June 22, 2011

Global Survey of Evangelical Protestant Leaders

Evangelical Protestant leaders who live in the Global South (sub-Saharan Africa, the Middle East and North Africa, Latin America and most of Asia) generally are optimistic about the prospects for evangelicalism in their countries. But those who live in the Global North (Europe, North America, Japan, Australia and New Zealand) tend to be more pessimistic

lausanne-exec-1 lausanne-exec-2 lausanne-exec-3Seven-in-ten evangelical leaders who live in the Global South (71%) expect that five years from now the state of evangelicalism in their countries will be better than it is today. But a majority of evangelical leaders in the Global North expect that the state of evangelicalism in their countries will either stay about the same (21%) or worsen (33%) over the next five years.

In addition, most leaders in the Global South (58%) say that evangelical Christians are gaining influence on life in their countries. By contrast, most leaders in the Global North (66%) say that, in the societies in which they live, evangelicals are losing influence. U.S. evangelical leaders are especially downbeat about the prospects for evangelical Christianity in their society; 82% say evangelicals are losing influence in the United States today, while only 17% think evangelicals are gaining influence.

These are among the key findings of a survey by the Pew Research Center’s Forum on Religion & Public Life of 2,196 evangelical leaders from 166 countries and territories who were invited to attend the Third Lausanne Congress of World Evangelization, a 10-day gathering of ministers and lay leaders held in October 2010 in Cape Town, South Africa.

The survey finds nearly unanimous agreement among the global evangelical leaders on some key beliefs, such as that Christianity is the one, true faith leading to eternal life. They also hold traditional views on family and social issues. For example, more than nine-in-ten say abortion is usually wrong (45%) or always wrong (51%). About eight-in-ten say that society should discourage homosexuality (84%) and that men should serve as the religious leaders in the marriage and family (79%).

Virtually all the leaders surveyed (98%) also agree that the Bible is the word of God. But they are almost evenly divided between those who say the Bible should be read literally, word for word (50%), and those who do not think that everything in the Bible should be taken literally (48%). They are similarly split on whether it is necessary to believe in God in order to be a moral person (49% yes, 49% no), and whether drinking alcohol is compatible with being a good evangelical (42% yes, 52% no).

In a number of ways, leaders in the Global South are more conservative than those in the Global North. For instance, leaders in the Global South are more likely than those in the Global North to read the Bible literally (58% vs. 40%) and to favor making the Bible the official law of the land in their countries (58% vs. 28%).  More evangelical leaders in the Global South than in the Global North take the position that abortion is always wrong (59% vs. 41%), and more say that a wife must always obey her husband (67% vs. 39%). Leaders in the Global South are also much more inclined than those in the Global North to say that consuming alcohol is incompatible with being a good evangelical (75% vs. 23%).

Overall, evangelical leaders around the world view secularism, consumerism and popular culture as the greatest threats they face today. More of the leaders express concern about these aspects of modern life than express concern about other religions, internal disagree-ments among evangelicals or government restrictions on religion.

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Of the nearly 2,200 evangelical leaders surveyed by the Pew Forum, about seven-in-ten (71%) see the influence of secularism as a major threat to evangelical Christianity in the countries where they live. Two-thirds (67%) also cite “too much emphasis on consumerism and material goods” as a major threat to evangelicalism, and nearly six-in-ten (59%) put “sex and violence in popular culture” into the same category. In addition, nearly two-thirds of the global evangelical leaders (64%) say there is a “natural conflict” between being an evangelical and living in a modern society.

Conflict between religious groups, by contrast, does not loom as a particularly large concern for most of the evangelical leaders surveyed. A majority says that conflict between religious groups is either a small problem (41%) or not a problem at all (14%) in their countries – though a sizeable minority considers it either a moderately big problem (27%) or a very big problem (17%). Those who live in the Middle East and North Africa are especially inclined to see inter-religious conflict as a moderately big (37%) or very big problem (35%). Nine-in-ten evangelical leaders (90%) who live in Muslim-majority countries say the influence of Islam is a major threat, compared with 41% of leaders who live elsewhere.

On the whole, the evangelical Protestant leaders express favorable opinions of adherents of other faiths in the Judeo-Christian tradition, including Judaism, Catholicism and Eastern Orthodox Christianity. But of those who express an opinion, solid majorities express unfavorable views of Buddhists (65%), Hindus (65%), Muslims (67%) and atheists (70%). Interestingly, the leaders who live in Muslim-majority countries generally are more positive in their assessments of Muslims than are the evangelical leaders overall.2

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Other Findings

In addition, the survey finds:

About the Survey

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The Pew Forum conducted the survey in nine languages, including English, from August to December 2010. A total of about 4,500 people registered to attend the Third Lausanne Congress, and nearly half completed the survey, using Web and paper questionnaires.

The survey’s 2,196 respondents turned out to closely mirror the full set of leaders attending the congress in terms of region, gender, age and organization type. The organizers of the gathering sought to create a body that was representative of the geographic distribution of evangelicals around the world. Thus, they divided the world into 12 regions and invited delegates in rough proportion to their estimates of the number of evangelicals in each region and country. About six-in-ten of the evangelical leaders surveyed (57%) are from the Global South while about four-in-ten (43%) are from the Global North, including 16% from the United States. They are ethnically and racially diverse: 36% identify as Caucasian, 23% as black, 17% as Asian, 5% as Hispanic and 1% as Arab, with the remainder either not identifying as any of these (10%) or indicating they are of mixed race (7%). But they are less diverse in other ways: Nearly three-quarters of the evangelical leaders surveyed (74%) are employed by churches or other religious organizations, and they are predominantly college-educated, male and middle-aged, with very few under age 30.

The Global South and the Global North

In recent years, numerous books and articles have discussed the shifting demographics of Christianity, particularly the rapid growth in the proportion of Christians who live in the Global South (especially Africa, Asia and Latin America) and whether the influence of Christians in the Global North is waning, or not.3 The survey contains several questions about the relationship of Christians in the United States and Europe (part of the Global North, sometimes also called “the West”) with those in the Global South. On the whole, these questions show that evangelicals can be quite self-critical. For example, not only do most Lausanne Congress participants say that evangelical leaders from Africa, Asia and Latin America have “too little influence” on global Christianity, but leaders from the Global North are even more likely than those from the South to make this criticism (78% vs. 62%). At the same time, leaders from both regions say that evangelical Christians from their respective region fail to provide their fair share of financial support for global Christianity.

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Nearly two-thirds (65%) of leaders from the Global South say that evangelicals in Africa, Asia and Latin America provide too little financial support, and 51% of leaders from the Global North say the same about evangelicals in the U.S. and Europe.

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There is a noticeable gap between the North and South, however, in the degree of optimism about the future of evangelicalism. More than two-thirds of Global South leaders (71%) think the state of evangelicalism in their country will be better in five years than it is today. By comparison, 44% of Global North leaders take that view. Evangelical leaders from the United States stand out for their particularly high levels of pessimism. More than half of U.S. leaders (53%) see the current state of evangelical Christianity in America as worse than it was five years ago; only 17% think it has improved. And as U.S. leaders look a few years ahead, about half (48%) expect the state of evangelical Christianity to worsen, and two-in-ten (20%) expect things to remain about the same; only three-in-ten (31%) think evangelical Christianity will be in a better position in five years than it is today.

Evangelical Beliefs and Practices

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Virtually all the leaders surveyed (96%) say that Christianity is the one, true faith leading to eternal life, and 95% say that believing otherwise – taking the position that “Jesus Christ is NOT the only path to salvation” – is incompatible with being a good evangelical. There is also broad agreement among the leaders on the practices that are necessary to be “a good evangelical Christian.” Two broad types of behavior are almost unanimously seen as essential: Nearly all leaders (97%) say evangelicals must follow the teachings of Christ in their personal and family life, and 94% say working to lead others to Christ is essential for being a good evangelical Christian.

Majorities also agree on several other practices. About three-quarters (73%) say working to help the poor and needy is essential for being a good evangelical Christian; an additional 24% say helping the poor is important but not essential. In addition, tithing – giving at least a tenth of one’s income to the church – is deemed essential to being a good evangelical by 58% of the leaders. And nearly as many (56%) say that evangelicals are obliged to take a stand on social and political issues that conflict with moral and biblical principles. About a third (36%) say that working to protect the natural environment is essential to being a good evangelical (an additional 47% say protecting the environment is important but not essential). Leaders from the Global South are more inclined than leaders from the Global North to view environmental protection as essential to being a good evangelical.

There is also widespread agreement that practices associated with other religious traditions are incompatible with being a good evangelical Christian: More than 90% of the leaders say that engaging in yoga as a spiritual practice and believing in astrology or reincarnation are not compatible with evangelicalism. But evangelical leaders are divided over the consumption of alcohol. About four-in-ten (42%) say it is compatible with being a good evangelical, while 52% say it is incompatible. Leaders from sub-Saharan Africa are especially likely to oppose alcohol use; 78% of them say it is incompatible with being a good evangelical, as do 78% of evangelical leaders who live in Muslim-majority countries.

Nearly nine-in-ten leaders surveyed (88%) reject the notion that humans have evolved entirely by natural processes that do not involve God. But they are divided between those who believe that humans and other living things have existed in their present form since the beginning of time (47%) and those who believe that a supreme being guided the evolution of living things for the purpose of creating humans and other life in its present form (41%).

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When it comes to teachings about the Second Coming of Jesus, slightly more than half (52%) say they believe that Jesus probably or definitely will return in their lifetimes; among leaders from the Global South, two-thirds (67%) expect the Second Coming to occur in their lifetimes, compared with a third of leaders (34%) from the Global North. Moreover, about six-in-ten Lausanne Congress participants (61%) believe in the Rapture of the church – the prophecy that as the end of the world draws near, Christians will be instantly taken up to heaven, leaving non-believers behind.

Roughly half or more of the global evangelical leaders surveyed report that they have experienced or witnessed a divine healing (76%), received a direct revelation from God (61%) and spoken in tongues (47%). These experiences, often associated with Pentecostalism, are particularly common among leaders from the Global South.  Seven-in-ten (70%) of those from the Global South, for example, say they have witnessed the devil or evil spirits being driven out of a person, compared with four-in-ten (41%) of the leaders from the Global North. Moreover, fully one-third of the Global South leaders (33%) describe themselves as Pentecostals, compared with only about one-in-seven of the leaders from the Global North (14%). While the survey finds a high degree of acceptance of Pentecostal practices, however, it is not universal. Roughly a quarter of the Lausanne Congress participants (26%) say, for example, that speaking in tongues is not compatible with being a good evangelical. Among leaders from Latin America, the Asia-Pacific region and the Middle East-North Africa, at least a third take this position.
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But leaders from all the regions of the world are solidly united in rejecting the so-called “prosperity gospel” – the idea (sometimes associated with Pentecostalism but accepted as well by many Christians outside that tradition) that God will grant wealth and good health to those who have enough faith.4

Tensions with Secularism and Modernity

The global evangelical leaders surveyed express high levels of concern about secularism, consumerism and popular culture. More than nine-in-ten consider the influence of secularism to be either a major threat (71%) or a minor threat (20%) to evangelical Christianity in their countries. This threat is closely followed by “too much emphasis on consumerism and material goods,” which two-thirds of the leaders call a major threat (67%) and one-quarter call a minor threat (24%), and by “sex and violence in popular culture,” which about six-in-ten identify as a major threat (59%) and three-in-ten cite as a minor threat (30%). On a list of nine potential threats to evangelicalism, no other item is seen as a major threat by a majority of the leaders. Only the influence of Islam comes close, with 47% saying it is a major threat and an additional 34% calling it a minor threat.

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Perceptions of the threat from secularism are high both in the Global North and in the Global South, though they are higher in the North (86%) than in the South (59%). Nine-in-ten leaders (90%) from North America (including 92% from the United States) say the influence of secularism is a major threat; nearly as many leaders from Europe agree (82%). Concern about secularism is lowest in the Middle East and North Africa, where slightly more than a third view it as a major threat (37%).

The Lausanne leaders express lower – but still substantial – levels of concern about a variety of internal disagreements and shortcomings among evangelicals. More than a quarter of the leaders perceive major threats from theological divisions among evangelicals (30%), evangelical leaders displaying lavish lifestyles (30%) and evangelical leaders violating sexual morals (26%). U.S. leaders are particularly likely to worry about sexual issues; four-in-ten U.S. leaders surveyed (40%) say violations of sexual morals are a major threat to evangelicalism, compared with 23% of leaders from other countries.

In addition, about one-in-five of the evangelical leaders surveyed (22%) considers government restrictions on religious freedom to be a major threat. Just one-in-ten (10%) views the influence of Catholicism as a major threat; a slight majority (51%) says Catholicism is no threat at all.

Relations with Other Religious Traditions

Historically, the evangelical Protestant tradition was at odds with Catholicism.  But the survey shows that evangelical leaders today hold favorable views of Catholics by a more than three-to-one margin, and they perceive Catholics as mostly friendly or neutral toward evangelicals. The leaders express similarly positive views about adherents of Eastern Orthodoxy, the third major historic tradition (alongside Protestantism and Catholicism) within global Christianity.

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The evangelical leaders also are favorably disposed toward the century-old renewalist movement known as Pentecostalism. Some evangelical Christian denominations in the U.S. (including the largest, the Southern Baptist Convention) forbid or discourage Pentecostal practices such as speaking in tongues. But the survey finds little friction between the Lausanne delegates and Pentecostal Christians. More than nine-in-ten of the leaders who express an opinion (92%) have a favorable view of Pentecostals, and eight-in-ten (80%) see Pentecostal Christians as friendly toward evangelicals in their country — more than any other group considered. Only 3% say Pentecostals are unfriendly, suggesting there is little tension with this closely related movement or, in the view of some scholars, sub-set of evangelical Protestantism.5

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Overall, most of the evangelical leaders report that conflict between religious groups is not a big problem in their home countries. Leaders in the Middle East and North Africa are most likely to say religious conflict is a moderately big (37%) or very big (35%) problem. About half of those in the Asia-Pacific region (55%) and sub-Saharan Africa (49%) also see inter-religious conflict as a moderately or very big problem. By contrast, in North America, Latin America and Europe, majorities say it is either a small problem or not a problem at all.6
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Still, the survey finds some signs of tension with non-Christian religions, particularly Islam. Nearly seven-in-ten of the evangelical leaders (69%) name Islam as more prone to violence than other religions.7 Far more leaders say Islam and Christianity are “very different” (69%) than say the two faiths have “a lot in common” (25%). And a solid majority of the leaders who express an opinion (69%) feel that Muslims are generally unfriendly toward evangelicals in their country. Sizeable minorities also see Hindus (41%) and Buddhists (39%) as unfriendly toward evangelicals. Of the evangelical leaders who express opinions on other religious groups, most say they hold generally unfavorable views of Hindus (65%), Buddhists (65%) and Muslims (67%).

Jews are the only non-Christian religious group toward which the leaders express generally favorable opinions. Three-quarters have either mostly favorable (60%) or very favorable (16%) views of Jews, even though most do not think those views are reciprocated; lausanne-exec-1886% think that Jews are either neutral (53%) or unfriendly (33%) toward evangelicals. By a margin of more than three-to-one, most also say that God’s covenant with the Jewish people continues today (73%) rather than that the biblical covenant with the Jewish people no longer applies (22%).

Attitudes toward Israel, however, are more mixed. Overall, 48% of the evangelicals say the state of Israel is a fulfillment of biblical prophecy about the Second Coming of Jesus, while 42% say it is not. More say they sympathize with Israel (34%) than with the Palestinians (11%), but a small majority say they either sympathize with both sides equally (39%) or with neither side (13%). Leaders from sub-Saharan Africa are especially inclined to sympathize with Israel (50%), while sympathy for the Palestinians is strongest in the Middle East and North Africa (26%). Among evangelical leaders from the United States, three-in-ten (30%) sympathize more with Israel, 13% sympathize more with the Palestinians and nearly half (49%) say they sympathize with both sides equally.

The survey also assesses the evangelical leaders’ perceptions of non-religious people. Asked to assess the attitudes of various groups toward evangelical Christians in their country, just 7% say they consider non-religious people to be friendly, while 45% say the non-religious are unfriendly toward evangelicals. And seven-in-ten leaders who answered the question (70%) say they have either a very unfavorable (35%) or mostly unfavorable (35%) opinion of atheists.

Priorities and Strategies for Evangelization

Perhaps not surprisingly, given their concerns about secularism and their views of atheists, the leaders place the greatest importance on evangelizing non-religious people, which 73% of those expressing an opinion call a top priority and an additional 19% say is very important.

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Evangelizing Muslims emerges as the leaders’ second-highest priority; 59% say it is a top priority and an additional 27% say it is very important. By an overall margin of about four-to-one (78% to 17%), most of the evangelical leaders think that Christianity is gaining more adherents than Islam in their countries. But Christian leaders from the Middle East and North Africa are less sanguine; more than a third of them (37%) say Islam is gaining more adherents than Christianity in the countries where they live.

Eight-in-ten leaders living in Muslim-majority countries (80%) say evangelizing Muslims is a top priority, compared with 56% of those living in non-Muslim-majority countries. Similarly, nearly nine-in-ten leaders who live in Hindu-majority countries (87%) cite evangelizing Hindus as a top priority, and 83% of those living in Buddhist-majority countries say evangelizing Buddhists is a top priority. Evangelical leaders who live in Europe and the United States, which have large populations of non-religious people, overwhelmingly cite evangelization of the non-religious as a top priority (83% in Europe, 78% in the U.S.).

Jews, Catholics and other (non-evangelical) Christians are generally seen as lower-priority groups for evangelization, though substantial minorities (ranging from one-fifth to roughly a quarter) of the Lausanne leaders also consider evangelizing these groups to be a top priority.

There is general consensus among the leaders about strategies for evangelization. Regardless of where they live, the leaders surveyed overwhelmingly think that such efforts should focus on changing individual hearts (80%) rather than on reforming social institutions (16%). Most leaders also agree that empowering local missionaries is more effective in promoting Christianity (86%) than sending missionaries to other countries (12%).

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There is less agreement, however, on short-term missions, those lasting a few weeks or months. About one-quarter of evangelical leaders (28%) say that short-term missions are very valuable, but most give them a lukewarm endorsement, calling them either somewhat valuable (42%) or not too valuable (26%). The evangelical leaders also appear to be somewhat skeptical about the role of Christian schools in transmitting the faith. Far more leaders rate Christian schools in their country as good or excellent at providing a high-quality academic education in subjects such as reading, writing and arithmetic (78%) than rate those schools as good or excellent at nurturing children in the Christian faith (45%).

Social and Political Attitudes

On the whole, global evangelical leaders hold conservative opinions on social issues. For example, nearly all the leaders surveyed (96%) say that abortion is usually or always wrong, with a slight majority (51%) saying it is always wrong.

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Overall, more than eight-in-ten (84%) of the evangelical leaders also say that society should discourage homosexuality. There is a sizeable amount of regional variation on this question, however, with about half (51%) of the leaders from Latin America and nearly a quarter (23%) of those from Europe saying that homo-sexuality should be accepted by society, while 87% of the North American leaders and upwards of 85% of leaders in other regions say that homosexuality should be discouraged.

Leaders from the Global South are much more inclined than those from the Global North to say that it is necessary to believe in God to be a moral person (63% vs. 29%). And on some issues relating to family, marriage and gender, leaders from the Global South tend to be more conservative than their counterparts from the Global North. For example, two-thirds (67%) of those from the Global South say a wife must always obey her husband, while 39% of the leaders from the Global North take that position. Leaders from the Global South are nearly twice as likely as those from the Global North to say that all adults have a responsibility to marry and have children (60% vs. 33%). Leaders from the Global South also are more likely to say that men should be the main financial providers and religious leaders in the family (61% in the Global South, 43% in the Global North). Latin American leaders tend to be relatively less conservative on these measures than other leaders from the Global South.

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These North-South differences are greater, in many cases, than the differences between male and female leaders, even on issues related to gender. The evangelical women surveyed, for example, are about as likely as the men to say that a wife should always obey her husband (53% of women vs. 57% of men). Strong majorities of both sexes also say that men have a duty to serve as the religious leaders in a family.

However, large majorities of both the Global South leaders (77%) and the Global North leaders (73%) think that women should be allowed to serve as pastors, though leaders from the Middle East-North Africa region are almost evenly split on this question (46% yes, 43% no). In addition, most leaders from both the North and the South reject the idea that “women should stay at home and raise the children in the family.” Leaders in the U.S. are more narrowly divided on this issue; 44% agree that women should stay at home and raise the children, while 53% disagree. By comparison, leaders in Europe oppose this idea by a more than two-to-one margin (28% agree, 69% disagree), and those in the Global South do so as well (31% agree, 64% disagree).
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Global evangelical leaders support political activism. More than eight-in-ten (84%) think that religious leaders should express their views on political matters, while just 13% say religious leaders should not express their views. This activism fits with the belief (described above) that to be a good evangelical, it is essential to take a public stand on political issues that conflict with moral and biblical principles.

Most of the evangelical leaders consider helping the poor to be both a personal and a public responsibility. Eight-in-ten (80%) agree that government has a responsibility to help the very poor who cannot take care of themselves. Among leaders from the United States, however, a smaller majority (56%) takes this position.

The leaders are nearly evenly split on whether the Bible should become the “official law of the land” in their countries; 48% oppose making the Bible the law of the land, while 45% favor it. By a more than three-to-one margin (74% vs. 21%), however, evangelical leaders surveyed say it is acceptable to them if their country’s political leaders have a different religion than their own. This is true even though many feel that evangelicals face religious discrimination. Fully a third (34%) say evangelicals are treated unfairly by the government in their country either very often (12%) or somewhat often (22%). They report discrimination particularly in employment and government services; about one-in-five says that in their country, evangelical Christians often face discrimination when they apply for a job (20%) or seek government services or benefits (18%). Somewhat fewer (16%) say that they, personally, experience discrimination very often or somewhat often, while 41% say they never personally experience discrimination because of their religion.

Roadmap to the Report

The remainder of this report is divided into several parts. The next section, “Global South and Global North,” looks at the leaders’ assessments of whether evangelicals are gaining or losing influence and their degree of optimism or pessimism about the state of evangelicalism. “Evangelical Beliefs and Practices” explores the boundaries of Christian belief and practice as understood by this group of leaders. “Tensions with Secularism and Modernity” discusses the concerns among these global evangelical leaders about secularism and other aspects of modern society. “Intergroup Relations” examines their attitudes toward other religious groups and contacts across faith lines. “Priorities and Strategies for Evangelization” looks at efforts to spread the Christian faith. “Morality, Society and Politics” details the evangelical leaders’ positions on social, political and family issues, including gender roles. Details about how the survey was conducted are in Appendix A (Survey Methodology). The survey results are in Appendix B (Survey Topline).


Footnotes:

2 As with many survey questions, these favorability ratings are open to varying interpretations. When expressing a view on a religious group, a respondent may be thinking about all followers of that faith, or about a few people the respondent knows personally, or about certain doctrines or teachings of the religion, or about a mix of these and other factors. The wording of the survey does not specify how the respondent should think about the question, and evangelical leaders who approached Pew Forum staff for guidance at the Cape Town 2010 congress were advised simply to answer the question as best they could. (return to text)

3 See, for example, Philip Jenkins, The Next Christendom: The Coming of Global Christianity, Oxford University Press, 2002, and Robert Wuthnow, Boundless Faith: The Global Outreach of American Churches, University of California Press, 2009. (return to text)

4 For background on the prosperity gospel, see the Pew Forum’s reports Spirit and Power: A 10-Country Survey of Pentecostals, 2006, and Tolerance and Tension: Islam and Christianity in Sub-Saharan Africa, 2010. (return to text)

5 Some studies classify Pentecostal Christians as a sub-set of evangelicals. See, for example, the Institute for the Study of American Evangelicals. Other studies treat Pentecostalism as a movement that is separate from evangelicalism, though there clearly is substantial overlap between the two movements. See, for example, the World Christian Database. For more information on Pentecostalism, see the Pew Forum’s 2006 report, Spirit and Power: A 10-Country Survey of Pentecostals. (return to text)

6 These perceptions generally track with the levels of social hostilities in each region as measured in the Pew Forum’s 2009 report, Global Restrictions on Religion. (return to text)

7 Respondents who said (in response to Q29) that some religions are more prone to violence than others were asked an open-ended follow-up question (Q29b) that asked, “Which religion, if any, do you think is more prone to violence than others?” Up to four responses to Q29b were coded. (return to text)

Photo credit: ©Ocean/Corbis

Cite this publication: Joseph Liu. “Global Survey of Evangelical Protestant Leaders.” Pew Research Center, Washington, D.C. (June 22, 2011) http://www.pewforum.org/2011/06/22/global-survey-of-evangelical-protestant-leaders/, accessed on July 23, 2014.