June 22, 2011

Global Survey of Evangelical Protestant Leaders

Tensions with Secularism and Modernity

The Lausanne leaders consider evangelicalism to be at odds with secularism and some other aspects of modern life. Majorities living in both the Global North and the Global South see a natural conflict between being an evangelical and living in modern society. Furthermore, there is widespread agreement among the evangelical leaders that secularism, materialism, and sex and violence in popular culture constitute major threats to evangelicalism today.

A. Conflict between Evangelicalism and Modern Society?

More than six-in-ten of the evangelical leaders surveyed (64%) say there is a natural conflict between being an evangelical Christian and living in a modern society, about twice the portion who say there is no such conflict (33%). This balance of opinion is found consistently across various sub-sets of leaders, including those from the Global South and the Global North, and those from Christian-majority as well as non-Christian-majority countries.

Leaders from the U.S. are slightly more likely than leaders overall to say there is a natural conflict between being an evangelical and living in a modern society, with 71% saying there is such a conflict and 26% saying there is not. This contrasts with the attitudes of rank-and-file evangelicals in the United States; asked a similar question, about half of all U.S. evangelicals (51%) see a conflict between being “a devout religious person” and living in modern society, while 43% do not see a conflict between the two.13

B. Potential Threats to Evangelicalism

The survey finds a strong concern among the evangelical leaders about the influence of secularism, consumerism, and sex and violence in popular culture. About seven-in-ten of the leaders (71%) rate the influence of secularism as a major threat today. This is closely followed by “too much emphasis on consumerism and material goods,” which 67% call a major threat. About six-in-ten (59%) also say that sex and violence in popular culture is a major threat to evangelical Christianity today. No other item on the list of nine potential threats to evangelical Christianity 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.

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Concern about secularism is high in both the Global North and the Global South, although the degree of the perceived threat is notably higher among evangelical leaders in the North (86%) than in the South (59%). Nine-in-ten leaders from North America (and 92% from the U.S.) say the influence of secularism is a major threat to evangelical Christianity; 82% of leaders from Europe say the same. While a solid majority of leaders in the Global South (59%) also see secularism as a major threat, this figure masks significant variation across regions. Fully 82% of leaders from South and Central America say the influence of secularism is a major threat in their home countries today. Evangelical leaders from other regions are less likely to see secularism as a major threat; 64% of those in Asia and the Pacific say this, compared with 53% in sub-Saharan Africa and 37% in the Middle East and North Africa.

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A somewhat different pattern emerges when it comes to the perceived threat from sex and violence in popular culture. Those most likely to consider this a major threat are from Central and South America (81%), followed by North America (71%), sub-Saharan Africa (59%), the Asia-Pacific region (53%) and Europe (49%). In the Middle East and North Africa, only 28% see sex and violence in popular culture as a major threat to evangelical Christianity.

Women leaders are somewhat more likely than men to say consumerism is a major threat to evangelical Christianity in their country (72% vs. 66%) and that sex and violence in popular culture is a major threat (65% vs. 57%). Both groups are about equally likely, however, to consider secularism a major threat (73% among women, 70% among men).

Of the nine potential threats to evangelicalism considered, the influence of Islam is the only other item that a near majority of the Lausanne leaders view as a major threat. All told, 47% say the influence of Islam is a major threat to evangelicalism, and an additional 34% say it is a minor threat. The perceived threat from Islam is especially high among leaders living in Muslim-majority countries. Nine-in-ten evangelical leaders who live in Muslim-majority countries say the influence of Islam is a major threat to evangelical Christianity, while less than half as many leaders who live elsewhere (41%) take that view.

Lausanne leaders express lower – but still substantial – levels of concern about threats from internal divisions and shortcomings within evangelicalism. Theological divisions among evangelicals are considered a major threat by three-in-ten and a minor threat by an additional 54% of the leaders surveyed. Evangelical leaders living lavish lifestyles are seen as a major threat by 30% and as a minor threat by 47%. And evangelical leaders violating sexual morals in their personal relationships are considered a major threat by 26% and a minor threat by 52% of the group surveyed.

Evangelical leaders from different parts of the world vary in the degree to which they see these internal issues as a threat. Central and South American leaders are more likely than those in other regions to see theological divisions among evangelicals as a major threat (49% of the Latin American leaders say this, compared with 28% of all the others). Central and South American leaders are also more likely than others to say that lavish lifestyles among evangelical leaders are a major threat (52%, compared with 27% among all others).

Concern about the sexual morality of leaders is more pronounced among those from the United States than among those from other parts of the world. Four-in-ten U.S. leaders (40%) say evangelical leaders violating sexual morals is a major threat to evangelicalism; just 23% of all other leaders agree.

Women leaders are more likely than men to call each of these internal issues a major threat to evangelical Christianity. About four-in-ten women surveyed (39%) see theological divisions as a major threat, compared with 27% of men. Women also are more likely than men to perceive leaders living a lavish lifestyle as a major threat (34% vs. 28%). Gender differences are smaller on the question of leaders violating sexual morals (29% of women see it as a major threat, compared with 25% of men). Younger leaders (those under 40) are also more likely than their elders to consider theological divisions within evangelicalism and evangelical leaders leading a lavish lifestyle as major threats to evangelical Christianity.

Government restrictions on religion are generally of lower concern. About a fifth (22%) of the leaders surveyed see government restrictions as a major threat to evangelicalism, 39% see them as a minor threat and 35% say they are not a threat in their home countries. As expected, evangelical leaders in countries that the Pew Forum has classified as experiencing high restrictions are more likely to see government restrictions on religion as a threat to evangelical Christianity.14 About six-in-ten of those living in countries with high levels of restrictions (59%) say government restrictions are a major threat, compared with two-in-ten (19%) leaders living in countries with moderate levels of restrictions and 14% among those from countries with low restrictions.

A majority of the evangelical leaders (51%) say the influence of Catholicism is not a threat to evangelical Christianity in their country. Just one-in-ten (10%) call Catholicism a major threat, and 35% say it is a minor threat.


Footnotes:

13 See Pew Research Center’s Forum on Religion & Public Life, U.S. Religious Landscape Survey, 2008. (return to text)

14 See Pew Research Center’s Forum on Religion & Public Life, Global Restrictions on Religion, 2009. (return to text)

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