By Aaron Earls
While they fare better than other professions, new research finds some Americans are still wary of religious leaders.
In a Pew Research study of Americans’ views on institutional leaders, religious leaders are often in the middle of the pack among groups like police officers, public school principals, journalists, and leaders of tech companies.
Almost 7 in 10 U.S. adults (69%) say religious leaders act unethically at least some of the time, with 10% saying they do so most of the time.
That’s better than members of Congress (81%) and leaders of tech companies (77%), but less trusted than local elected leaders (66%) or military leaders (50%).
Around half (53%) believe that religious leaders rarely face serious consequences when they act unethically.
Slightly fewer (49%) say religious leaders rarely admit mistakes and take responsibility.
Despite those issues, most Americans do believe religious leaders care about others (70%), provide fair and accurate information to the public (63%), and handle resources responsibly (68%).
When asked specifically about providing for the spiritual needs of their communities, 76% say religious leaders do a good job.
Still religious leaders face skepticism among many of those they are trying to reach.
A third of those who attend religious services less than weekly (34%) believe religious leaders hardly care about them—almost three times as much as those who attend weekly who feel the same way (12%).
Those who don’t attend church regularly are more wary of pastors across the board. More than half (56%) say religious leaders rarely admit mistakes and take responsibility.
Generationally, young adults (18 to 29) are less likely to trust religious leaders and more likely to see them uncaring and irresponsible.
The religiously unaffiliated have the lowest view of pastors and other religious leaders.
More than 2 in 5 (43%) say religious leaders care about people like them only a little or not at all, compared to 19% of Christians.
A third (34%) say religious leaders rarely do a good job of providing for the spiritual needs of their communities—more than double the percentage of Christians who agree (15%).
While 21% of Christians say religious leaders rarely handle resources responsibly, 46% of the religious unaffiliated feel that way.
More than half (53%) say religious leaders don’t often provide fair or accurate information to the public, compared to 23% of Christians.
Two-thirds of the religious unaffiliated (68%) believe pastors and other religious leaders rarely admit mistakes and take responsibility, while 36% of Christians say the same.
Pastors must do the work to build trust, not only with their congregation, but also with those watching from the outside.
AARON EARLS (@WardrobeDoor) is online editor of Facts & Trends.