The American people are frustrated by numerous aspects of the coming election. The unpopular candidates, the biased media, inept political parties, unfair financing, unreliable polls, negative advertising – the list of disappointments is long. But for Christians who want to vote in an intelligent and biblical manner there is an additional, troubling concern: the unwillingness of theologically conservative pastors to help congregants understand what the Bible says about the issues relevant to the election. The refusal of pastors to preach on the issues is not based on some random observations by a handful of individuals; it is a reality confirmed through several surveys conducted by national surveys among theologically conservative Protestant pastors by the American Culture and Faith Institute.
Is Silence Golden?
One of the complaints heard from Christian conservatives during the 2014 mid-term election cycle was that their church was providing little guidance for their thinking about the issues. Surveys have borne out their disenchantment: relatively few pastors preached about the issues of the day during that election cycle. During 2014, a majority of theologically conservative pastors (63%) preached about matters related to religious freedom, but none of the other nine issues tested were taught about by at least half of the pastors.
The 2016 presidential election cycle promises to be even worse. Looking at the same ten issues, there is no issue that even four out of ten theologically conservative pastors have preached about or plan to preach about before the November 8 election. The most likely issue to be discussed in church services by theologically conservative pastors is again religious freedom, but the proportion who have spoken or plan to speak about religious freedom has plummeted from 63% in 2014 to just 36% this year.
Abortion, which was the second most frequently preached about current issue in the 2014 cycle (addressed by 48% of theologically conservative pastors) again ranks second. However, the number of theologically conservative preachers who have or plan to preach about that subject is barely half (26%) of what it was in 2014.
As low as the figures were for 2014, at least 10% of the theologically conservative pastors preached on each of the ten issues studied. The increasing reticence of pastors to preach truth principles about current topics is evident by the fact that there were just four issues which at least 10% of theologically conservative pastors planned to address this year: religious freedom (36%), abortion (26%), Islam and the Muslim faith (13%), and the Israel-Palestine situation (11%).
Comparing apples to apples, the average number of theologically conservative pastors who would preach on any of the ten issues studied was 26% in 2014. The average among those same pastors across the same ten issues has sunk to less than half that proportion – to a mere 12% – in 2016.
See accompanying data table for more information.
Dubious Justifications for Pastoral Silence
This newest survey raises questions about the reasons for conservative pastors withholding biblical wisdom from their congregants. “The corollary information in our studies indicates that theologically conservative pastors are refusing to teach biblical principles related to current issues because they are concerned about being seen as political, not wanting to risk the loss of numbers of people or donations, and concern about the status of the church’s non-profit designation,” commented George Barna, Executive Director of the American Culture & Faith Institute.
“Our parallel studies among theologically conservative congregants shows that pastors’ fears are not only unfounded, but misleading. A large majority of Christian conservatives are actually eager to learn and to be challenged how to think biblically about today’s issues. If they do not receive that teaching from their church, they are not likely to receive such insight at all. It certainly won’t come from the mainstream media, which is their primary source of news about the elections and the state of America. Conservative churches have a biblical mandate to teach these things but are choosing to ignore the opportunity in favor of remaining safe in their teaching and practices.”
Barna pointed out that the American Culture & Faith Institute has been tracking the willingness of pastors to teach biblical principles on these societal issues for several years. “Sadly, we are not seeing any growth in the determination or practice of pastors helping their congregants discover and apply biblical truth in relation to today’s social and economic issues. It is no wonder that less than one out of every ten born again Christians has a biblical worldview; churches won’t teach them the underlying principles in a manner that facilitates useful application.
“When Millennials and others describe Christian churches as irrelevant,” Barna continued, “they are not talking about styles of music and dress codes as much as they are attacking the focal point of church services: the teaching. These days people value their time too highly to invest it in hearing lectures on topics that do not intersect with their life questions and daily struggles. By ignoring the social and political challenges of the day, conservative churches are missing a great opportunity for cultural and individual influence.”
A previous study by ACFI on this matter, entitled God’s People Want to Know, can be accessed for free at the Institute’s website in the Special Reports section or by simply clicking here.
About the Research
The survey was conducted by the American Culture & Faith Institute among 600 Protestant pastors who are theologically conservative based on several ideological questions as well as their self-description. The survey was conducted online during June 2016.
The American Culture & Faith Institute is a division of United in Purpose, a non-partisan, non-profit organization. The mission of United in Purpose is to educate, motivate and activate conservative Christians related to the political process. The organization does not support or promote individual candidates or political parties.
ACFI estimates that there are between 90,000 and 105,000 theologically conservative churches in the United States, spanning dozens of denominations. That estimate is based on the theological standing of the Senior Pastor of the church and the nature of the church’s statement of faith and teaching regarding key theological matters. These churches constitute about 30% of the nation’s Protestant churches.
Additional information about this and related research is accessible on the American Culture & Faith Institute website, located at www.culturefaith.com.