelical.

The pastors were asked to state their opinions (favorable or unfavorable) on issues that included faith, culture, politics and public policy.

The survey showed that evangelical pastors are largely conservative in their cultural, political and theological viewpoints while mainline pastors tended towards more liberal ideologies.

"Politically, there are a lot of ministers that believe their denomination is too liberal," Sellers said. "It's more common for a pastor to believe that his or her denomination is too liberal, politically, than to believe that it's too conservative."

However, Sellers said 60-percent of evangelical pastors believe their denomination's political viewpoints are in line with their own, while 13-percent called their denomination more conservative than themselves. Further, he said 26-percent of the pastors reported that their denomination was too politically liberal.

Sellers also found that 59-percent of evangelical pastors believe they share the same theological position as members of their denomination. He said an additional 17-percent of evangelicals believe their denomination is "too conservative" and 24 percent said it was "too liberal."

Among mainline pastors, Sellers said 20-percent found their denomination to be too conservative while 28-percent felt it was too liberal.

"Methodist ministers are the ones least likely to think along the same lines as their denomination," Sellers said. "Just 33-percent feel their own theological positions are pretty much in line with the official positions of their denomination."

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