According to a new Lifeway Research poll, American Protestant pastors believe racism is a much bigger threat to churches than is critical race theory.
The survey, released Tuesday, found that 48 percent of pastors say racism is the bigger threat to churches in the United States, while 29 percent of pastors say it’s CRT. Sixteen percent of pastors say it’s neither, while six percent are unsure.
But there are divisions among pastors on the issue, the survey found. Mainline pastors (70 percent) are more likely to select “racism” than are evangelical pastors (38 percent). Additionally, pastors in the South (33 percent) and Midwest (31 percent) are more likely to choose CRT than those in the Northeast (21 percent).
Meanwhile, the poll found that churches have grown slightly more ethnically diverse during the past nine years.
When asked if their church is “predominantly one racial or ethnic group,” 22 percent of pastors say it’s not – an increase from 17 percent who answered that way in 2017 and 13 percent in 2013. Three-quarters of pastors (76 percent) say it’s primarily composed of one racial or ethnic group. In 2013, it was 86 percent.
Pastors in the West (36 percent) are the most likely to say their congregation is not one racial or ethnic group.
On another topic, nearly nine in 10 pastors (88 percent) agree that “every church should strive to achieve racial diversity.” That’s higher than 2013 (85 percent) but lower than 2017 (93 percent). Pastors in the South are more likely to agree (90 percent) with the statement than those in the West (83 percent).
“The peak of pastor aspiration for more racial diversity in churches was measured just days after a white supremacist rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, in 2017 where clashes with opponents ended in deaths and injuries,” said Scott McConnell, executive director of Lifeway Research. “While such events that year reminded pastors of the need for progress on racial reconciliation, there remains a consensus among pastors that this unity should be seen within their churches each week.”
Most pastors say they preach about racial reconciliation in their sermons, with 40 percent doing it several times a year, 19 percent at least once a month and 12 percent about once a year. All total, 71 percent of pastors say they address the topic at least once a year. Still, 25 percent of pastors say they rarely or never preach on the subject.
“Attitudes, cultural traditions, and friendships within the community do not change by themselves,” McConnell said. “If someone doesn’t call for change, it won’t happen. Most pastors are casting this vision, but about a quarter of pastors aren’t.”
The poll was based on interviews with 1,000 Protestant pastors.
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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.