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June 22nd, 2011
12:28 PM ET

U.S. evangelicals gloomy about future, 'global south' optimistic, study finds

By Richard Allen Greene, CNN

(CNN) - Half the world's evangelical Protestant leaders are optimistic about the future, confident that evangelical Christians have an increasing influence in their countries and that things will be better for them in five years.

The other half are pessimists, convinced they're losing influence on the life of their countries and mostly not persuaded that things will be better for Christianity where they live in the future.

Those are among the findings of a groundbreaking survey of more than 2,000 evangelical leaders from around the world, which the Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life released Wednesday

The split on optimism is between north and south, and the way it breaks down might surprise you.

It's evangelicals in the comparatively poor south who see a bright future ahead - Africans, Latin Americans and Middle Easterners.

Those from the developed world, where evangelical Christianity was born, are the pessimists. And Americans are among the most glum of all, with more than eight out of 10 evangelical Christian leaders there saying that the movement is losing influence in the United States today.

Among other results from the survey:

- Only 3% of evangelical Christian leaders believe in evolution as defined by scientists. About half believe God created the planet and life on it as it is now, while four out of 10 say there has been evolution, but it was guided by God.

- Nearly all believe abortion is usually or always morally wrong. A similar number say the same thing about homosexuality.

- They feel generally positive about Catholics, Orthodox Christians and Jews but have a low opinion of Buddhists, Hindus, Muslims and atheists, with atheists rating the lowest of all. (Evangelicals from Muslim-majority countries tend to have higher opinions of Muslims than those who live elsewhere, the Pew Forum found.)

- Half say the Bible should be read literally. Half say not everything in it should be taken literally.

- Half say it is necessary to believe in God to be a moral person. Half say it isn't.

Pew Forum Director Luis Lugo said the "optimism gap" between north and south struck him the most about the survey.

"There are huge differences between the global south, who see things getting better, compared to the global north, and particularly the U.S., where we get down to 31% who see things being better five years from now," he said.

But the respondents' perceptions may not reflect reality, said Michael Cromartie, an expert on evangelical Christians and a senior adviser to the Pew Forum not involved in the survey.

"In the United States, evangelicals feels like they're losing influence because the elite culture isn't sympathetic or sees them as intolerant - which I don't think it is the case, but it's how they're perceived," said Cromartie, who directs the Evangelicals in Civic Life program at the Ethics and Public Policy Center in Washington.

In the global south, on the other hand, "You could see yourself having influence because the numbers (of evangelical Christians) are growing so fast," he said.

"The numbers are exploding. That doesn't necessarily mean you have influence, but you feel like you have influence."

Both sides think the south - where a majority of evangelicals now live - should have more influence on the movement as a whole, the survey found.

"We were surprised to see a majority thought that the global south should be contributing more - and leaders from the global south were even more self-critical," Lugo said.

Leaders from the south tend to be more conservative than those from the north, a pattern that mimics that in the global Anglican Communion, for example. If the south gains influence over time, it could push the movement as a whole in an even more conservative direction.

But Lugo points out that the south is not a monolith.

"Latin America is much closer to North America and Europe than to the rest of the global south" in its attitudes, he said. "They tend to be less conservative on homosexuality even than European leaders, and less conservative on tithing and biblical literalism than the rest of the global south."

The Pew Forum surveyed 2,196 participants in the Third Lausanne Congress on World Evangelization held in Cape Town, South Africa, in October. The respondents were leaders sent by their home churches and mirror the geographical map of evangelical Christians around the globe, the Pew Forum said.

There are at least 260 million followers of the movement worldwide, the Pew Forum said.

The conference where it conducted the survey is a follow-up to one Billy Graham convened in 1974 in Switzerland.

- CNN Belief Blog

Filed under: Belief • Christianity

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soundoff (611 Responses)
  1. Sal

    I hate all evangelical christians because they are all a bunch of hypocrites!

    June 22, 2011 at 3:29 pm |
    • C

      All human beings are hipocrites, that's why you need a savior.

      June 22, 2011 at 3:37 pm |
  2. Sal

    Muslims are the most religious of all the religious fanatics, and you see what is happening in those countries. They kill because their god said to, god willing of course. ha ha ha what a joke.

    June 22, 2011 at 3:28 pm |
    • John

      I'm waiting for Palin to be elected and then watch as all non christians are put into camps where we will be burned alive to make sure the devil is out of us.

      June 22, 2011 at 4:03 pm |
  3. Adam

    "Only 3% of evangelical Christian leaders believe in evolution as defined by scientists." - READ: Only 3% have the intellectual honesty to acknowledge that we, through the tool of science, have learned something about the world in the past few thousand years.

    "About half believe God created the planet and life on it as it is now" - READ: About half actually believe what they say they believe.

    "Four out of 10 say there has been evolution, but it was guided by God" - READ: 4 in 10 have acknowledged the manifest absurdity of certain tenets of their religion and have performed an exegesis of convenience upon the book written by the Creator of the Universe in order to square it with mankind's best understanding of how are world actually IS.

    June 22, 2011 at 3:26 pm |
  4. TheRationale

    According to this, 47% of evangelicals are grossly uneducated. It's sad people still think like this.

    June 22, 2011 at 3:26 pm |
  5. Sal

    If the whole world's people were atheists it would be a more peaceful world. Religion corrupts the mind.

    June 22, 2011 at 3:25 pm |
    • C

      Mao, Stalin and Pol Pot were athiest and killed millions upon millions based on their belief. Each singlehandedly more than Christianity did in all history combined. Better get back to reading your history book.

      Liberals fail to remember the past, thus are doomed to repeat it.

      June 22, 2011 at 3:33 pm |
    • Stevie7

      None of those killed in the name of atheism. They killed for control and power. Atheism was a tool, not the cause. I can't think of anyone who killed in the name of atheism. The same most certainly could not be said about religion.

      June 22, 2011 at 3:35 pm |
    • Bruce

      @C: You are correct about everything except "singlehandedly." The people you mention had a lot of help doing what they did.

      June 22, 2011 at 3:37 pm |
    • TheRationale

      @ C
      And we have yet another person who thinks atheism can inspire you to do anything. It's a completely illogical statement, a non sequitur. It's just as intelligent to say that Stalin was an evil dictator because of his mustache.

      On the other hand, religion IS a doctrine that can and does inspire people to do things. Do you really want to get into a numbers game here? I think we both know who's far and away guilty of more senseless slaughter and infliction of human suffering.

      June 22, 2011 at 3:40 pm |
    • C

      The reason they killed for control and power is because if GOD was not the one with the power and control, then it comes down to the MAN with the most control and power.

      June 22, 2011 at 3:41 pm |
    • C

      Athiesm is also a doctrine that can and does inspire people to do things.

      Doctrine #1: There is no God

      June 22, 2011 at 3:43 pm |
    • Reality

      Some facts:

      The Twenty (or so) Worst Things People Have Done to Each Other:

      http://necrometrics.com/warstatz.htm#u

      o The Muslim Conquest of India

      "The likely death toll is somewhere between 2 million and 80 million. The geometric mean of those two limits is 12.7 million. "

      Rank <<<Death Toll <Cause <<Centuries<<<Religions/Groups involved*

      1. 63 million Second World War 20C (Christians et al and Communists/atheists vs. Christians et al, Nazi-Pagan and "Shintoists")

      2. 40 million Mao Zedong (mostly famine) 20C (Communism)

      3. 40 million Genghis Khan 13C (Shamanism or Tengriism)

      4. 27 million British India (mostly famine) 19C (Anglican)

      5. 25 million Fall of the Ming Dynasty 17C (Buddhism, Taoism, Confucianism, Chinese folk religion)

      6. 20 million Taiping Rebellion 19C ( Confucianism, Buddhism and Chinese folk religion vs. a form of Christianity)

      7. 20 million Joseph Stalin 20C (Communism)

      8. 19 million Mideast Slave Trade 7C-19C (Islam)

      9. 17 million Timur Lenk 14C-15C

      10. 16 million Atlantic Slave Trade 15C-19C (Christianity)

      11. 15 million First World War 20C (Christians vs. Christians)

      12. 15 million Conquest of the Americas 15C-19C (Christians vs. Pagans)

      13. 13 million Muslim Conquest of India 11C-18C

      14. 10 million An Lushan Revolt 8C

      15. 10 million Xin Dynasty 1C

      16. 9 million Russian Civil War 20C (Christians vs Communists)

      17. 8 million Fall of Rome 5C (Pagans vs. Pagans)

      18. 8 million Congo Free State 19C-20C (Christians)

      19. 7½ million Thirty Years War 17C (Christians vs Christians)

      20. 7½ million Fall of the Yuan Dynasty 14C

      *:" Is religion responsible for more violent deaths than any other cause?

      A: No, of course not – unless you define religion so broadly as to be meaningless. Just take the four deadliest events of the 20th Century – Two World Wars, Red China and the Soviet Union – no religious motivation there, unless you consider every belief system to be a religion."

      Q: So, what you're saying is that religion has never killed anyone.

      A: Arrgh... You all-or-nothing people drive me crazy. There are many doc-umented examples where members of one religion try to exterminate the members of another religion. Causation is always complex, but if the only difference between two warring groups is religion, then that certainly sounds like a religious conflict to me. Is it the number one cause of mass homicide in human history? No. Of the 22 worst episodes of mass killing, maybe four were primarily religious. Is that a lot? Well, it's more than the number of wars fought over soccer, or s-ex (The Trojan and Sabine Wars don't even make the list.), but less than the number fought over land, money, glory or prestige.

      In my Index, I list 41 religious conflicts compared with 27 oppressions under "Communism", 24 under Colonialism, 2 under "Railroads" and 2 under "Scapegoats". Make of that what you will."

      June 22, 2011 at 4:06 pm |
    • Reality

      Warren Buffet and Bill Gates are atheists.

      June 22, 2011 at 4:07 pm |
    • TheRationale

      @ C

      I don't think you took any time to think about what I wrote. Let me try to illustrate:

      You don't believe in Zeus.
      When has this ever compelled you to do anything?
      When have you ever thought: I don't believe in Zeus, ergo I will do X.
      How could this compel you to do anything?

      Also, atheism is no more a doctrine than not collecting porcelain clown figurines is a doctrine. To the contrary – it is the rejection of a doctrine.

      June 22, 2011 at 10:58 pm |
  6. Sal

    Religion is the root of all evil in the world today. I despise the evangelicals and the republican party who suck up to them.

    June 22, 2011 at 3:23 pm |
    • J Y B

      This comment is not just to you, but to those who blame religion for genocides. I can't speak for all religious genocides, but as for Christianity, there were, and are, things done in the name of Christ that are completely opposed to everything He taught. He said that many would call Him Lord, but that they were not His. The call of true Christianity is hard, narrow, and virtually impossible to live. That's why we have to die first to self to live in Him. Mass religion is not a true reflection of His actual church.

      June 22, 2011 at 8:11 pm |
  7. bob

    Hey god all powerful...I take it YOU are not a "mere mortal"? Is that why you spew that garbage? If god is so powerful and hates gays so much then why hasn't he waved that magical hand of his like you say he would and put an end to the whole thing?

    June 22, 2011 at 3:23 pm |
  8. Oodoodanoo

    "They ...have a low opinion of Buddhists, Hindus, Muslims and atheists, with atheists rating the lowest of all."

    Feeling's mutual.

    June 22, 2011 at 3:21 pm |
  9. Rahul

    Mahatma Gandhi put it very well: "I like your Christ. I don't like your Christians. They are so unlike Christ."

    June 22, 2011 at 3:21 pm |
  10. Anubis

    I find it funny that the evangelical christians rate atheists as the lowest among the other belief systems out there. I guess their feeling is that any god is better than no god at all, even if it is the "wrong" one. It's especially interesting for me, having grown up in a very evangelical place, and knowing atheists who still hold the same morals as the evangelicals (other than those pertaining directly to belief in a god), but would still rate lower than someone from a completely different religion and background, just because that other religion has a deity.

    I wonder how a poll of atheists would rate? I have a feeling Buddhism would be right at the top, since, technically, you don't have to believe in a god to be a Buddhist. I, personally, consider myself both atheist and Buddhist, but that's just my own personally philosophy. My absolute best friend in the world is a die-hard evangelical christian and I respect their beliefs, even if I don't share them as they respect mine. I just wish the rest of the world could get along like that... or even just the rest of the people I meet.

    June 22, 2011 at 3:21 pm |
    • Dave in Portland

      Anubis – That's awesome. I feel the same way. Just because I am agnostic does not mean that I have no respect for other people's beliefs or values. I also have had some very good friends that were devout Christians. We had some very interesting debates, but we respected each other enough to listen. I do not feel that differing beliefs have to equal hate. Those who are rabid atheists and hate anything religious are just as bad as intolerant evangelical Christians. The refusal to ever consider another person's beliefs leads to rigidity and ignorance.

      June 22, 2011 at 6:57 pm |
  11. Sybaris

    "It's evangelicals in the comparatively poor south who see a bright future ahead – Africans, Latin Americans and Middle Easterners."

    That's about right.

    The more educated you are the better you are able to look at religion through critical analysis and see it for what it is, a bunch of hooey.

    June 22, 2011 at 3:20 pm |
    • J Y B

      You seem rather superior and prideful, two things non-Christians are attacking Christians for w/in these comments. Surely you don't miss the hypocrisy. I, personally, am a well-educated Christian of reasonable intelligence. Furthermore, I know a great many intelligent, well-educated believers. I also know many hypocrites w/in the church (of which I am, at times, one). That's why we need a Savior. We are all fools. However, Christ said that His wisdom would be foolish to man. He did reach out to those who were outcasts and unloved. Therefore, I can't take it too personally. Your rejection is expected. Y'all can mock and spew hate, but it doesn't make Christ a liar or the Scriptures untrue. I agree that we believers are often abhorrent in our practices, but that doesn't mean that it's all bunk. There are many who claim Christ, but only a few truly belong to Him.

      June 22, 2011 at 3:53 pm |
    • heerobya

      I can't believe anyone who is religious could consider themselves to be an intellectual.

      By believing in religion/having religious beliefs you are actively putting aside logic, common sense, reason, rationality, and by doing so completely negate the very things that science stands for and that which the intellectuals who expand our scientific knowledge of the universe do every single day to advance the human condition, not actively pursue holding us back to ancient mysticism, ignorance, fear, and paranoia.

      June 22, 2011 at 4:58 pm |
  12. Rick

    Evangelicals are stuck in the past and they want to drag the rest of the world down with them.

    June 22, 2011 at 3:17 pm |
    • twiddly

      Yep, their medieval beliefs are definitely from the middle ages.

      Good information at whynogod dot wordpress dot com

      June 22, 2011 at 3:21 pm |
    • J Y B

      Heerobya, I didn't call myself an intellectual. I merely said I am relatively well-educated. I didn't get a doctorate in physics and what not, but compared to most, I would be considered educated (Bachelor and Master degrees from an elite universities). I have tested fairly well in logic, but I won't compete b/c that's neither here nor there. You can claim all Christians are idiots, but it is simply not so. Comfortable to tell yourself, but false. Some are, others not. As I imagine it is for those who do not believe. Christ said the world would reject us. He said that the world would make what is evil seem good and what is pure, evil. Case in point.

      June 22, 2011 at 8:17 pm |
    • J Y B

      Pardon my typos. I have kids talking while I type.

      June 22, 2011 at 8:18 pm |
  13. David

    I don't think that the Bible was intended to be interrupted literally. It is filled with metaphors and allegorical stories. One other point. For those modernists and secularist who ask that people of faith not force their faith on others, I would like to preempt that answer for the faithful as well. Do not force your secular and modernist views on those that believe in God.

    June 22, 2011 at 3:15 pm |
    • tmm77625

      Go ask a rabbi if he thinks the Old Testament should be interpreted literally. It's the Jews' book, not the Christians', yet it's the literal interpretation of the Old Testament, especially of Genesis, that makes Evangelicals look stupid so often.

      June 22, 2011 at 3:23 pm |
    • RK

      I would love to literally interrupt the bible.

      June 22, 2011 at 3:24 pm |
    • Peace2All

      @David

      Hey -Dave...

      You Said: "I don't think that the Bible was intended to be interrupted literally. It is filled with metaphors and allegorical stories."

      Well, I guess you and the 'literalists' can battle it out as to who is right about that.

      Regards,

      Peace...

      June 22, 2011 at 3:26 pm |
    • Jon

      Trying to convince someone that Evolution is indeed a fact is not forcing your beliefs on another. It is merely trying to get someone to see, well, the light. You are free to have your own opinions, not just your own facts.

      June 22, 2011 at 3:29 pm |
  14. ted

    "evangelical Christian leaders there saying that the movement is losing influence in the United States today." Could we be so lucky?

    June 22, 2011 at 3:09 pm |
  15. John

    god is a scam to rule stupid people and to promote hate and intolerance of those different.

    June 22, 2011 at 3:08 pm |
    • RaKa

      ur funny.

      June 22, 2011 at 3:09 pm |
    • Peter F

      Actually John, the Gospel is his loving message destined for people of all nations. We are all invited into the house of God to dwell forever (Matthew 28). But going further, Christians have been commissioned to go to the ends of the earth to show God's love to people of all different kinds!!! It's really an extraordinary measure of love if you think about it...

      June 22, 2011 at 3:12 pm |
    • Ron Foster

      Best comment on the whole issue: accurate and succinct.

      June 22, 2011 at 3:20 pm |
    • SteveInMI

      @PeterF – I trust that explains why evangelical Christians spend so much of their time and money trying to limit the civil rights of gay men, women, and non-Christians? Is that why they fight tooth and nail against the reality-based education in public schools? If that's your idea of love, you can keep it. I'll stick with the atheists, thank you.

      June 22, 2011 at 3:34 pm |
    • John

      @PeterF
      So by going around the world to spread zombie jesus's love you mean invading and subjugating and demeaning those of different faiths?

      June 22, 2011 at 5:36 pm |
  16. Larry L

    It's amusing to note how many Christians quote the Bible to prove atheists wrong. One reason many of us have no religion is because books like the Bible are written by men, mostly men with a political or social agenda. Most of us are not the least evangelical in our beliefs, content to live our lives in harmony with others. Believe whatever mythology you choose – just don't trample on my right to raise my family free of your influence. Christian and other religious evangelicals need the validation of numbers, clustered together in your mega-churches while some slick in an expensive suit and Rolex talks you into giving him 10% of your income. Your cult is the only one... yeah, right...

    June 22, 2011 at 3:06 pm |
    • Bill Procopio

      "One reason many of us have no religion is because books like the Bible are written by men, mostly men with a political or social agenda." Larry, you have either not read the Bible or you did not read it to understand it. Nothing can be proved to a person that does not want to believe. But I felt compelled to point out your erroneous assertion. The only "agenda" of any one of the authors of the Bible was to convey God's message of man's sinfulness and redemption through Jesus Christ. Not social, not political, but certainly spiritual. It is written in terms of historical accounts, prophetic revelations, and statements of moral truth and judgement. You do not accept this, that is yours and many folks "belief", but the Bible – unlike many ancient texts that collect dust in dark rooms of poorly attended museums – is alive because it is the Word of God. Written over a period of 1500 years by more than 40 individuals; it is self-consistent, proven accurate time and again by secular and archeological findings, and not hidden in a dank museum but in the hearts of millions of people. But, that is the element of faith – which you seem unfortunately unable to comprehend.

      June 22, 2011 at 3:51 pm |
  17. Henry Miller

    "Evangelical" is just another word for "religious fanatic," people not greatly dissimilar to groups like the Taliban and those who try to impose the brutal, tyrannical, and intolerant sharia law in Muslim countries.

    People are free in this country to practise any religion, or none, that pleases them. They are not free to impose that religion, or any tenets of it, on anyone else. "Evangelicals" shouldn't just be "losing influence on the life of their countries," they should never have had any influence in the first place.

    June 22, 2011 at 3:04 pm |
  18. Bruce

    "Half say the Bible should be read literally."

    LOL. For those "Christians" who say that scripture should be interpreted literally, please interpret this literally:

    "These things are an allegory" Galatians 4:24

    Enough said.

    June 22, 2011 at 3:04 pm |
    • John

      Also wearing clothing made of 2 different materials is punishable by death! Sounds like a loving peace filled group to me!

      June 22, 2011 at 3:11 pm |
    • Bruce

      "I come not to bring peace, but to bring a sword" (Matthew 10:34)

      Yeah. Jesus always spoke literally. He never used parables.

      June 22, 2011 at 3:13 pm |
    • Stevie7

      I fail to understand how one could interpret a book with so many inconsistencies literally unless one has never actually read the book.

      June 22, 2011 at 3:19 pm |
    • Bruce

      Stevie7: I fail to understand why, when a book interprets ITSELF allegorically (Paul, in Galatians 4, is interpreting a story from Genesis using allegory as a method of interpretation) that half of all those who claim to be "Christian" feel that a literal interpretation is somehow superior to a mish-mash of various techniques of hermeneutics that stretch way back to when the book was actually being written.

      It boggles my mind.

      June 22, 2011 at 3:24 pm |
    • Bruce

      "...half of all those who claim to be 'Christian' feel that..."

      To be more accurate, half of those who identify as "evangelical" feel that a literal hermeneutic is preferable to any other interpretation of the entirety of scripture. I'm assuming that all of those who identify as "evangelical" also claim to be "Christian." It would be a mistake to lay this bad idea at the feet of half of all those who are Christian but not evangelicals.

      June 22, 2011 at 3:32 pm |
    • Nikki

      Taken completely out of context. That passage refers to a specific story, and you should know that if you're going to be using it as an example.

      June 22, 2011 at 3:46 pm |
    • Bruce

      @Nikki: What do you mean taken completely out of context? The passage comes from a chapter where Paul interprets a story from Genesis allegorically. That is–Paul, the first theologian, uses allegory as a technique of hermeneutics when it comes to reading a story in the Book of Genesis.

      Do you know what "literal" means?

      June 22, 2011 at 3:54 pm |
    • John

      @Stevie7
      They haven't read it because they can't read. If the could read you'd think something like a science book may have crossed their path at some point and they realized it was insanity to think humans all came from 2 people who live naked in a garden with wild animals that never tried to eat them.

      June 22, 2011 at 5:38 pm |
  19. God All Powerful

    God is all powerful, God will make or not make whatever he wants to happen. You mere mortals do not know what God wants and he does not need your help. If God wants abortion to be illegal he will wave his all powerful magic hand and make it illegal. If God wants big prayer signs in public buildings God will wave his magic hand and make big prayer signs appear in public buildings. If God wants you to spontaneously burst into a ball of fire God will wave his magic all powerful hand and make you burst into flames.

    God is all powerful, you belittle him when you think you know what he wants and you belittle him when you attempt to do what you think he wants when he does not need your puny little mortal help.

    June 22, 2011 at 3:04 pm |
    • John

      HAHAHAHA

      June 22, 2011 at 3:09 pm |
    • ted

      BS

      June 22, 2011 at 3:12 pm |
    • Steve

      and by posing as God you have made yourself a heretic...death to the heretic!!

      June 22, 2011 at 3:23 pm |
  20. LouieD

    "They feel generally positive about Catholics, Orthodox Christians and Jews but have a low opinion of Buddhists, Hindus, Muslims and atheists, with atheists rating the lowest of all."

    If they followed their faith properly, and were confident of it, they would feel positively about everyone.

    June 22, 2011 at 3:01 pm |
    • Q

      BAM!!

      June 22, 2011 at 3:08 pm |
    • John

      Very few of these people follow anything that jesus said. Most pick out the parts that talk about loving everyone, forgiveness, compassion, helping the poor and sick and instead focus on the intolerance and hate that fills the bible from front to back.

      June 22, 2011 at 3:12 pm |
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The CNN Belief Blog covers the faith angles of the day's biggest stories, from breaking news to politics to entertainment, fostering a global conversation about the role of religion and belief in readers' lives. It's edited by CNN's Daniel Burke with contributions from Eric Marrapodi and CNN's worldwide news gathering team.