Protestant ministers in the United States generally believe that religious persecution is a major problem in today’s world, and they believe the U.S. should impose sanctions against countries where this is occurring. These findings have just been released from a research study conducted among Protestant clergy in America.
In the study, conducted by Ellison Research of Phoenix, Arizona, a representative sample of church pastors was asked to agree or disagree with a number of statements about religious persecution. Ninety-one percent agreed with the statement “Persecution of Christians because of their faith is a major problem in today’s world,” including 57% who agreed strongly with this statement.
While few pastors of any type disagreed with the statement, the intensity of their agreement hinged on their political beliefs. Republicans tended to feel very strongly that persecution of Christians is a major problem in the world (68%), as did half of all independents. But while eight out of ten Democrats agreed with the statement, only 33% agreed strongly, while the rest agreed just somewhat.
Many churches are from denominations that are members either of the mainline National Council of Churches of Christ, or of the conservative National Association of Evangelicals. Persecution was perceived to be a much greater problem by the evangelical pastors than by the mainline pastors. Among pastors within NEA-member denominations, 70% felt strongly that persecution of Christians is a major problem. This was true for only 37% of all pastors from NCCC-member denominations.
Pastors were divided over the issue of whether persecution of Christians is more severe than it is for many other groups. Forty-five percent of all pastors agreed with the statement “Persecution of Christians in the world is no worse than for many other groups,” while 55% disagreed with this statement. A majority of Democrats (72%), political independents (53%), and pastors from NCCC denominations (66%) agreed with the statement, compared to a minority among Republicans (32%) and pastors from NAE-member denominations (29%).
Regardless of whether persecution was perceived to be worse for Christians than for other groups, a majority of all ministers agreed with the statement “The U.S. should impose sanctions against countries in which Christians are persecuted by their government.” Seventy-seven percent of all ministers agreed with this, including 43% who agreed strongly with the statement. A majority of all Protestant clergy groups called for sanctions based on religious persecution, although evangelical pastors and Republicans were particularly strong and united in their feelings that sanctions are needed.
Interestingly, a majority of ministers agreed with the statement “Persecution of Christians because of their faith is a major problem in the United States.” Sixty-one percent of all pastors agreed with this statement, although just 16% agreed strongly, while the rest agreed somewhat with the statement. Although Republicans (72%), political independents (60%), and evangelical pastors (70%) were more likely than other groups to claim religious persecution in the United States is a major problem, a significant proportion of Democrats (35%) and pastors from NCCC-member denominations (46%) also agreed with the statement.
Pastors were somewhat divided over the statement “There’s not much a Christian in the United States can do about religious persecution in other lands.” Twenty-four percent agreed with this statement, while 38% disagreed somewhat, and another 38% disagreed strongly with the statement. Although perceptions of the severity of religious persecution differed strongly along political and theological lines, there were not strong differences of opinion on this statement.
Finally, the study also asked pastors to name the country in the world where they perceived religious persecution of Christians to be the most severe. The number one country pastors listed was China, which was mentioned by 30% of all ministers. Rounding out the top six were Sudan (16%), India (5%), Indonesia (4%), Saudi Arabia (4%), and Iran (4%).
Forty different nations were mentioned by pastors, including Ireland, Mexico, Egypt, Nepal, Israel, Cuba, Bosnia, Russia, and even the United States. In general, persecution was seen as particularly bad in Asia and Africa; 42% named an Asian nation, 23% an African nation, 12% a Middle Eastern country, and just a few mentioned any place in Europe or Russia (3%), North America (1%), or Central/South America (1%). Nineteen percent of all ministers were unsure which country to name as the worst for persecution of Christians.
This study was funded, designed, and conducted independently by Ellison Research. However, representatives from two different organizations that work with the issue of religious persecution were given the opportunity to comment on the findings of the study. Their comments and contact information are provided below.
Open Doors with Brother Andrew
Mike Yoder, Director of Communications: “Open Doors with Brother Andrew has been a founding sponsor of the annual International Day of Prayer for the Persecuted Church, held each November since 1996. Interestingly, during those same five years we have seen a remarkable increase in the awareness of Christian persecution by members of the American church. The results of this study by Ellison Research suggest that accurate information has apparently come through clearly to pastors as well. Twice each year Open Doors analyzes the severity of Christian persecution worldwide, and the countries mentioned by the pastors who were surveyed for this study closely match the actual results we found.
“There is little doubt that the clergy and laymen in the western world now realize that Christians continue to face severe persecution in many parts of our world today; the new challenge is to motivate Christians in the free church to become involved in supporting their suffering brothers and sisters in the persecuted church. Studies like this help us continue to get the word out.” (Contact Mike Yoder of Open Doors at 949-752-6600.)
Christian Freedom International
Jim Jacobson, president: “This study provides convincing evidence that American pastors are knowledgeable about religious persecution in other countries. It’s further proof that pastors are not ignorant of the religious persecution faced by many around the globe. The study also indicates that many religious leaders are abdicating personal responsibility to the government. Unfortunately, too many fail to see they have any personal responsibility to help – they believe the government should impose sanctions.
“The study is also consistent with the results of a poll we commissioned earlier this year which showed that too many American Christians believe they have no personal responsibility to help. This is unfortunate because in many situations, individuals can make a major difference in the lives of persecuted believers.” (To request further information from Mr. Jacobson, contact Cathy Schneider at 540-636-8907.)
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 518 Protestant ministers included only those who are actively pastoring churches. The study’s total sample is accurate to within + (plus) or – (minus) 4.3 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. Data was gathered in late Spring 2000, but this is the first time the findings on this topic have been released to the public.
The study delved into numerous topics: attitudes about religious media, pastors’ viewpoints on other current issues (the flat tax, third-world debt, Affirmative Action, etc.), and additional subjects. Additional findings will be released from this study. Additional data on these questions is available at www.ellisonresearch.com.