Protestant Clergy Wary of Faith-Based Initiatives

July 7, 2008 - 8:03 PM

( - Support for President Bush's Faith-Based and Community Initiatives Act remains "lukewarm" among Protestant clergy across the nation, a new study reveals.

The results of the study have led some to question whether the president's priorities have shifted.

Ron Sellers, president of Ellison Research, a Phoenix-based marketing research company, said the faith-based agenda is just "swirling around" out there among larger issues such as corporate scandals, pedophile priests in the Catholic Church and homeland security issues.

The Bush administration so far has not been successful in creating greater acceptance of its faith-based agenda among the Protestant clergy, Sellers said. On the other hand, opponents of the agenda have failed to undermine it, he said.

Sellers said the survey conducted by his firm reflects the "entire landscape" of Protestant clergy, including the United Methodist Congregation, Presbyterian Church USA, Pentecostal Protestants, Lutherans, evangelicals and all of the "real small, little 50-church denominations" that are scattered across the U.S.

Of the 567 Protestant ministers surveyed, 67 percent support Bush's faith-based initiatives; 32 percent oppose it, and one percent remain undecided.

"Pastors from all political backgrounds are struggling over how they feel about this issue," Sellers said.

According to Sellers, there are more Republicans than Democrats among the Protestant clergy. There's also a "handful of third-party Libertarians or Green Party or whatever," he said.

"We've got about 69 percent Republican; 21 percent Democrats; and the rest are mostly independent," Sellers said.

Self-described political conservative ministers report a 73 percent approval of Bush's faith-based initiative, with a quarter of that group voicing "strong support" for the program.

Among liberal ministers, 49 percent support the proposal, with 11 percent expressing strong support for Bush's plan.

"When you look at a lot of the concerns that the Protestant ministers had, they mirror a lot of what we've been hearing from a lot of the politicians who have been going back and forth on this," Sellers said.

Concerns Voiced Over Church Mission, Funding Witchcraft

Sellers said all of the 567 ministers surveyed admit they are concerned about the potential loss of religious freedom or the ability to further their spiritual mission that may come with accepted federal funds.

"Liberals were much more concerned about separation of church and state," he said. "Conservatives were much more concerned about who's going to get the funds and who's going to be eligible for it and what that's going to do."

The survey revealed that 62 percent of the pastors agreed that "certain" religious groups should not be eligible for funding through the faith-based program.

Sellers said one of the ministers' big concerns is the notion that some non-mainstream groups such as atheists, Wiccans, Druids, and voodooists could receive funding.

In particular, he noted the growing trend towards establishing atheist 'churches' in America.

"If they would take the step of becoming officially recognized as a religion, you could have the government funding atheist groups to try and accomplish spiritual things," Sellers said.

However, he believes the really dedicated 'rabid atheists' will do whatever they can to thwart any religious viewpoints, especially those expressed to Americans via faith-based government spending.

More than 60 percent of pastors worry that "accepting government funding would compromise the spiritual mission or freedom of religious organizations," Sellers said. "Interestingly, concerns about this are similar among Democrats and Republicans, conservatives, moderates, and liberals," he added.

While Democrats and political liberals are the ministers most likely to be divided over the faith-based agenda, they are also the ones most likely to say they'll seek federal funding, the study showed.

Sellers said 17 percent of all politically liberal pastors 'agreed strongly' that their church would seek funding for social programs, if it's available. That number is "much higher than the 8 percent among conservatives," he said.

But Sellers noted that although the liberals are much more likely to use faith-based funding, it's still a relatively small proportion who admit that they're 'very likely' to go out and use it.

He said most ministers, both Republicans and Democrats, are still contemplating Bush's faith-based policies with a "wait and see" attitude.

"It's a concept, in many ways, more than it is a practical application," Sellers said. "There are still a lot of unanswered questions about how it's going to apply and how it's going to work."

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