About one in five churches across the United States during the spring of 2019 heard a sermon mentioning abortion, according to a new Pew Research Center survey that showed a disparity between evangelical and mainline churches on the issue.
Nineteen percent of churches heard at least one sermon mentioning abortion, with evangelical Protestant (22 percent), Catholic (19 percent) and historically black Protestant churches (18 percent) being the most likely to include a sermon on abortion during the study period and mainline churches (10 percent) the least likely.
Most sermons were in opposition to abortion, Pew said.
Overall, 4 percent of all sermons in U.S. churches mentioned abortion during the study period, including 4 percent of evangelical sermons, 5 percent of Catholic sermons and 3 percent of sermons in historically black Protestant churches. Two percent of sermons in mainline Protestant churches mentioned abortion.
The survey examined online sermons from more than 6,400 U.S. churches between April 7 and June 1, 2019. The survey period did not include what often is called Sanctity of Human Life Sunday or Pro-Life Sunday, an annual day in January when sermons on abortion are more common.
“While the database is not representative of all U.S. Christian sermons, it offers a window into what many Americans hear each week from the pulpit,” Pew’s Dennis Quinn wrote in an online analysis.
Meanwhile, sermons that mention abortion rarely dwell on the top but instead mention it in only one segment of the sermon: “three-quarters of all sermons that mention abortion do so in just one segment,” according to Pew. (Pew divided sermons into 250-word segments.)
Churches with fewer members also were more likely to hear about abortion in a sermon. Although 21 percent of churches with fewer than 200 members heard at least one sermon mentioning abortion during the study period, that percentage fell to 17 percent among churches with more than 200 members.
The Pew data sparked a variety of responses on social media.
“I'm as pro-life as anyone, but the Gospel is more than being against abortion,” one person wrote on Twitter. “I think divorce needs to be preached a lot more from the pulpit than abortion does. Now, if you said that just 4% of sermons mentioned the saving grace of Jesus, then THAT would be a tragedy.”
Another wrote, “Even though he gave quotable sermons addressing abortions, my priest was urged to avoid the subject by people. Sad!”
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Michael Foust has covered the intersection of faith and news for 20 years. His stories have appeared in Baptist Press, Christianity Today, The Christian Post, the Leaf-Chronicle, the Toronto Star and the Knoxville News-Sentinel.