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Study shows support for Faith-Based & Community Initiatives Act remains lukewarm among Protestant cl

Saturday, August 10, 2002 | Tag Cloud

Among Protestant clergy, the response to President Bush's Faith-Based & Community Initiatives Act, which allows religious organizations to use federal funds for social programs, is still lukewarm.

In a nationwide, representative study of 567 Protestant ministers conducted by Ellison Research of Phoenix, Arizona, 67% of the clergy support this program, 32% oppose it, and 1% are still undecided. However, only 20% support it strongly, while 47% say they "somewhat support" the program. Similarly, opposition is also mostly lukewarm - 9% strongly oppose the program, while 23% "somewhat oppose" it.

Response to this program is particularly mixed among pastors who are registered Democrats. Among Democrats, 53% support the program (14% strongly, 39% somewhat), while 47% oppose it (16% strongly, 31% somewhat). Among Republican ministers, 73% support the program (23% strongly, 50% somewhat), while 26% oppose it (7% strongly, 19% somewhat), and 1% are undecided.

Pastors from all political backgrounds are struggling over how they feel about this issue. Support among self-described political conservatives is at 73%, while it is 68% among moderates and 49% among liberals. However, strong support is only at 25% among conservatives, 17% among moderates, and 11% among liberals.

In 2000, Ellison Research conducted a similar study among Protestant clergy, with a question that also asked about the Faith-Based & Community Initiatives Act. The data shows virtually no change from 2000 to 2002 on how ministers feel about this initiative.

Pastors' concerns about this program are not related to efficiency. Eighty-eight percent in this study agree with the statement "Religious organizations are more efficient than government in providing social help," including 43% who agree strongly with this perspective. A majority of pastors from both parties and various political ideologies agree with this, although Republicans are much more likely to agree strongly with this perspective than are Democrats (52% to 23%).

Ministers' concerns are apparently more about which religious groups will be eligible for federal funds, and about whether religious freedom will be compromised by this use of funds.

A majority of pastors agree that "Certain religious groups should not be eligible for funding through this program" (62% agree, split evenly between those who agree strongly and those who agree somewhat with this). Thirty-five percent disagree with this statement, while 3% are undecided. Pastors from various backgrounds all tend to have mixed emotions on the issue; just 35% of political conservatives, 29% of moderates, and 20% of liberals agree strongly with this statement.

In addition, just over six out of ten pastors worry that "Accepting government funding would compromise the spiritual mission or freedom of religious organizations" (18% agree strongly with this statement, with another 44% agreeing somewhat). Interestingly, concerns about this are similar among Democrats and Republicans; conservatives, moderates, and liberals.

Less of a concern for most ministers was whether "This plan violates the separation of church and state." Twenty-six percent agree with this statement (including 9% who agree strongly and 16% who agree somewhat), while 72% disagree (37% strongly, 35% somewhat). Concern over this issue is more common among politically liberal ministers, but even among liberals, just 46% say it is a violation of church/state separation, and just 21% feel this way strongly (compared to 33% of moderates and 16% of conservatives who say it violates the separation of church and state).

Pastors also are divided (and often undecided) over whether "Your church would seek government funding for social programs if it were available." Ten percent strongly feel they will seek government funding, and another 31% agree somewhat that they might. Thirty-one percent disagree somewhat with this statement, while 28% disagree strongly with it (2% are unsure).

Interestingly, while Democrats and political liberals are the ministers most likely to be divided over the Faith-Based & Community Initiatives Act, they are also the ones most likely to say they'll seek federal funding. Fourteen percent of pastors who are Democrats feel strongly they will seek federal funding for programs, versus just 8% of Republican pastors. Similarly, 16% of self-described political liberals strongly plan to seek federal funds, compared to 10% of moderates, and just 7% of conservatives.

Ron Sellers, president of Ellison Research and director of this study, noted that many of the same questions ministers have about this program today are the same ones that were raised back when George W. Bush originally championed the program during the presidential election. "It's noteworthy that the overall acceptance of this initiative among Protestant ministers has not really changed since we conducted the first study two years ago, when this program was just an idea. The White House has obviously not been successful in creating more acceptance of the idea among clergy; nor have opponents been successful in undermining what lukewarm support it does have."

Sellers also noted that the issues pastors are wrestling with are the same ones as politicians. "Ministers obviously believe religious groups are more efficient addressing social issues than is the government, but they worry about a potential loss of religious freedom and about which religious groups might apply for the funds."

Another surprising development was the fact that while politically conservative ministers are the most likely to support the Act, it was the more liberal pastors who actually had plans to wade in and use the funds for social programs. Yet both groups had relatively few members who were strongly outspoken in their support or opposition to this initiative.

"The Faith-Based & Community Initiatives Act is a fascinating contradiction for both sides of the political spectrum, even among clergy. Liberal clergy are more likely to promote a social gospel, but they have concerns about church/state separation. Conservative clergy are pleased at government support of religiously based programs, but they worry about which religious groups might be eligible for funding. Pastors from both perspectives believe religious groups are more efficient than government at attacking social ills, but are very concerned about a possible compromise of their religious freedom or mission. So it appears that both groups continue to take a 'wait and see' attitude toward this initiative, no matter how much attention has been given to it over the past two years," Sellers commented.

Study Details:
The study was conducted by Ellison Research, a marketing research company located in Phoenix, Arizona. Although Ellison Research has numerous clients, this study was funded and conducted independently by the company. The sample of 567 Protestant ministers included only those who are actively pastoring churches. The study's total sample is accurate to within ±4.1 percentage points at the 95% confidence level with a 50% response distribution. The study was conducted in all 50 states, using a representative sample of pastors. Respondents' geography, church size, and denomination were carefully tracked to ensure appropriate representation and accuracy.

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Worthy Christian News » Christian » Study shows support for Faith-Based & Community Initiatives Act remains lukewarm among Protestant cl

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