This week, Pew Research Center released a poll of over 4,000 individuals who had attended a religious service within the past few months. It asked respondents how often clergy had spoken out about various social and political issues. An impressive 64 percent of respondents reported that they had heard clergy speak about at least one of the six issues included in the survey. However, the survey indicates that when it comes to polarizing morality policy issues, majorities of churchgoers hear nothing. Only 40 percent of respondents stated that clergy had spoken about religious liberty. Similarly, 39 percent stated that clergy had spoken about homosexuality. Finally, only 29 percent of respondents recalled hearing about abortion.
These findings hold, even among theologically conservative denominations. Among White Evangelicals, less than half (45 percent) said they had heard clergy speak about religious liberty. Similarly, only 34 percent reported hearing clergy speak against homosexuality. Only a third recalled hearing preaching against abortion. Roman Catholics were as likely to hear clergy discuss welcoming immigrants (32 percent) as to hear clergy defend religious liberty. Additionally, only 28 percent of churchgoing Catholics report hearing clergy speak out against abortion. Furthermore, White Mainline Protestants and Black Protestants were considerably less likely than other denominations to hear about either religious liberty, abortion, or homosexuality.
It is hard to say why clergy from theologically conservative denominations do not preach more about sanctity-of-life issues or religious liberty. Some might wish to avoid controversy. Others might be concerned about losing their tax-exempt status. That said, during this election cycle, much has been written about the waning influence of social conservatives in the political sphere. There are likely many reasons for this. However, this Pew poll provides some insights. This poll indicates that strong majorities of both Evangelical Christians and Roman Catholics do not often hear about morality policy issues from clergy. If clergy are reluctant to provide bold leadership and instruction on these difficult issues, it is easy to see why conservative Christians are reluctant either to act politically or to engage their fellow citizens.
Michael J. New is visiting associate professor at Ave Maria University and an associate scholar with the Charlotte Lozier Institute. Follow him on Twitter @Michael_J_New.