NASHVILLE, Tenn. (ABP) -- A majority of Protestant pastors believes that George W. Bush and Sarah Palin are Christians but President Obama, Glenn Beck and Oprah Winfrey are not.
Those are findings of a LifeWay Research survey of 1,000 pastors polled about their understanding of the faith of five well-known public personalities Oct. 7-14, 2010.
Ed Stetzer, president of LifeWay Research, said Dec. 7 that most Americans consider themselves to be Christians and for many of them what has been called the "Oprahfication" of American spirituality is a positive thing. Among pastors, however, just 19 percent believe that Oprah Winfrey is a Christian.
"She is, I think, probably the most influential spiritual leader in America, and it is interesting that Protestant pastors don't consider her a Christian," Stetzer said. "Many Christian people are reading Oprah, but Protestant pastors don't think she is a Christian."
Stetzer said for many people "Christian" is a box they check on a demographic survey. Pastors, meanwhile tend to have a more detailed view. Many apply terms like "born again" or "evangelical" as synonyms for "Christian."
Stetzer said that might explain why just 27 percent of pastors in the survey considered Fox News personality Glenn Beck a Christian. Beck belongs to the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, and many Protestants view Mormonism as not a Christian denomination but another religion.
Four out of 10 Protestant pastors (41 percent) said they believed President Barack Obama is a Christian. Former President George W. Bush, in contrast, was viewed a Christian by 75 percent of Protestant pastors, the highest percentage of any of the public figures in the survey. As for Sarah Palin, the former governor of Alaska and presumed presidential hopeful, 66 percent said she is a Christian.
Stetzer said beliefs about the Christian faith of the five well-known personalities differed greatly by characteristics of Protestant pastors themselves. Pastors who are politically or theologically liberal were more likely to indicate the personalities were Christians, while conservative and evangelical pastors were less likely to say so.
Just 23 percent of pastors who identified their political party as Republican believed Obama is a Christian. That compared to 80 percent of Democrats and 52 percent of Independents.
Eighty-four percent of pastors who identified their political views as liberal or very liberal said former President Bush is a Christian, compared to 74 percent of conservatives and 75 percent of those identified as very conservative.
"Research like this can be helpful as it shows us what leadership is thinking-- at least in Protestant circles -- when it comes public figures and the nature of being a Christian, and the influence of being a Christian," Stetzer observed in a Dec. 6 blog.