Though Divided Politically, Mainline Protestants Make Room for Clergy’s Views

Though Divided Politically, Mainline Protestants Make Room for Clergy’s Views

At Religion News Service, PRRI CEO Melissa Deckman, Ph.D., looks at how mainline Protestant churches are harboring some of the last vestiges of ideological and partisan diversity among religious Americans. Despite the clergy-laity divide, the majority of clergy (69%) say their congregations are extremely, very, or moderately accepting of them when their political views differ from congregants’. This acceptance is important. While only 28% of clergy whose political differences are accepted report feeling emotionally drained by work, that percentage increases to 50% among clergy who say their congregants are only slightly or not at all accepting of their political differences. Most mainline clergy, however, are optimistic about the future, proud to be affiliated with their congregations, and committed to speaking about the important political and social issues of our times.

Disagreements Over Social Issues Cause “Political Church Shopping”

With political divisions roiling American churches and leading to increased “church shopping,” Russell Contreras for Axios examines findings from PRRI’s new survey of mainline Protestant clergy. Contreras notes that mainline Protestant denominations have been wrestling with political divisions in recent years, including the ongoing exodus of Methodist churches to a more conservative Methodist denomination. Nearly a quarter of Americans say they used to follow a different religious tradition or denomination than the one they practice now. Of those who have changed religions, PRRI finds that 56% say they stopped believing in the religion’s teachings and 30% indicate they were turned off by the religion’s negative teachings about or treatment of LGBTQ people.

Do Mainline Protestant Pastors’ Liberal Views Fuel Conflict?

Kelsey Dallas at Deseret News reports that mainline Protestant clergy and their congregants may share a faith, but their political views often differ, according to PRRI’s new survey. More than half of clergy members (55%) identify as liberal, compared to just 1 in 5 mainline Protestant churchgoers. Despite their political differences, most clergy members believe their congregation accepts them and does a good job discussing thorny political issues, like immigration and LGBTQ rights. However, some clergy do worry that their church has grown increasingly divided by politics in recent years; in the survey of clergy, 37% said that their church is more divided by politics now than it was five years ago.

Why Mainline Protestants Have More Political Diversity Than Evangelicals

Religion News Service’s Yonat Shimron contrasts findings from PRRI’s new survey of mainline Protestant clergy with data about evangelical clergy, whom surveys find to be overwhelmingly conservative and Republican. Recent research by Mark Chaves and Joseph Roso found that 74% of white evangelical clergy reported their political views were about the same as those of most people in their congregations. PRRI’s survey shows that mainline clergy are committed to having challenging conversations about politics and feel their congregants are accepting of them despite their political differences, making mainline churches one of the few spaces in society where disagreement and difference are tolerated, and in some cases embraced.

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Read PRRI’s new report “Clergy and Congregations in a Time of Transformation: Findings from the 2022-2023 Mainline Protestant Clergy Survey” here. And if you haven’t already, follow us on IG.