Protestant pastors are increasingly polarized about Islam, as a growing share label the Muslim faith violent while a sharply rising minority calls it spiritually good.
Although a majority considers Islam dangerous, a small but increasing segment believes Islam is similar to Christianity, according to a new survey by Nashville-based LifeWay Research.
Two-thirds of Protestant pastors agree Christianity and Islam should seek to coexist in America.
The softening of some pastors’ views toward Islam is a key finding of a LifeWay Research survey of 1,000 Protestant pastors. Seventeen percent of pastors characterize Islam as similar to Christianity, nearly double the 9 percent from five years earlier. Although views shifted in both directions, positive opinions rose more significantly.
The American public, meanwhile, is twice as likely as pastors to see common ground between Islam and Christianity. In a parallel survey of 1,000 Americans, more than a third say the two faiths are similar.
“To understand the data, you have to understand that Protestant pastors are not of one mind,” said Ed Stetzer, executive director of LifeWay Research, “And minds are changing in more than one direction.”
While more than 8 in 10 Protestant pastors say Islam is fundamentally different from Christianity, just as they did in 2010, minority viewpoints are increasing, LifeWay Research finds.
Compared to five years ago, pastors are much more likely to describe Islam in favorable terms. Fifty percent say Islam promotes charity, up from 33 percent. Significant numbers also describe Islam as spiritually good (32 percent, up from 19 percent), tolerant (24 percent, up from 16 percent) and open (22 percent, up from 12 percent.)
Negative opinions are also on the rise, although the shift is less dramatic. A slim majority considers Islam dangerous (52 percent, up from 44 percent). Almost half say Islam promotes violence (49 percent, up from 42 percent) and is spiritually evil (46 percent, up from 39 percent).
Stetzer explained, “Some mainline pastors and a few evangelicals are answering questions in a more positive way, while some evangelicals and a few mainline Protestants are trending in a negative way. But the biggest move is in the smallest percent—and is in a more positive direction.”
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