75 percent in this poll say they are, but they also indicate tensions with non-evangelicals
WASHINGTON – Three-quarters of U.S. evangelicals view themselves as part of mainstream American society, but believe they have to fight to be heard by mainstream Americans, according to a new survey.
The results, pollsters said, indicate tensions between those who consider themselves evangelical Christians and other Americans.
“These are folks that perceive themselves to be very much in the modern world – and they are, in fact, very much in the modern world. But they do not see themselves as being of the world,” said John Green, a political scientist from the University of Akron who was an adviser to the survey.
The wide-ranging survey examined political, religious and racial diversity among evangelicals as well as their beliefs, values and behavior. It was conducted for U.S. News & World Report magazine and the PBS television program Religion & Ethics Newsweekly .
It found that while evangelicals were overwhelmingly opposed to gay marriage (83 percent), that did not equate in the minds of many with support for a constitutional amendment banning such unions. Only 41 percent said an amendment was needed.
They were almost evenly divided on whether gay marriage would be a “litmus test” issue for them in an election. Forty-six percent said they would not vote for a candidate who disagreed with them about gay marriage but agreed with them on other issues, while 42 percent said they would vote for such a candidate.
Overall, 63 percent of evangelicals said they would support President Bush in the November election, while 31 percent favored Democratic candidate John Kerry.
Sixty-nine percent of white evangelicals considered themselves to be Republicans or said they leaned that way. Among black evangelicals, 84 percent said they were Democrats or leaned that way.
The survey found that evangelicals are split in their views of national figures often identified in the secular press as their “leaders.” Fifty-four percent said they viewed Pat Robertson positively. Jerry Falwell was viewed favorably by 44 percent. In comparison, Pope John Paul II earned a favorable rating from 59 percent of evangelicals.
“They’re discerning about their own leadership,” said Anna Greenberg, vice president of Greenberg Quinlan Rosner Research of Washington, the firm that conducted the survey.
The survey also noted key theological differences. Forty-eight percent of evangelicals said they thought only “born-again” Christians would go to heaven. Forty-five percent said they disagreed with that proposition. (Fewer black evangelicals than white – 42 percent compared with 50 percent – said they believed one had to be born again to enter heaven.)
“I think it does tend to undermine the notion that evangelicals are dogmatic and intolerant about faith matters,” said Mr. Green.
“The fact that they see salvation as something that’s available to people other than themselves … it does go against the stereotype.”
There were significant divisions along racial lines.
Twenty percent of black evangelicals said helping improve the standard of living in less developed countries was extremely important. Only 8 percent of white evangelicals agreed with them. White evangelicals ranked a strong military, controlling weapons of mass destruction and fighting terrorism as far higher foreign-policy priorities than relief efforts and aiding religious minorities.
White evangelicals ranked moral values as their top domestic concern but shared general concerns about the economy with other Americans. They were divided about the direction the country is headed, with 44 percent saying it’s going in the right direction and 45 percent saying it’s on the wrong track.
But when asked if the country’s moral values are headed in the right direction or are “pretty seriously off on the wrong track,” 76 percent of white evangelicals and 94 percent of African-American evangelicals said they were on the wrong track.
Michael Cromartie, director of the Evangelical Studies Project of the Ethics & Public Policy Center, said the overall survey confirms the state of evangelicalism, but he questioned if some of the findings related to theological views are actually those of evangelicals.
“There is a certain point where you are no longer evangelical,” he said.
“Part of the definition of being an evangelical is its exclusivity of the Gospel, and that the way of salvation is through Christ. And when you start saying … ‘I believe everybody goes to heaven,’ what are you, a liberal Protestant now? What are you?”
The national poll, of 1,610 respondents, was conducted between March 16 and April 4 and had an overall margin of error of plus or minus 2.5 percentage points.
DETAILS: Results of the survey are included in a four-part series, “American Evangelicals,” that began this week on Religion & Ethics Newsweekly and continues through May 7. The findings will be also discussed in a story in the May 3 edition of U.S. News & World Report.