Protestant pastors are not as concerned about religious freedom as they were a few years ago, amid high-profile cases challenging Christian beliefs on abortion and marriage, but they increasingly feel plus the tension over whether and how to address burning moral and social issues. problems.
Comprehensive new report on religious freedom and pluralism says published by the Barna group This year, 9 in 10 Christian pastors say helping Christians have biblical beliefs on specific issues is an important part of their role as clergy.
But they feel pressure from all sides: Many say they are under scrutiny from outside their congregation as well as within it. “The stakes are high in the public arena,” write the researchers. “The issues that pastors feel most compelled to speak out on are the same issues that they feel limited on,” with LGBT issues and same-sex marriage leading the way.
Half of Christian pastors occasionally or frequently feel limited in their ability to speak for fear of offending people, Barna reported.
Pastors also recognize how changing views on sexuality will continue to impact the religious freedom landscape. Barna found that three-quarters (76%) of American clergy believe that religious freedom is increasingly less valued, and just under half (44%) predict that other freedoms will be threatened in the future. over the coming decade.
Fears over religious freedom
Pastors from non-Protestant traditions—typically evangelical groups like Southern Baptists, Pentecostals and Charismatics, nondenominational Christians, and those from Wesleyan Holiness backgrounds—are more likely than leaders from other traditions to believe that the clergy plays a unique role in defense. religious freedom (72%). They are also the most suspicious about its future.
While a majority of religious leaders of all faiths expressed concern about threats to religious freedom, 85 percent of nontraditional leaders said religious freedoms were increasingly less valued. By comparison, 71 percent of Catholics and 54 percent of top leaders agreed.
Interestingly, fears about the fate of religious freedom have diminished since 2014. Since then, a number of notable religious freedom stories have made headlines, including the one from Indiana. Religious Freedom Restoration Act, which then-Governor Mike Pence said would protect businesses from being forced to act contrary to their faith; Hobby Lobby’s Supreme Court victory; and the game changer Oberfell decision that legalized same-sex marriage.
Barna points out that a decline in concern among the clergy, despite these high-profile cases, may indicate a decrease in “headline sensitivity” among Protestant pastors. While pastors expressing strong concerns about restrictions on religious freedom over the next five years fell from 55 percent in 2014 to 37 percent in 2017, the percentage of those who are “somewhat concerned” increased by ‘a quarter to 39 percent during the same period.
Christian leaders remain very concerned that religious hospitals are forced to perform abortions, that religious organizations are forced to hire without regard to sexual orientation, and that religious organizations are subject to restrictions or stricter bans on college campuses. Perceptions about the degree of threat posed by these and other issues varied across Christian denominations, but a majority of pastors across all segments perceived them as “extreme” or “major” threats.
Image: Barna Group
Homosexuality is the subject that pastors feel most pressured to speak about and most restricted by their congregations.
Nearly half (44%) of Christian clergy report feeling limited in their ability to speak about homosexuality within their own churches. At the same time, 37 percent say they feel pressured by their congregation to speak out on the subject.
Far fewer pastors feel these limitations or pressures on issues like abortion, premarital sex, or immigration.
The Barna Report tracked responses from religious leaders in surveys conducted from 2014 to 2017. Among nontraditional pastors, 46 percent said it had become more difficult to speak out on biblical beliefs related to social issues than ‘five years ago, while 49 percent said it’s the same. Only 6 percent said it had become easier.
Barna Group Chairman David Kinnaman said CBN News that a large majority of pastors feel limited in what they can teach. “They actually feel obligated not to preach on certain topics or to talk about topics that they’re not ready to talk about,” he said.
Non-Protestant pastors are least likely to say this change caused them to modify their message. While 11 percent of all Christian pastors “frequently” feel bothered by the worry of causing offense, only 7 percent of nontraditional pastors, 6 percent of Southern Baptists, and 8 percent of African-American Protestants also feel often forced.
The researchers noted that in just a few years, Protestant pastors became less likely to say they “never” felt restricted in offending and more likely to say they “occasionally” felt that way.
“The most likely explanation for this change is that between 2014 and 2015-2016, a number of pastors found that political remarks, which had gone mostly unnoticed in previous years, were quite suddenly met with hostility. “, wrote the researchers.
“It is also possible that during this period more clergy have had a bad experience on Facebook or Twitter after posting a link or video that might have been considered faultless in previous years but sparked criticism. stronger response in the current context. As a result, clergy who once felt completely free to speak on political matters felt the need to be more careful.”
Most pastors (64%) worry more about the reaction of their own congregants than the outside world, although they say most of the pressure they feel comes from outside the church.
In 2017, CT request whether pastors should address current events in their sermons. “The Church needs to be a part of the hot news,” responded Tulsa pastor Alex Himaya. “I think any time we can reference the gospel and insert biblical truth into a hot topic, we should think about it. »
Many other pastors have encouraged preachers to apply Scripture to current issues.
“As long as it promotes the gospel and empowers the saints to live more faithfully, I will not avoid carefully applying God’s Word to current events,” Mika Edmondson, a pastor in Grand Rapids, told CT . “However, it takes wisdom and care to approach current issues in a way that serves – and does not undermine – the eternal message of the Bible. »
“If we were to address issues more regularly, while doing so in a biblical and respectful manner, our congregations would be much less outraged when we do,” said Seattle-based Pastor Peter Chin.
LGBT rights and religious rights
Overall, more than 9 in 10 U.S. clergy of all faiths (92%) say religious communities should remain free to teach a traditional definition of marriage, and 79% of U.S. adults agree , according to Barna’s investigations. In 2015, the same percentage of Americans said religious institutions should not be legally required to perform same-sex marriages.
Despite this consensus, pastors continue to worry about how LGBT protections could challenge Christian beliefs in schools, workplaces and the public square.
Just as evangelicals debated “Fairness for all” legislation As a model for safeguarding the rights of both groups, a 2017 Barna survey found that Protestant pastors were quite divided: 53 percent favored federal legislation to protect LGBT rights and religious freedom and 47 percent supported federal legislation to protect LGBT rights and religious freedom. opposed it.