Most U.S. Protestant Pastors Doubt Beck, Obama are Christians-Poll

By Ed Stoddard, Reuters FaithWorld

What do conservative TV and radio personality Glenn Beck and U.S. President Barack Obama have in common? Most U.S. Protestant pastors doubt their Christian credentials.

These are among  the findings of a survey released this week by LifeWay Research, the number-crunching  arm of the Southern Baptist Convention, which sometimes does interesting pastor polls.

The poll in question, of 1,000 U.S. Protestant pastors, asked: “Which, if any, of the following people do you believe are Christians?” It then gave a list of five prominent personalties: TV diva Oprah Winfrey, former U.S. President George W. Bush, Beck, Obama and former Alaska governor and conservative sweetheart Sarah Palin.

Only 27 percent of the respondents said they believed Beck, who is a Mormon, was a Christian and only 41 percent — well less than half — answered in the affirmative regarding Obama. Bush scored the highest at 75 percent and Palin was second at 66 percent. Oprah came in rock bottom at 19 percent. The national telephone survey took place Oct. 7-14.  It all raises some interesting questions and may raise a few eyebrows.

Let’s start with Beck, who often speaks the political and even spiritual language of conservative evangelical Christians– and counts many as his fans – but cannot score theological points with them because of his Mormon faith. Many evangelicals regard The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints as an oddball cult and the survey’s results show it may be as much a political liability for Beck the activist as it is for Mitt Romney the candidate, the former and perhaps future Republican presidential contender.

it is likely that Glenn Beck’s Mormonism, widely viewed by Protestants as a different religion rather than a different Christian denomination, probably caused many to indicate he is not a Christian, said Ed Stetzer, president of LifeWay Research.

Beck, who is a rising star among U.S. conservatives, tends to hit the religious buttons hardest on his radio broadcasts, where he oftens bemoans things like the  fate of school prayer or interviews evangelical Christian writers about unfolding Biblical prophecy and End Times. He does not hide his Mormonism but he pointedly, and for good reason, seldom draws attention to it.

For Obama, who belongs to a mainline Protestant church, it is revealing that the majority of the polled pastors didn’t believe he is a Christian. One wonders what percentage subscribe to the erroneous view, held by many in the conservative heartland, that he is a Muslim.

The survey did draw on evangelical as well as mainline Protestant pastors and LifeWay noted partisan and ideolgical differences. LifeWay said “… 88 percent of those who self-identify as liberal or very liberal say Obama is a Christian compared to only 31 percent of those who say they are conservative and 12 percent of those who say they are very conservative.”

With Bush, one has to ask: why did 25 percent either say they did not believe he was a Christian or tick “not sure”? Are there suspicions out there that his self-professed religiosity was a naked political ploy to appeal to the Republican base?

The same could be asked about why only two-thirds said they thought Palin, who wears her faith pretty clearly on her sleeve, was a Christian. As a correspondent who once attended a service at her church in Wasilla, Alaska, I can say that her pastor and congregation seemed to take their faith pretty seriously.  LifeWay said four percent of the respondents said no one on the list made the Christian grade and 15 percent responded only with “not sure.”

One thing is sure: professions of faith alone will never convince some men and women of the cloth. And in the highly politicized environment of American faith, that can have political consequences

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