A Survey of Clergy and Their Views on Origins
In 2012, the Barna Group conducted telephone interviews with pastors from across the US from all Christian denominations, providing a fascinating analysis of clerical views on origins today.
What do today’s pastors think about science? What views do they hold on creation and evolution and how strongly do they hold them? How do origins issues impact their ministries?
These were just a few of the questions that motivated us at BioLogos to commission a survey of pastors on origins. In 2012, the Barna Group conducted 743 telephone interviews with pastors from across the US, from churches big and small, and from all Christian denominations. This comprehensive, in-depth survey provides a fascinating analysis of views held by clergy today. Here are some key highlights:
#1: Pastors hold a diversity of views on origins.
Overall, while a slight majority of the pastors surveyed fall under the label of Young Earth Creationism (54%), sizeable portions of clergy accept Progressive Creation (15%) and Theistic Evolution (18%).
The numbers varied widely based on a number of factors, however. Pastors of mainline churches were most likely to accept Theistic Evolution, while non-Mainline, Charismatic, and Southern Baptist pastors were overwhelmingly Young Earth Creationists. Pastors of larger churches were also more likely to accept Theistic Evolution.
Regionally, the highest percentage of YEC pastors was found in South, while the highest percentage of pastors accepting TE was in the Midwest. Pastors from the western states were the least likely to accept TE.
#2: Most pastors think science and faith questions are important.
Regardless of their views, the majority of pastors surveyed feel that the Church needs to look at how it handles issues of science. 72% of pastors with YEC views and 73% of pastors with TE views agree with the statement that “the Christian community needs to take a serious look at its understanding of science and human origins in order to maintain its witness in the world.” (The numbers are slightly lower for pastors who hold to Progressive Creation and who are uncertain).
Similarly, 66% of YEC pastors and 61% of both TE and Progressive Creation pastors agree that “younger adults today are more concerned than ever about whether faith and science are compatible.”
#3: Clergy think disagreements on science and faith harm our witness (but for different reasons).
Clergy across all three viewpoints feel that disagreements are harming the Church’s outreach, but they differ in how they view that harm.
YEC pastors overwhelming agreed (85%) that “Christian disagreement on matters of creation and evolution is compromising our witness to the world.” However, a majority of TE pastors disagreed with the statement (63%).
Conversely, a majority of TE pastors (63%) agreed that “The church’s posture toward science prevents many non-Christians from accepting Christianity,” while a majority of YEC and Progressive Creation leaning pastors disagreed (59%).
#4: Pastors aren’t avoiding science.
The majority of pastors think that addressing issues of science for their congregations is an important part of their work. Of those surveyed, 72% felt that addressing science issues in the local community was somewhat (51%) or very (21%) urgent. When asked about science on a national and global level, even more pastors felt that addressing science issues is important (43% somewhat and 46% very). Furthermore, 79% of pastors included scientific themes in at least one sermon in the past year, and 40% had included them in at least ten sermons.
The majority of clergy across all four viewpoints also agreed with the statement “Just as scripture should influence human interpretation of science, science should also inform our understanding of scripture.” The numbers were highest for TE pastors and those who are uncertain (81% and 72%, respectively), though over half of YEC and PC pastors also agreed (52% and 65%, respectively).
Finally, although YEC’s are more reluctant than other pastors to say “science should inform understanding of scripture, they strongly agree (84%) that “The Christian community needs a greater commitment to showing how young earth creationism is consistent with science.”
#5: However, they are concerned about evolution for biblical reasons.
Over half of pastors said they had “major concerns” about the idea that God used evolution. The main reasons for that concern were that the idea “undermines the authority of Scripture” (64%), “views portions of the Bible as non-literal, like Genesis” (62%), “raises doubts about a historical Adam and Eve” (61%), and “raises questions about how and when death and sin entered the world” (59%). However, 26% of pastors saw no concern with the idea that God used evolution.
#6: The majority of clergy accept parts of scripture as symbolic.
60% of the pastors surveyed felt that “some portions of the Bible are symbolic, but all that it teaches is authoritative.” Clergy whose views fall under theistic evolution and progressive creation were more likely to accept this statement (79% and 73% respectively), but a sizeable number of YEC pastors (40% among the core followers and 49% among those leaning towards YEC) also agreed with the statement.
#7: Clergy are concerned that changing their views on origins might compromise their ministry.
Over half of pastors (58%) who fell under the YEC category agreed that “If you publicly admitted your own doubts about human origins, you feel you would have a lot to lose in your ministry.” 41% of pastors in the Progressive Creation group also agreed with the statement. Pastors who were uncertain or who fell under the Theistic Evolution group were less concerned, with only 26% and 17% respectively agreeing with the statement.
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