News Articles

SBC pastors & U.S. public differ on key national issues

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (BP)–A majority of Southern Baptist Convention pastors believe the media has overstated the threat of global warming and that SBC resolutions have not been “too timid” in addressing the issue, according to a recent study on national issues by LifeWay Research.

The study also found a contrast between the opinions of SBC pastors and average Americans on global warming and such issues as physician-assisted suicide and embryonic stem cell research.

In another finding, SBC pastors overwhelmingly favor Republican John McCain over his two Democratic rivals, Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton.

Eighty percent of SBC pastors plan to vote for McCain. Obama was supported by 1 percent of pastors, while Clinton gained 0 percent of pastors’ support. Ed Stetzer, director of LifeWay Research, a division of LifeWay Christian Resources of the Southern Baptist Convention, noted, “While many have spoken of the weakening of evangelical support of some conservative causes and candidates, that does not seem to be reflected in the voting plans of SBC pastors.”

Meanwhile, 15 percent of Southern Baptist pastors were undecided about their presidential votes, while 4 percent of pastors said they plan to vote for a candidate other than the three major contenders.

Regarding SBC resolutions on global warming, the study revealed only 17 percent of the denomination’s pastors see the convention as too timid in its stances on climate change. Sixty-five percent of pastors either somewhat disagreed or strongly disagreed that the convention has been too timid in its resolutions on climate change.

“The majority of Southern Baptists are comfortable with the stand of the convention from past resolutions,” Stetzer said. “They do not think the convention resolutions have been too timid.”

A resolution adopted by the SBC in 2007 urged Southern Baptists to “proceed cautiously in the human-induced global warming debate in light of conflicting scientific research.” The resolution additionally said that Southern Baptists “consider proposals to regulate CO2 and other greenhouse gas emissions based on a maximum acceptable global temperature goal to be very dangerous, since attempts to meet the goal could lead to a succession of mandates of deeper cuts in emissions, which may have no appreciable effect if humans are not the principal cause of global warming, and could lead to major economic hardships on a worldwide scale.”

As a solution to global warming, the resolution said Southern Baptists “strongly request that all public policy decision makers ensure an appropriate balance between care for the environment, effects on economies, and impacts on the poor when considering programs to reduce CO2 and other greenhouse gas emissions.”

Scott McConnell, associate director of LifeWay Research, noted, “Skepticism of the media’s coverage of global warming is pervasive among SBC pastors.”

When asked whether they “believe that the media has overstated the threat of global warming,” 86 percent of SBC pastors responded in the affirmative. Seventy-five percent of SBC pastors disagreed with the idea that “the government should take significant action to reduce carbon emissions to combat global warming, even if the action causes serious, negative economic impact on average Americans’ living standards.”

An additional study of 1,201 Americans showed divergent views with Southern Baptist pastors. A representative sample of Americans surveyed appeared more convinced than Southern Baptist pastors that humans play a role in global warming, with 77 percent agreeing that the earth is warming and that humans contribute to that warming to some degree. Thirty-six percent of SBC pastors agreed with the same statement.


The study also noted a sharp contrast between Southern Baptist pastors and average Americans on physician-assisted suicide. While half of Americans agreed that it is morally acceptable for a person facing a painful terminal disease to ask for a physician’s aid in taking his life, 81 percent of SBC pastors strongly disagreed with that position.

Southern Baptist pastors again broke with average Americans on embryonic stem cell research. Though 66 percent of Americans said embryonic stem cell research is morally acceptable given the potential for medical breakthroughs, only 6 percent of pastors agreed. Seventy-six percent of pastors strongly disagreed with embryonic stem cell research, and an additional 14 percent of pastors said they somewhat disagree with embryonic stem cell research.

McConnell noted that amid a variety of topics covered in the study, questions on what is morally acceptable triggered the strongest opinions among pastors.

“Americans are clearly looking at a different moral compass in terms of stem cell research and physician-assisted suicide,” McConnell said. “In both of these moral questions, more than three-quarters of SBC pastors strongly advocated the embryo and the life, while many Americans gravitated toward medical breakthroughs and ending pain.”

The study findings are based on surveys conducted by LifeWay Research in spring 2008. A telephone survey of a representative weighted sample of American adults was conducted April 10-12. The total sample size of 1,201 provides 95 percent confidence that the sampling error for Americans does not exceed +2.9 percent. An online survey of a representative, weighted sample of 778 Southern Baptist pastors was conducted April 16-May 5. This total sample size provides 95 percent confidence that the sampling error for SBC pastors does not exceed +3.5 percent.
David Roach is a writer based in Louisville, Ky.