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Protestant Ministers Unfamiliar with Other Faith Groups

An Ellison Research Survey found a majority of Protestant pastors knew little or very little about Buddhism, Hinduism, Islam
( [email protected] ) Aug 27, 2004 10:07 PM EDT

A recent study conducted by the Pheonix-based Ellison Research group found that on average, Protestant ministers in the States know little about the core beliefs of other non-protestant groups. With the exception of Judaism and other Christian-branched faiths such as Roman Catholicism, Jehovah’s Witnesses and Mormonism, Protestant clergy are likely to know only moderate, little or very little information on the belief systems of other groups.

Some 700 active American ministers were asked to rate their knowledge of 13 non-Protestant faith groups on the range of 1-5 (with 5 being very familiar, 3 being average and 1 being very unfamiliar).

While none of the faith groups had a majority 5 ruling, several of them had a majority 4 or 5 ruling from Protestant clergy. These groups include the Roman Catholic Church (85%), Judaism (80%), Mormonism (61%) and Jehovah’s Witnesses (60%).

Meanwhile, only a minority of Protestant ministers said they were familiar with the other groups. Of these groups, Islam was at the lead with 47%, then came New Age with 43%, then Satanism at 31%, Buddhism at 28%, Hinduism at 27%, Scientology with 15%, Wicca at 13%, Baha’I at 13%, and Sikhism at only 5%.

While there were no geographical patterns on the Pastors’ levels of familiarity of other religions, Ellison Research found an interesting pattern denominationally.

The research group separated the ministers in five denominational groups: Methodists, Baptists, Pentecostals, Charismatics and Lutherans

Methodists on average were found to know the least about other faith groups. Methodist ministers' familiarity with Islam, Jehovah's Witnesses, Satanism and New Age beliefs is particularly low.

Pentecostal and Charismatic ministers were also on the lower range of identifying with other belief systems. The survey found that Pentecostal clergy have a relatively high level of familiarity with Satanism compared to other denominations, but are below average on all other faith groups. Pentecostal ministers are especially likely to be unfamiliar with the core beliefs of Islam, Hinduism and Judaism.

Baptists were found to be at about in their familiarity with non-Protestant faiths.

Lutherans were the group found to be the most familiar with non-Protestant groups, compared to other groups.

Following the release of the survey on August 25, the president of Ellison Research expressed his views on the conclusions.

"Evangelism and conversion are very strong influences in Pentecostal theology and practice, and Pentecostal clergy tend to have particularly strong beliefs that Christianity is the only path to salvation," said Ellison’s president Ron Sellers. "Trying to reach people who hold other beliefs is more likely if you understand what those beliefs are. Yet the study demonstrated that Pentecostal and charismatic clergy are often below average in their familiarity with the beliefs of non-Protestant faith groups. Given the importance these pastors often place on evangelism, one might expect just the opposite, so this is a surprise."

Ellison Research is a full-service marketing research firm in Phoenix, that regularly conducts the research for the Southern Baptist Convention’s LifeWay's Facts & Trends magazine.

The study's total sample is accurate to within plus or minus 3.6 percentage points at the 95 percent confidence level with a 50 percent response distribution. The study was conducted in all 50 states, using a representative sample of pastors from all Protestant denominations. Respondents' geography, church size and denomination were tracked for appropriate representation and accuracy.