NASHVILLE, Tenn. (ABP) — Protestant pastors may hold strong political views but most don't use their pulpits to tell church members how to vote, according to new data by LifeWay Research.
The research arm of the Southern Baptist Convention's publishing house LifeWay Christian Resources found that 61 percent of Protestant pastors disapprove of President Obama's job performance. Eighty-four percent, however, disagreed with a survey statement, "I believe pastors should endorse candidates for public office from the pulpit."
"We know that pastors have strong feelings when it comes to political candidates and their job performance," said Ed Stetzer, president of LifeWay Research. "But each week when they step into public pulpits in front of sometimes thousands of congregants, the vast majority of those pulpits remain silent on advising others how to vote. They may not approve, but they do not plan to tell."
Stetzer said Obama has done little in nearly two years in office to win over Protestant pastors who indicated they planned to vote against him prior to the 2008 election. In a LifeWay Research poll in October 2008, 20 percent of Protestant pastors said they intended to vote for Obama, 55 percent for Republican candidate John McCain and 22 percent remained undecided.
The president's current approval rating is higher among Protestant pastors who self-identify as Democrats — 47 percent of them strongly approve of his job performance compared to 3 percent of Republicans and 10 percent of Independents.
Differences also emerge between pastors who consider themselves "evangelical" and those who self-identify as "mainline." Fifty-five percent of evangelical pastors strongly disapprove of Obama's job performance, compared to 34 percent of mainline pastors.
Party affiliation also made a difference in how pastors feel about endorsing candidates from the pulpit. Among Democrats, 84 percent strongly disagree with the practice, compared to 61 percent of Republicans.
Evangelical pastors are also more likely to see nothing wrong with pulpit endorsements. Two out of three (65 percent) disapprove of the practice, compared to 79 percent of mainline pastors who oppose telling parishioners how to vote.
LifeWay Research conducted phone interviews with senior ministers of 1,000 randomly selected churches between Oct. 7 and Oct. 14. The sample was calculated with a margin error of plus of minus 3.2 percent.
A separate survey by the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life, meanwhile, found that just 5 percent of regular church attenders reported being urged by clergy or other religious groups to vote in a certain way.
Bob Allen is senior writer for Associated Baptist Press.