“Who is a Christian?”: Lifeway’s Asinine Survey

Not helpful!  That would be how I would describe Lifeway Research’s just released survey which asked 1000 Protestant pastors one question:

“Which, if any, of the following people do you believe are Christians?”

Lifeway, affiliated with the Southern Baptist Convention, was kind enough to supply the respondents with a list of five names on which to opine whether or not they believed said individuals were in fact Christians.  A curious question given the fact that most, if not all, of the respondents do not know any of the asked-about individuals personally.

The five well-known politicians and television personalities (some fall in both categories) were:  President Barack Obama, Glenn Beck, Sarah Palin, Oprah Winfrey, and former President George W. Bush.  Gee, thanks Lifeway!  Glad they didn’t include Pope Benedict XVI.  That would have been really interesting.

If I didn’t know any better, I would have thought that the article where I first read about Lifeway’s survey was from The Onion instead of Associated Baptist Press.  Go figure!

Why is Lifeway (or whoever paid for the survey) spending money on such a silly survey?  Dr. Ed Stetzer, President of Lifeway Research, gives the reason for Lifeway’s survey on his blog:

“Research like this can be helpful as it shows us what leadership is thinking– at least in Protestant circles — when it comes public figures and the nature of being a Christian, and the influence of being a Christian.”

If this is what “leadership” is thinking, then the Church and country are in deep trouble!  But, then again, if this is what Lifeway Research is asking, our Convention may be in far greater trouble than any of us realized!  Who are these so-called “leaders” anyway? 

That pastors of Protestant churches throughout America would even try to answer this question is mind-boggling.  Only 15% of the survey-takers said that they were “not sure.”  If I were surveyed (which I was not), I would have answered “not sure.”

“What about Glenn Beck?  He’s a Mormon.  How can you be unsure about HIM?”  Glad you asked.  Beck claims to be a Christian.  My understanding of Biblical Christianity and salvation differ from his.  But, then again, my understanding of salvation differs from the vast majority of Catholics.  Am I prepared to say that specific individuals — who I may disagree with on theological issues — are not Christians?  No I am not.

Am I prepared to say I believe that Mormons and Jehovah’s Witnesses and others hold non-orthodox (i.e., non-Biblical) views of Christianity?  Yes.  Will I preach and teach that such views, according to Scripture, lead people away from salvation that is found only in Christ’s atoning sacrifice on the cross, not toward it?  Yes. 

Apart from someone publicly renouncing their Christian faith, I will not pass judgment on the self-professed Christianity of those who I do not even know and who are not a part of the flock that God has entrusted into my care.  Before you question my “lack of conviction” for being unsure, ask yourself if you would like your Christianity judged by 1000 strangers who you have never met and who only know you by what the media tells them.

“How about Oprah Winfrey?  She believes that all paths lead to heaven.  There’s no way she can be a Christian if she believes that.  Surely, you can’t be unsure about Oprah?”  Well, if believing all religions worship the same god and all paths lead to heaven automatically excludes Ms. Winfrey from being considered a Christian, then George W. Bush is also right out as well.  On at least two separate occasions, the most recent in 2007, the former President basically said the same thing that Oprah said about faith and religion.    If that’s the case, then how can 75% of pastors believe that W is a Christian, but only 19% believe that O is one? 

How is a one-question survey like this helpful, either within the church or in our culture in general?  How does Lifeway, an entity of the Southern Baptist Convention, think this survey, which asks pastors to judge the personal faith of these five people — anything other than politics cloaked in the veil of religiosity?  Who exactly is supposed to use the nifty Power Point presentation that is available for download?  Is it intended for pastors and churches to integrate into their worship during the elections of 2012?  Just asking.

Did no one at Lifeway Research or in the main offices of Lifeway — calling Dr. Rainer — stop to think about how this survey — the question and the five names — would be perceived by not just Southern Baptists but, by the general population?  Are the people in Nashville so clueless when it comes to the politics of this?

I expect Gallop or Pew or any number of secular polling organizations to ask these kind of survey questions because they may not know any better.  But, not Lifeway.  I usually find Lifeway Research’s surveys to be most helpful in ministry.  As one Southern Baptist pastor, I can say that their latest survey is not only unhelpful, but so off-the-mark as to be asinine.  At least no CP money was wasted on this!

7 comments for ““Who is a Christian?”: Lifeway’s Asinine Survey

  1. December 9, 2010 at 6:10 AM

    Howell,
    Trust you are well. I am linking to your post. What a Georgia hoot…
    With that, I am…
    Peter

    • December 9, 2010 at 8:03 AM

      Peter,

      I am doing well out here in the Land of Enchantment. Hope you had a good Thanksgiving. Thanks for the link. I thought that your post on this topic was spot on. It’s a good thing that I was born and raised in the South (if you consider Florida South), so that I know what a Georgia hoot is :-). Have a great day and God bless,

      Howell

  2. December 9, 2010 at 6:43 AM

    “If this is what “leadership” is thinking, then the Church and country are in deep trouble!”

    Well, DUUUH!

    • December 9, 2010 at 8:05 AM

      Bob,

      Just call me the “Master of Stating the Obvious.” Although me thinks that it is not as obvious to some. Otherwise, this survey would not have even been done. Thanks and God bless,

      Howell

  3. Christiane
    December 9, 2010 at 5:01 PM

    “Does it make Southern Baptists look better in the public’s eye?
    Or, does such a poll lend itself to images of “Pharisees,” “Fundamentalism,” “Old School,” “Not real,” “Extreme Conservatism,” etc.?”

    I am certain that ‘such a poll’ will heighten the present unfortunate opinion of Southern Baptists in the eyes of the general public. There are many Southern Baptists who are more mature in their faith and less judgmental of the faith of others than that poll implies. But the general public is not aware of that.
    The poll enforces a ‘stereotype’. Question is: WHY?
    I can see no good in this kind of posturing. It’s almost shameful, and certainly disrespectful of all Southern Baptist people who are aware that only God sees the heart of a person and judges that heart correctly, in His Wisdom.
    And I must add, I thank God that He does not judge us by our pitiful human standards.

    • December 9, 2010 at 8:20 PM

      Christiane,

      Thanks for taking the time to read and share your thoughts. I agree that this poll will have negative consequences for Southern Baptists’ reputation in the culture. This is not an issue of abandoning the fundamentals of our faith to stay in the good graces of our friends and neighbors. We cannot do that. However, even if the Gospel message is offensive, we do not have to intentionally be offensive in our witness. This survey not only offends me as a conservative Southern Baptist pastor, but it goes out of its way to offend a segment in our culture we are ostensibly trying to reach, and this for no good reason. The reasons this poll was taken are open to speculation, but it has the taint of politics disguised as religion. I hope that I am wrong, but I see no good coming from this. Thanks again for commenting. God bless,

      Howell

  4. Lydia
    December 12, 2010 at 3:13 PM

    “If this is what “leadership” is thinking, then the Church and country are in deep trouble! But, then again, if this is what Lifeway Research is asking, our Convention may be in far greater trouble than any of us realized! Who are these so-called “leaders” anyway? ”

    My thoughts exactly when I saw this published. We already are in deep trouble. We really do need to rethink Lifeway.

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