Survey: Mainline Clergy Do Not Shy From Politics in the Pulpit

WASHINGTON, Nov. 28 (RNS) -- A new survey of Episcopal and Lutheran clergy shows thatpastors in the two churches do not shy away from delivering politicalsermons from the pulpit, and are more likely to talk politics when theircongregations disagree with them.

The preliminary findings from a three-year study of 60 congregationsin the Episcopal Church and Evangelical Lutheran Church in America(ELCA) hint that mainline clergy are more political than they arethought to be. The final study is expected to be released next year.

The survey was conducted by Christopher Gilbert, a professor ofpolitical science at Gustavus Adolphus College in St. Peter, Minn., andPaul Djupe of Denison University in Granville, Ohio.

Gilbert and Djupe said they wanted to explore what role mainlineclergy play now, after years of historic leadership on slavery,prohibition and civil rights. The researchers also wanted to know howmuch political information parishioners received at church, and how thatmight influence their political activities.

"We learned that both ELCA and Episcopal clergy are more likely tospeak about politics publicly, in and out of church, when theircongregations are a minority in their communities," Gilbert told aLutheran newspaper, the Metro Lutheran.

Among the report's initial findings:


  • Church members who have an interest in politics say their pastoris more political than the pastor thinks he or she is.
  • Messages on controversial topics--such as homosexuality, civilrights and abortion--are more clearly received by parishioners thannon-controversial political messages.
  • Pastors are more likely to tackle controversial topics when theirparishioners disagree with them, but parishioners who disagreepolitically are more likely to tune out those messages.

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    The study comes from an initial survey of 3,000 Lutheran churchesand 3,000 Episcopal churches. Of those, 38 Lutheran and 22 Episcopalcongregations were surveyed about political questions.

    Gilbert said "at least 15 or 20" pastors and parishioners sent backtheir surveys, saying that the constitutional separation of church andstate prohibited them from linking the pulpit with politics.

    Gilbert said that was not the case.

    "The Constitutional prohibitions against mixing religion andpolitics are institutional, not personal," he said. "People are free todiscern whatever political implications from their faith lives that theywish, from nothing to all-out consonance."

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