Sunday, December 22, 2013

Less Than Half Of All Americans View The Clergy As Honest And Ethical

I have to admit that I was a bit surprised by this newest Gallup Poll (taken between December 5th and 8th of 1,031 nationwide adults, with a margin of error of 4 points). That's because I have known many people professing to be christian that put the clergy on a pedestal, and refuse to believe they could do anything wrong.

But it looks like that kind of blind respect for the clergy is disappearing. People seem to be starting to realize that members of the clergy are just human beings -- with all the faults and prejudices that other humans have. And like other humans, there are good people and bad people among the clergy. For the first time since Gallup has been polling on this question (since 1977), the belief that the clergy has high or very high honesty and ethics has fallen below 50%. Only 47% of Americans now believe that.

Part of this could be because of the growing percentage of Americans who say they have no religion (currently about 20%, and growing). And the figures sort of back up that view, with the group that has the highest percentage of non-believers (the 18 to 34 group) also registering the lowest belief in the honesty and ethics of the clergy (about 32%).

But that can't be the only thing influencing this dropping respect for the clergy. That group is not large enough to skew the numbers that much, especially with a huge majority of Americans still professing to be christians. In addition, a person does not have to agree with the religious views of another person to consider that person to be honest and ethical. So, what is the cause of this dropping respect?

I believe there are two major factors -- and each one has tended to damage the reputation of the clergy in general. First, is the large number of the clergy that have been found in the last few years to have engaged in forbidden sexual relationships -- both with children and with adults. And this is not just a problem for catholics (who have seen the largest share of headlines for their problems with pedophilia). Protestant clergy have been just as guilty of engaging in sexual peccadillos.

The second is the growing inclination of the clergy to preach politics from the pulpit and/or tell their congregants that they must prefer a certain political party to be real christians. This has been an especially bad problem for (but not necessarily limited to) protestant fundamentalists. And it hasn't helped them to be viewed as honest, since most people don't want politics preached from the pulpit and know that doing so is a violation of election and tax laws. How honest can the clergy be, if they are willing to knowingly break the law -- a law that most Americans support?

The willingness to mix religion with politics also tends to lower the opinion of religion, since most people have a much lower opinion of politics and politicians. Those members of the clergy who engage openly in politics, especially those who claim christianity has a certain political leaning, are naturally going to be viewed with the same skepticism that politicians are viewed with.

NOTE -- There were six professions that scored above 50% in honesty and ethics -- nurses (82%), pharmacists (70%), grade school teachers (70%), medical doctors (69%), military officers (69%), and police officers (54%). I guess the clergy can console themselves with the fact they are not viewed the lowest -- beating professions like auto mechanics (29%), bankers (27%), business executives (22%), reporters (21%), lawyers (20%), car salesmen (9%), members of Congress (8%), and lobbyists (6%).

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