Survey shows the views and beliefs of PCUSA pastors, elders and members

samesex3As the nation waits on the ruling from the U.S. Supreme Court on same-sex marriage, a recent Presbyterian Church (USA) poll shows that there are an equal number of pastors who either agree (44 percent) or disagree (44 percent) that the PCUSA should permit ministers to perform same-sex marriages in U.S. states and territories where same-sex marriage is legal.

Among PCUSA members, 49 percent do not think the PCUSA should allow ministers to conduct same-sex marriages, and 50 percent of elders think that pastors should not conduct the services. Answering the question in the affirmative was 30 percent of members, and 33 percent of elders.

A majority of specialized ministers, 56 percent, believe that PCUSA pastors should be allowed to perform same-sex marriages.

These were just some of the findings of the “Religious and Demographic Profile of Presbyterians 2011: Findings from the Initial Survey of the 2012-2014 Presbyterian Panel,” conducted by the PCUSA’s Research Services.

The Presbyterian Panel is comprised of representative samples of ruling elders currently serving on session, other members of congregations, and teaching elders who respond to quarterly surveys about issues that are important to the denomination.

The survey was sent to 6,493 Presbyterians in September 2011, and 3,972 were returned – 1,036 from PCUSA members; 1,424 from PCUSA ruling elders and 1,512 from teaching elders (pastors). For the analysis sections of the survey, teaching elders are divided into two separate groups, based on the individual’s call: pastors, serving congregations and specialized ministers, serving elsewhere.

Of those responding to the survey, very few members and elders – 22 percent for both groups – described themselves as “very liberal.” Thirty-nine percent of members and 38 percent of elders called themselves “moderate,” while 39 percent and 40 percent, respectively, used the label “very conservative” or “conservative.”

Interestingly, equal amounts — 33 percent — of pastors declared themselves to be either “very conservative or conservative” or “moderate.” One percent more – 34 percent – considered themselves to be “very liberal or liberal.”

For those in the category of specialized ministers, 48 percent self-identified themselves as “very liberal or liberal,” 32 percent “moderate” and 20 percent “very conservative or conservative.”

When asked about political preference, approximately two in five members (43 percent) and ruling elders (42 percent) are Republican; while 28 percent of members and 33 percent of elders are Democrats. Twenty percent of pastors and 14 percent of specialized clergy are Republicans while 50 percent of pastors and 61 percent of specialized ministers call themselves Democrats.

In other findings, only 80 percent of PCUSA pastors pray daily or almost daily, and only 50 percent of them read the Bible daily or almost daily, according to the Religious and Demographic Profile of Presbyterians 2011.

As for PCUSA members, only 56 percent pray daily or almost daily, and 62 percent of ruling elders talk with God on a daily, or almost daily, basis.

The survey states that “Two in five members (38 percent) and four in nine ruling elders (46 percent) ‘said grace before meals’ daily/almost daily during the past year, as did 76 percent of pastors and 66 percent of specialized ministers. At the other extreme, 33 percent, 23 percent, 2 percent, and 9 percent, respectively, did so once a month or less often (including never).”

As far as reading the Bible, only 50 percent of PCUSA pastors, 33 percent of specialized ministers, 17 percent of elders and 14 percent of members read the Bible daily or almost daily.

The survey also shows that “One in eight members (14 percent) and ruling elders (15 percent) but fewer teaching elders (pastors, 6 percent; specialized ministers, 2 percent) believe the Bible is to be taken literally word for word. Instead, majorities of more than 80 percent choose one of these two statements to describe the Bible: it is the word of God, to be interpreted in light of its historical and cultural context or it is the word of God, to be interpreted in the light of its historical context and the Church’s teachings.”

Forty-five percent of PCUSA pastors strongly disagree or disagree that “only followers of Jesus Christ can be saved.” A majority of specialized ministers – 56 percent – also strongly disagree or disagree that following Christ is necessary for salvation.

As far as members and ruling elders are concerned, 42 percent and 45 percent respectively, strongly agree or agree that only followers of Jesus can be saved.

Other interesting statistics from the survey’s summary include:

  • “Majorities of panelists in each group strongly agree or agree that ‘there is a life beyond death’ (members, 86 percent; ruling elders, 93 percent; pastors, 96 percent; specialized ministers, 91 percent) and ‘Jesus will return to Earth some day’ (70 percent; 79 percent; 81 percent; 64 percent).”
  • “Around one-third of members (37 percent) and ruling elders (30 percent) – but only one in 10 pastors (11 percent) and one-quarter of specialized ministers (23 percent) – strongly agree or agree that all the world’s religions are ‘equally good ways of helping a person find ultimate truth.’
  • “Being part of the Presbyterian Church (USA) is very important or important for four in five ruling elders (82 percent), pastors (79 percent) and specialized ministers (78 percent). Slightly fewer members (72 percent) so believe.”
  • “Five in nine members (57 percent) and five in six ruling elders (84 percent) report that they have attended worship services every week or nearly every week over the past year.”
  • “Three-quarters of ruling elders (75 percent) and half of members (50 percent) report inviting someone to their congregation in the prior year.”
  • “Median annual family income in 2010 was $76,302 for members, $88,610 for ruling elders, $79,947 for pastors and $88,071 for specialized ministers.”
  • “The median age is 63 years for members, 62 for ruling elders, 55 for pastors and 57 for specialized ministers. The age distribution of members is older than that of the comparable U.S. population.”
  • “Small majorities of members (60 percent) and ruling elders (51 percent) are female, but seven in 10 pastors (71 percent) and five in nine specialized ministers (56 percent) are male.”
  • “The largest group of Presbyterians lives in the South (39 percent), followed by the Midwest (30 percent), Northeast (18 percent), and West (14 percent).”


Paula R. Kincaid