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Evangelical Divide

New Report Details What Evangelicals Think About Social and Political Issues

While a majority of American evangelicals may be united by fundamental spiritual beliefs, they are by no means in agreement on a variety of hot-button subjects, according to a new study released last week.

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The report, issued by Infinity Concepts and Grey Matter Research, reveals that a majority of American evangelicals call themselves politically conservative, but 24% labeled themselves moderates and another 12% politically progressive.

Eight months before the 2024 presidential election that will feature a rematch between President Biden and Donald Trump, the report brings into sharper focus what evangelicals think about a host of issues that could impact the outcome.

Here are a few highlights from the 38-page report:

— There was no difference in the level of “spiritual engagement” evangelicals have when also considering their political beliefs.

— Despite issues often associated with left-wing politics, a majority of liberal evangelicals also believe abortion is a sin (62%), while even more deemed sex before marriage (70%), homosexual sex (70%) and pornography (80%) as sinful.

— The only issues a majority of evangelicals “feel churches and church leaders should be very involved with publicly” were abortion (54%) and what was acceptable when it came to public expressions of faith (51%).

— Election integrity (81%), gun laws (64%), free speech (58%) and criminal justice reform (54%) were all considered to be mostly political issues by most evangelicals.

— Abortion is mostly divided between a religious issue (42%) and a social issue (36%). Antisemitism had a similar division (43% social versus 38% religious).

Evangelicals have become an important voting bloc in recent years. While the report acknowledged that fact, it also attempted to pinpoint who an evangelical is and what they think.

“Much has been written about evangelicals, politics and various national issues,” the report said. “But there are two ongoing problems with much of this research: Definitions of ‘evangelical’ that are quick and convenient, but not terribly accurate. Quick questions about complicated issues that fail to explore all the nuance and complexity of those issues.”

Who are evangelicals?

Often talked about as a monolithic group, there are some major differences among evangelicals, the report noted.

It should be noted that a majority of evangelicals voted for Trump in both 2016 and 2020.

“It is no secret that evangelicals tend to be much more conservative than the overall U.S. population,” the report said. “What might surprise some people is that both liberals and moderates do exist within the American evangelical community.”

For example, when the 1,000 people surveyed were asked to “describe their political beliefs,” 63% called themselves “politically conservative,” including 24% who said “very conservative.”

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At the same time, the report also found that 24% “believe they are right in the middle between conservative and liberal,” while 12% considered themselves to be “liberal,” including only 3% who said “very liberal.”

White (non-Hispanic) evangelicals were “far more likely than others to call themselves either very conservative (28% to 13%) or conservative (27% to 19%),” the report noted.

Non-white evangelicals, meanwhile, were “more likely than whites” to say they are right in the middle (34% to 21%) or liberal (19% to 10%).

“Still, even among non-white evangelicals, 48% come down on the side of conservative, 34% right in the middle, and just 19% are liberal,” the report added.

The survey also found that denominationally, conservatives are more likely to come from Baptist churches or Assemblies of God, while moderates and liberals hailed from mainline groups such as Methodist and Lutheran congregations.

How involved should churches be?

Another major finding was that evangelicals are “deeply divided on just when and to what extent churches and church leaders should be publicly involved.”

The report added: “Just one out of every nine evangelical Protestants (11%) feels churches and church leaders should be very involved publicly on all 11 of these issues. In fact, only 30% feel they should be even somewhat involved in all of these issues. And nearly one out of every four evangelicals (22%) would like to see churches and church leaders not become very involved in any of these issues.”

For example, the report said 42% of evangelicals who said churches should be “very involved” when it comes to transgender issues did “not want to see churches very involved in election integrity/fairness issues. In turn, 28% of those “who want churches to be very involved in election issues do not want them to be very involved in transgender issues.”

Overall, just three out of 10 evangelicals called for churches and church leaders to be “at least somewhat involved publicly in every single one of these 11 issues” the authors surveyed.

“The perception,” the report concluded, “of an army of evangelicals calling for a militant church to have its hands in everything is simply a fallacy.”

Clemente Lisi is the executive editor of Religion Unplugged, where this article was originally published. He previously served as deputy head of news at the New York Daily News and a longtime reporter at The New York Post.

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Clemente Lisi

Clemente Lisi is a senior editor and regular contributor to Religion Unplugged. He is the former deputy head of news at the New York Daily News and teaches journalism at The King’s College in New York City.