As Christians look ahead to what changes a Donald Trump presidency might bring to America, a new survey by the American Culture & Faith Institute shows that conservative pastors and conservative Christians hold similar points of view on a number of outlooks. However, the survey also identified several critical perspectives on which their two groups have significant differences.
Given their common sociopolitical and theological outlooks, one might expect some important similarities between SAGE Cons – the spiritually active, governance engaged conservative voters – and theologically conservative Christian pastors (aka theolocons). And indeed the ACFI research found such parallels.
For instance, almost all of the people in each group were self-described as “pro-life advocates” (99% among SAGE Cons, 98% among theolocon pastors). The exact same numbers emerged to describe each group as “willing to take unpopular stands.” When asked if they would identify themselves as evangelicals, nearly identical statistics were generated for each segment (96% among SAGE Cons and 95% among the pastors).
There were huge similarities related to worldview, as well. The statistics reflecting a belief that absolute moral truth exists (99% of SAGE Cons, 97% of theologically conservative pastors) and that they personally possess a biblical worldview (99% and 98%, respectively) revealed the like-mindedness of the segments. Given that bent toward a biblical perspective, it was not surprising to find so few in either group admitting to being comfortable with postmodernism (4% and 7%, respectively).
The ACFI research found several important differences between the two segments.
Six out of ten of the pastors (58%) indicated that they would be willing to engage in civil disobedience. A much smaller minority of SAGE Cons, however, held the same view: only four out of ten (43%).
That relative rejection of civil disobedience among Christian conservatives is in spite of the fact that a larger proportion of them said that they are “angry about the current state of America.” Three-quarters of the SAGE Cons (77%) embraced that description, compared to two-thirds of theolocon pastors (66%).
Christian conservatives were also more likely to admit that not only are they angry about where the country is at but almost half of them (46%) also said they do not trust any politician. That was much higher than the one-third of conservative pastors (34%) who adopted the same view.
While a large majority of both groups rejected the idea that “people are basically good,” that concept was notably more in line with the thinking of SAGE Cons (30%) than that of conservative pastors (19%).
Struggle for Consistency
“The oddest element of these findings is how many of them are paradoxical,” commented researcher George Barna. “Take the pastors. They describe themselves as angry about our culture – so upset, in fact, that most of them are willing to engage in civil disobedience. But other portions of the research we have previously reported also revealed that few of them were willing to preach about the key election issues or to even encourage congregants to get out and vote! It’s difficult to see how this all fits together. It appears to be a silent, pent-up anger that they are not willing to publicly express.”
“We face the same challenge if we explore the self-perception of the SAGE Cons,” Barna continued. “They say they’re angry, they don’t trust our political leaders, and they’re willing to take unpopular stands, yet they won’t engage in civil disobedience. Their conventional efforts to alter the course of our deteriorating culture have borne little fruit over the past decade. One has to wonder what their strategy for lasting change includes. Civil disobedience may not be the right course of action, but what do they see as the proper approach? Certainly, the fact that more than nine out of ten of them voted for Donald Trump must be part of that plan.”
Looking at the results of an election week study he helped to conduct of the entire adult population, the long-time analyst pointed out that SAGE Cons will have to be creative to facilitate the kinds of transformation they desire. “Just three out of every ten adults in the US consider themselves to be theologically conservative. Just four out of ten would advocate for the rights of the unborn. Only four out of ten say they are conservative on social issues, and the same proportion claims to be conservative on matters of governance.
“So the million dollar question,” Barna continued, “is simple: Can a minority segment, like SAGE Cons, induce the majority to concede to its will? It has certainly happened before, as evidenced most recently by the LGBT community. And biblically we know that God often uses a small remnant of devoted followers to alter the course of history. Are Christian conservatives prepared to hear from God and follow His plan? That, rather than reliance on Donald Trump, is surely the most prudent course of action to follow.”
About the Research
The research described in this report is part of the RightView™ longitudinal survey, a national study undertaken among spiritually active, governance engaged conservatives who are registered voters – a segment known as SAGE Cons. The survey undertaken for this report had sample size of 7,000 qualified adults and was conducted online by the American Culture & Faith Institute from November 8 through 15, 2016.
In RightView™ studies SAGE Cons are identified as adults who are registered voters; conservative on political matters; have accepted Jesus Christ as their savior; are active in pursuing their Christian faith; and are actively engaged in politics and government. They represent about 12% of the national adult population, which constitutes a segment of approximately 30 million individuals.
The research about pastors described in this report is part of the Conservative Clergy Canvass™, a longitudinal survey among theologically conservative pastors of Christian churches. The survey undertaken for this report had a sample size of 500 qualified pastors and was conducted online by the American Culture & Faith Institute on the night of November 8, 2016.
ACFI estimates that there are between 95,000 and 110,000 theologically conservative Christian churches in the United States.
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, in ways that are consistent with the gospel of Christ. The organization does not support or promote individual candidates or political parties.
Additional information about this study and related research is accessible on the American Culture & Faith Institute website, located at www.culturefaith.com. To receive a free copy of these newsletters, visit the website and register for the SAGE Con Weekly newsletter.