Are Conservative Pastors Ready to Lead the Way to Cultural Transformation?
With 80% of theologically conservative pastors voting for Donald Trump, one thing is clear: they are not ready to surrender America to “progressive” political principles. What is not as clear is whether they are ready to help lead the nation in a more conservative, biblically-consistent direction in relation to dimensions such as education, entertainment, business, media, and governance.
A survey conducted by the American Culture & Faith Institute among a national sample of theologically conservative pastors provides some insight into the thinking of these pastors as the nation braces for the transitions that are inevitable with Donald Trump assuming the presidency and a reconfigured Congress ready to be sworn in.
Glimpses into Their Worldview
Theologically conservative pastors are indisputably into pursuing their Christian faith. The survey revealed that they universally claimed to be “deeply committed to practicing my faith” and “enjoy attending church services” – which is not surprising since they typically lead those services.
But as an indicator of their seriousness about integrating their faith into their everyday experience, 99% of them state that they are willing to take unpopular stands, as long as those stands coincide with their spiritual beliefs.
The research also showed that there is a high degree of consistency between their spiritual and political ideologies. For instance, 97% are politically conservative on social issues. Nine out of ten are also conservative on matters of government regulation (91%) and fiscal policies (88%).
These pastors do not automatically embrace socially accepted concepts. An example is their general dismissal of the popular notion of being “spiritual but not religious.” Only one-quarter of conservative pastors (28%) describe themselves in this way. Most of them would embrace being both spiritual and religious.
They also do not embrace every popular movement or fad that comes down the pike. A case in point is that just one out of every seven (14%) says that they support the Black Lives Matter movement. While they believe that all lives matter and are important, they are leery of movements that use dubious tactics to generate attention or get their way.
Almost all of them, however, affirm that they support traditional moral values (99%). That was one of the fundamental attributes that led them to support Donald Trump by such a large margin. Despite their concerns about his character, they recognized that the platform he was promoting reflected perspectives that were important to theological conservatives, as characterized by his position on moral issues such as abortion and religious freedom.
Politics in Not Our Salvation
Theologically conservative pastors – sometimes referred to as “theolocon pastors” – approached involvement in the recent election with trepidation. While most of them realize that politics and government have substantial influence on American life, they do not want to allow that arena to undermine the image and the role of Christianity and the local church in the U.S.
That helps to explain why they were attentive to information about the election, but only one out of four (26%) said they could be considered to be “political junkies.” And even though the Republican Party typically offers candidates who are more conservative than those backed by the Democratic Party, less than two out of five theolocon pastors (37%) said they are “loyal to the Republican Party.” Many of them feel used by the GOP and thus wish to maintain objectivity and independence in moving forward politically. As some pastors have put it, their allegiance is to the king of the universe rather than to a popular candidate or a self-serving political organization.
Outlook on the Future
Significantly, most theologically conservative pastors are not excited about the future of the nation; only 44% feel excited. A much larger proportion – 57% – feels angry about the current state of the country.
One possible explanation for such concern about the future is that 70% say they do not “respect and admire” Donald Trump. While most of them felt he was the best of two uninspiring choices, they are not setting their hopes too high. Indeed, less than half of them believe that he will be able to heal and unite the country.
Another likely reason underlying their concern for the future is their distaste for the mainstream news media. More than nine out of ten theolocon pastors felt that mainstream journalists provided “unfair and subjective” reporting throughout the campaign season. That is one reason why a declining proportion of them are relying upon mainstream media sources for their information. Over the past few years, ACFI research has found a growing reliance of these pastors upon independent news sources.
Aware of the enormous influence the mainstream media has on peoples’ understanding of reality and how they perceive the world around us, many of these pastors will restrain their enthusiasm about the future until the progressive media industry can be held more accountable for its reporting.
One of the most intriguing results from the survey relates to the issues that theologically conservative pastors identify as the critical challenges facing America today. When asked to choose the two most important issues, the top choices were abortion (34%), the forthcoming Supreme Court nominations (21%), America’s moral decline (20%), marriage and family (14%), and religious freedom in the U.S. (13%). The inclusion of these issues at the top is the list is not particularly surprising.
What may be surprising, though, are some of the issues that were virtually ignored by theolocon pastors. Those included the Israel-Palestine conflict (mentioned by less than one-half of 1%), poverty (1%), global religious persecution (1%), and racism and intolerance (3%). Given the format of the survey these low percentages do not mean that conservative pastors consider these issues to be unimportant; rather, they are simply not important enough to be a “top-two” priority. Nevertheless, the near-invisibility of these issues raises questions about whether such matters are lost in the din of the national conversation surrounding other challenges.
A Time of Opportunity
With the election behind us, and the public wondering how we will comport ourselves in the months and years to come, theologically conservative pastors have a huge window of opportunity before them, according to research veteran George Barna, who directed the ACFI research.
“One of the chief tasks of our national leaders, starting with Mr. Trump but certainly including our nation’s pastors, is to bring healing and unity to the forefront of our agenda. Until that happens, little of lasting value is likely to take place,” Barna commented. “Trump cannot accomplish the restoration and renewal process alone. Whether he realizes it or not, he needs the Christian Church to be a major contributor to such an effort. And it is an outstanding opportunity for the Church to be what it is meant to be: a source of wisdom, love, unity, and truth.
“But being effective in such a role will require pastors to provide strong leadership, based on a compelling vision of America’s future and a winsome approach to incorporating biblical values and principles into the fabric of American society,” the researcher continued. “No restoration plan will be successful without a spiritual edge to it. Our research among conservative pastors indicates that they have been reluctant to provide aggressive cultural leadership and to prepare their people to alternately lead with passion and follow with humility during this time of transition. The Trump victory simply gives God’s people an expanded time to be light in the midst of cultural darkness and confusion. The coming year will begin to reveal whether the American Church is up to the task.”
About the Research
The research 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.