Washington, D.C. — In a new survey by the Pew Research Center’s Forum on Religion & Public Life, most evangelical Protestant leaders who live in the Global South (58%) say that evangelical Christians are gaining influence on life in their countries. By contrast, most leaders who live in the Global North (66%) say that, in the societies in which they live, evangelicals are losing influence. U.S. evangelical leaders are especially downbeat about the prospects for evangelical Christianity in their society; 82% say evangelicals are losing influence in the United States today, while only 17% think evangelicals are gaining influence.
In general, evangelical leaders who live in the Global South (sub-Saharan Africa, the Middle East/North Africa, Latin America and most of Asia) are optimistic about the prospects for evangelicalism in their countries, while those who live in the Global North (Europe, North America, Japan, Australia and New Zealand) tend to be more pessimistic. Seven-in-ten evangelical leaders who live in the Global South (71%) expect that five years from now the state of evangelicalism in their countries will be better than it is today. But a majority of evangelical leaders in the Global North expect that the state of evangelicalism in their countries will either stay about the same (21%) or worsen (33%) over the next five years.
These are among the key findings of the Global Survey of Evangelical Protestant Leaders, which offers a detailed portrait of 2,196 evangelical leaders from 166 countries and territories who were invited to attend the Third Lausanne Congress on World Evangelization (also known as “Cape Town 2010”) held in October 2010 in Cape Town, South Africa. The Pew Forum conducted the survey with the assistance of the Lausanne Movement as part of Cape Town 2010. It is the latest report of the Pew-Templeton Global Religious Futures project, an effort funded by The Pew Charitable Trusts and the John Templeton Foundation to analyze religious change and its impact on societies around the world.
Other major findings include:
Evangelical Beliefs and Practices
- More than nine-in-ten (96%) of the evangelical leaders surveyed say that Christianity is the one, true faith leading to eternal life, and 95% say that believing otherwise — taking the position that “Jesus Christ is NOT the only path to salvation” — is incompatible with being a good evangelical.
- Virtually all the leaders (98%) agree that the Bible is the word of God. But they are almost evenly divided between those who say the Bible should be read literally, word for word (50%), and those who do not think that everything in the Bible should be taken literally (48%). They are similarly split on whether it is necessary to believe in God in order to be a moral person (49% yes, 49% no).
- About four-in-ten (42%) of the evangelical leaders say the consumption of alcohol is compatible with being a good evangelical, while 52% say it is incompatible.
- In a number of ways, leaders in the Global South are more conservative than those in the Global North. For instance, leaders in the Global South are more likely than those in the Global North to read the Bible literally (58% vs. 40%) and to favor making the Bible the official law of the land in their countries (58% vs. 28%). Leaders in the Global South are also much more inclined than those in the Global North to say that consuming alcohol is incompatible with being a good evangelical (75% vs. 23%).
Tensions with Secularism and Modernity
- Overall, evangelical leaders around the world view secularism, consumerism and popular culture as the greatest threats they face today. More of the leaders express concern about these aspects of modern life than express concern about other religions, internal disagreements among evangelicals or government restrictions on religion.
- About seven-in-ten (71%) see the influence of secularism as a major threat to evangelical Christianity in the countries where they live. Two-thirds (67%) also cite “too much emphasis on consumerism and material goods” as a major threat, while nearly six-in-ten (59%) put “sex and violence in popular culture” into the same category. Nearly two-thirds (64%) say there is a “natural conflict” between being an evangelical and living in a modern society.
Relations with Other Religious Traditions
- Conflict between religious groups, by contrast, does not loom as a particularly large concern for most of the evangelical leaders surveyed. A majority says that conflict between religious groups is either a small problem (41%) or not a problem at all (14%) in their countries — though a sizable minority considers it either a moderately big problem (27%) or a very big problem (17%).
- Those who live in the Middle East and North Africa are especially inclined to see inter-religious conflict as a moderately big (37%) or very big problem (35%). Nine-in-ten of the evangelical leaders (90%) who live in Muslim-majority countries say the influence of Islam is a major threat, compared with 41% of leaders who live elsewhere.
- On the whole, the evangelical Protestant leaders express favorable opinions of adherents of other faiths in the Judeo-Christian tradition, including Judaism, Catholicism and Eastern Orthodox Christianity. But solid majorities express unfavorable views of Buddhists (65%), Hindus (65%), Muslims (67%) and atheists (70%). Interestingly, the leaders who live in Muslim-majority countries generally are more positive in their assessments of Muslims than are the evangelical leaders overall.
Social and Political Attitudes
- Overall, the global evangelical leaders hold conservative opinions on social issues. For example, more than nine-in-ten say abortion is usually wrong (45%) or always wrong (51%). More than eight-in-ten say that society should discourage homosexuality (84%).
- Leaders from the Global South tend to be more conservative than their counterparts from the Global North on some issues relating to family, marriage and gender. For example, two-thirds (67%) of those from the Global South say a wife must always obey her husband, while 39% of the leaders from the Global North take that position. Leaders from the Global South are nearly twice as likely as those from the Global North to say that all adults have a responsibility to marry and have children (60% vs. 33%).
- The global evangelical leaders support political activism. More than eight-in-ten (84%) think that religious leaders should express their views on political matters, while just 13% say religious leaders should not express their views.
The Pew Forum conducted the survey in nine languages, including English, from August to December 2010. A total of approximately 4,500 people participated in the Third Lausanne Congress, and nearly half of them completed the survey.
For additional findings, read the full report on the Pew Forum’s website.
The Pew Research Center’s Forum on Religion & Public Life conducts surveys, demographic analyses and other social science research on important aspects of religion and public life in the U.S. and around the world. As part of the Washington-based Pew Research Center, a nonpartisan, nonadvocacy organization, the Pew Forum does not take positions on any of the issues it covers or on policy debates.