Many Americans Hear Politics From the Pulpit

Source: Pew Research Center

More say their clergy have spoken out about issues than about specific presidential candidates

As the calendar turned from spring to summer and the political season transitioned from the primaries to the general election campaign, many American churchgoers were hearing at least some discussion of social and political issues from the pulpits at their houses of worship, a new Pew Research Center survey finds. Religious liberty and homosexuality were chief among the issues they were hearing about, with four-in-ten saying they heard from clergy on each of these topics during the spring and early summer. Roughly three-in-ten say their clergy talked about abortion, similar to the share who heard about immigration. And one-in-five churchgoers reported hearing about the environment and economic inequality.

In the new survey, conducted online and by mail June 5-July 7 among a nationally representative sample of 4,602 adults, 40% of Americans reported attending religious services at least once or twice in the few months before the poll was conducted. Within this group, about two-thirds (64%) say they heard clergy at their church or other place of worship speak about at least one of the six social and political issues mentioned in the survey, with nearly half (46%) indicating that religious leaders had spoken out on multiple issues.

Fewer recent churchgoers (14%) say they heard their clergy speak directly in support of or against a specific presidential candidate in the months leading up to the survey. Black Protestants were particularly likely to hear this type of message: Among black Protestants who have been in church recently, roughly three-in-ten (29%) have heard clergy speak out in support of a candidate – mostly Hillary Clinton – and an equal share have heard religious leaders speak out against a candidate (primarily Donald Trump). Smaller shares of Catholic, white evangelical Protestant and white mainline Protestant churchgoers – roughly one-in-ten or fewer – say their clergy have publicly supported or opposed particular candidates.

When it comes to specific political issues, the ideological tenor of messages emanating from pulpits varies by topic. About three-in-ten people who recently attended religious services say they heard clergy speak out in defense of religious liberty – a position mainly associated with political conservatives in the U.S. in recent years – while just 2% say their clergy contended that religious liberty is not really under attack (although 6% say they heard both messages). Recent churchgoers also have heard a more conservative perspective on abortion; 22% say they have heard religious leaders speak out against abortion and just 3% have heard clergy argue primarily in support of abortion rights.

By contrast, Americans report hearing mainly traditionally liberal ideas in their houses of worship about immigration and the environment. Roughly one-in-five of those who have attended religious services recently say their clergy have spoken out about the need to be welcoming and supportive toward immigrants, compared with just 4% whose clergy have expressed a desire mainly for stricter immigration enforcement. And while 16% say religious leaders have spoken out in favor of protecting the environment, just 1% say they have heard their clergy speak out only against environmental regulations.

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