March 19, 2003

Survey: Americans Hearing about Iraq From the Pulpit, But Religious Faith Not Defining Opinions

Most American churchgoers are hearing about the issue of war with Iraq at their places of worship. But most say their ministers are not taking a position for or against the war, and relatively few people say their own views on the issue are being shaped by religious leaders or their own religious beliefs.

Nearly six-in-ten (57%) of those who regularly attend religious services say their clergy has spoken about the prospect of war with Iraq. But just a fifth (21%) say their priest or minister has taken a position on the issue. When churchgoers do hear a point of view, it mostly comports with the national stance of their religious faith: white Catholics and African-Americans are hearing anti-war
messages, while white evangelical Protestants are getting a pro-war point of view.

But on balance very few people say their religious beliefs are shaping their views on Iraq, unlike the relatively large percentage who report this about social and moral issues like gay marriage, abortion, or the death penalty.

Just one-in-ten Americans cite their religious beliefs as the strongest influence in their thinking about the war, with supporters and opponents of military action equally likely to cite this as a factor (9% of supporters, 10% of opponents). Even among those who regularly attend religious services, fewer than one-in-five (17%) say their religious beliefs are the biggest influence.

These are the principal findings of a nationwide survey of 1,032 Americans conducted March 13-16 by the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life and the Pew Research Center for the People & the Press. The survey shows that just a third of Americans say that the opinions of religious leaders have had at least some influence on their thinking about possible military action in Iraq, and only 11% say those views have been highly influential. By comparison, a 53% majority say friends and family have had at least some influence in shaping their opinions on possible military action (14% great deal), and 43% say that about political commentators (7% great deal).

Related Events

Discussion: Religion and American Foreign Policy: Prophetic, Perilous, Inevitable (February 5, 2003)

Symposium: Iraq and Just War (September 30, 2002)