A stop-and-think survey

One of the most amazing surveys that I share with my students comes from the work of sociologist Jeffery Hayden. In 1982 Hayden sent a survey out to 10,000 Protestant ministers and pastors, of which 7,441 replied. The results are rather incredible. Keep in mind these are Christian pastors and ministers answering basic questions pertaining to Christian theology! I’ll let you draw your own conclusions, and I would love to hear what your conclusions are.

Was Jesus born of a virgin?

60% of Methodist pastors said, “NO”

49% of United Presbyterian pastors said, “NO”

44% of Episcopalian priests said, “NO”

19% of Lutheran pastors said, “NO”

Was Jesus the Son of God?

82% of the Methodist pastors said, “NO”

81% of United Presbyterian pastors said, “NO”

89% of Episcopalian priests said, “NO”

57% of Lutheran pastors said, “NO”

Is the Bible the inspired Word of God?

82% of Methodist pastors said, “NO”

81% of United Presbyterian pastors said, “NO”

89% of Episcopalian priests said, “NO”

57% of Lutheran pastors said, “NO”

Does Satan really exist?

62% of Methodist pastors said, “NO”

47% of United Presbyterian pastors said, “NO”

37% of Episcopalian priests said, “NO”

33% of American Baptist pastors said, “NO”

14% of Lutheran pastors said, “NO”

Did Jesus physically resurrect from the dead?

51% of Methodist pastors said, “NO”

35% of United Presbyterian pastors said, “NO”

30% of Episcopalian priests said, “NO”

33% of American Baptist pastors said, “NO”

13% of Lutheran pastors said, “NO”

These survey results were printed in Christ for the Nations magazine in the 80’s.

25 thoughts on “A stop-and-think survey

  1. “Liberal Me” gets feelings of affirmation and hope for humanity when I there is evidence and possibility for social progress, especially when it comes to reason and common sense. With that stated, “Logical Me” – who has been conditioned to read into the underlying assumptions in statistics – has a little trouble with the validity of the results of this survey. I find this study biased – the survey has been administered and filled out by a sample that have traditionally represented more liberal denominations of the Christian faith. I think if this survey had been administered and completed by ministers of other Christian denominations (Catholics, Orthodox churches, Quakers, Pentecostals, Mormons, Unitarians, new-age / evangelical denominations, Christian Scientist, etc.) it would be more valid and impartial. Also, the results of the Baptists regarding the first two questions are not revealed, leaving me with questions as to why. Stop-and-think made me analyze, and now I have a headache.

    • Lyndsey,

      I agree that the survey certainly is looking at the more liberal churches in America. That being said, the results do highlite a major difference in what Christian leaders believe to be basic “truths” of Christianity. There is great diversity of thought among Christian leaders. Here is my question: is this something Christians should celebrate, or be embarrassed about? Just a thought. It is good to hear from you, Lyndsey!

      • Again, “Liberal Me” keeps saying, “I want to believe!” But “Logical Me” is taking over. Don’t get me wrong – I pray to powers of reason, truth and logic. But I still have a couple issues with this survey, purely looking from a research standpoint. I tried to find it myself, but no luck. So I’ll have to take it at face value. 1) The sample size. It’s gigantic. As a researcher, one is lucky to get a third of the subjects to participate. This survey has almost a 75% participation rate, and this is well before the internet and Survey Monkey. I question because I have no basis on how the subjects were obtained, and something makes me doubt that all of those pastors put that survey in the snail-mail. 2) Aside from the fact that the sample is made up of all Protestant ministers, but provides little to no further descriptive data with regards to the sample.

        I encourage and embrace diversity of thought amongst not only Christian leaders, but everybody. Diversity plays great contribution in problem solving and critical thinking. I find vulnerability in surveys that cannot be validated and are prone to bias. The reason? People make invalid interpretations and assumptions based off of the data. And this can be just as dangerous as those who use research and science in an attempt to prove their irrational and illogical Biblical theories. Assumptions obstruct growth and progress and cause erroneous beliefs.

  2. Wow, very interesting. I wonder what the reason for the non-response of the roughly 25% of the survey sample was. Maybe they were so insulted by the notion of the survey that they didn’t respond thus skewing the result of the survey. Or maybe they just didn’t want their views identified. Either way, those numbers are much higher than I would have thought. Good post!

  3. I love god to put it out there in my beliefs hes helped me through my cancer in my leg but i dont know how that can be said by pasters cause they should be the ones that are spreading the word of god not bashing it

    • I guess it just goes to show that Christian leaders have varying viewpoints on some basic “truths” within Christianity. I’m glad you are getting into the discussion, Erik!

  4. These are the pastor’s own personal beliefs, right? Not what they are teaching their congregations.

    I have a gay friend who is a pastor & he made the comment that there are many gay pastors because it’s a safe environment for them. Just like many “public servants” dont take their jobs out of a sense of “public service” but for personal reasons. ( Not implying that the gay pastors arent very good Christians, dedicated & committed.) Just suggesting that possibly many pastors dont necessarily feel God’s “call” but are first & foremost looking for a job.

    No matter, it points out the importance of not accepting anyone’s word as gospel, but searching & studying scripture for oneself. As Jesus asked” who do YOU believe I am?” It doesnt matter what your parents, teachers, pastors or friends believe. In the end it’s on you & you alone.

    • When I studied for a mainstream Ministry I was not aware of any of my colleagues who were gay or lesbian. What I did become aware of was that the intense study of biblical texts – AND the background history, textual criticism, biblical scholarship, archeology, contemporary mythologies, modern and ancient theological philosophy, and so on – led us to a Christian belief that was very different from the one held by most of the populations that were expected to serve. The students adjusted to this one way or another. I choose to remove myself from candidacy before I got to the intellectually dishonest position of having to preach and accommodate beliefs I no longer had. Others simply built a wall around what they believed and ministered to what their congregations believed. The consequence is that there are a lot of hidden atheists among the clergy with no easy way of getting out of the profession. This is the group that The Clergy Project is tapping. I hear that there are over 400 clergy enrolled in that project at this time. One recent graduate “came out” at an atheist free-thought convention and paid the painful social consequences of that. She is not working in a secular organization where she says the people are much nicer than her previous colleagues. Ouch!

  5. Every human being on this earth sees their god in many different ways and worship in many different ways as well. Each story in their faith teaches many aspect of how humanity should treat and accept one another. To the common individual one faith may speak more to ones inner self, or soul, in enlightenment and happiness then another.

  6. Through my eyes all faiths are true, as well as every man, women, and child has their own path to take and their own life to shape by their hands and with the hands of others that hold great meaning to the individual.

  7. Each person in this world will look to the future, look back on the past and smile. even through all of their hardships they will see that it helped them along their path in this crazy picture we all call Life.

  8. re the lack of baptists and other more conservatives – i had just assumed that the survey (seems to me anyone who wanted something valid would send to equal amounts of ALL denominations) was sent to them as well, and they either are part of the group who chose not to respond, or else responded, saying “yes,” and so this report did not include them – after all, it lists the “no’s” rather than the yesses – and this segment would have been much more likely to answer “yes,” right?

    • That makes some sense. However, if the survey included conservative pastors, at least some of them would have said “no” to some of the questions. These responses are not reflected in the data cited.

  9. Is anyone aware of a more current study along these same lines? It would also be interesting to see a survey of this nature conducted among conservative, evangelical pastors. I would not be surprised to see similar numbers associated with this population.

  10. Interesting survey, but… Is it truly accurate?

    I’d like to know how the pastors (and et cetera) in Red Wing would answer those questions…

    • if the survey was given to the pastors of the Red Wing area, my guess would be along the lines of 60%-50% saying yes or vice versu. Actually I think I’ll test this and give the results to james to tell all of you.

  11. Here’s a conclusion: christian leaders are more “misleading” than they are “misled”.

    Imagine if clergymen decide it best to only teach us those christian fictions & fables that they personally find believable. Testimony of prophets is increasingly incredible. Believable perhaps. But not credible. Not in light of modern scholarship.

    Today’s scholars & theologians almost certainly know better than christendom’s 1st century moralizers and revisionist “historians”.

    They could update their bibles. Remove monotheism’s original fiction (Genesis 1:1-3) and jesus’ famously divisive moralizing (no heaven for the unsaved). Academia has discovered those are demonstrably bad ideas. Best not imposed on younger generations. Best christendom stop spreading such harmful rhetoric.

    Yet theologians fail to improve the doctrinal text within their scripture. “Extend thy love beyond thy neighbour” those of us more worldly than that famously illiterate prophet have learned. Yet the biblical scholar’s pen is stayed. Too strict is the “loyalty” they have in mind. Too aligned with wealthy politicised dominionists.

    Anything christlike can be left in last century. We’ve outgrown moralizing holymen.

    Their imagined anti-christ is within their own gates. Seminaries produce unchristlike christians.

    • The problem with this suggestion is that most clergy would lose their jobs if they publicly admitted to holding a liberal view of their religion.

      Teachers are conservative seminaries in the United States are obliged to sign an employment agreement that they will never openly challenge the current evangelical fundamentalist doctrines. If they do, they are fired. This contradicts the academic freedom which is enshrined in universities and professional schools of international caliber.

    • “Anything christlike can be left in last century. We’ve outgrown moralizing holymen.”

      What are the homicide rates? Abuse? Adultery? Theft? Yeah, right, we’ve outgrown all that stuff.

  12. I wonder if the high response rate could be due to the tough position they are in. Imagine how you as an individual would feel, administering to the needs of your faith community and propogating beliefs you personally do not believe. It would be a breath of fresh air to have anyone consider your personal beliefs and perhaps bring a sense of relief to be honest for once, even anonymously.

  13. To me, at least, it would seem from the survey presented in that form that those who answered in that light don’t believe as much as they preach. Perhaps their “job” has become just that for them, and less a belief passion.

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