NASHVILLE, Tenn. (BP)–The vast majority of Protestant clergy in America believe strongly that salvation comes only through Jesus Christ and that they have a responsibility to evangelize members of non-Christian faiths, but they also are willing to partner with non-Christian faith groups to accomplish good for society, according to a recent study.
Ellison Research, a full-service marketing research firm in Phoenix that conducted the research for the September/October issue of LifeWay’s Facts & Trends magazine, reported that 88 percent of senior pastors of Protestant churches said they agree strongly with the statement, “Regardless of what other faiths believe, Jesus Christ is the only path to salvation.”
A significant difference was found among ministers from denominations that are members of the National Association of Evangelicals and those with membership in the mainline National Council of Churches, Ellison noted. Ninety-six percent of pastors associated with the NAE agreed strongly that Jesus is the only way to salvation, but among NCC ministers only 65 percent agreed strongly.
A breakdown by denomination showed that 100 percent of Pentecostal ministers who responded to the survey agreed strongly with the exclusivity of Jesus, and 98 percent of Southern Baptist ministers agreed. Strong agreement was much less likely among Lutherans and Methodists at 77 and 65 percent respectively, Ellison said.
Concerning evangelism, 82 percent agreed strongly that it “is a Christian’s responsibility to try to lead people to belief in Christ, including active members of non-Christian faith groups.” Among NAE members, 92 agreed strongly while just 51 percent among NCC members agreed. Denominationally, 98 percent of Southern Baptists placed a high emphasis on evangelism.
The majority of respondents disagreed with the statement, “Religious tolerance includes not saying anything negative about other faith systems.” Forty-four percent strongly disagreed and 26 percent disagreed somewhat, Ellison found. The groups most likely to disagree strongly were pastors under the age of 45, those in churches with fewer than 100 people, and members of the NAE. Fifty-two percent of Southern Baptists expressed strong disagreement with the statement.
In response to the statement, “Churches, temples and mosques from different faiths should cooperate to tackle societal problems,” 37 percent agreed strongly and 41 percent agreed somewhat. A majority also agreed that they “would be willing to partner with a local non-Christian faith group to accomplish something good for your community.”
Ellison reported that even though most pastors expressed at least some willingness to partner with non-Christian faith groups for the good of society, relatively few had any strong relationships with religious leaders from those groups. Only 15 percent said they were “personally friends with one or more clergy from non-Christian faith groups.” Only 7 percent of Southern Baptist pastors said they had a close relationship with a non-Christian religious leader.
“Logically, it would seem pretty hard to say to someone, ‘Your faith cannot lead you to salvation, and it is my responsibility to evangelize you — so let’s work together to feed the homeless,'” Ron Sellers, president of Ellison Research, said. “It also may be desirable to believe you’re willing to work with other faith groups, but when so few pastors have relationships with any non-Christian clergy, it’s hard to see much interfaith cooperation developing.”
Ellison Research said its sample of 700 Protestant ministers included only those who are actively leading churches. The study’s total sample is accurate to within plus or minus 3.6 percentage points at the 95 percent confidence level with a 50 percent response distribution.
The study was conducted in all 50 states, using a representative sample of pastors from all Protestant denominations. Respondents’ geography, church size and denomination were tracked for appropriate representation and accuracy.
More data from this study is available at http://www.greymatterresearch.com/index_files/Cooperation.htm.