By Aaron Earls
Many pastors say their church is divided over politics and the pandemic. Church leaders may not know what is expected of them during a potentially volatile election day and the aftermath.
A survey from the Public Religion Research Institute found many Americans are worried about what will happen after the election and they are looking to religious leaders to help.
More than 4 in 5 Americans (86%) say there will be widespread violent protests in cities across the country following this election. More than half (54%) believe those violent protests will happen in their own community.
Around 3 in 4 (77%) worry there will not be a peaceful transition of power after this election.
In the midst of these potentially dangerous situations, many Americans are looking to religious leaders.
Here are three areas the public expect to hear from pastors and church leaders and one area in which Americans are divided.
As Trevin Wax writes, Americans have “self-segregated [both geographically and digitally] into likeminded enclaves where we rarely deal substantively with people who hold different political perspectives.”
Because of this ideological isolation, many Americans will be shocked at the results of the election, as they honestly may not know many people, if any, who voted for the opposing candidate.
Americans are worried this shock will turn into violent protests, but they hope pastors provide a calming influence.
More than 4 in 5 Americans (84%) say it is important for religious leaders to speak about de-escalating anger before it turns into violence.
Overwhelming majorities of Christian groups agree, including white evangelical Protestants (92%), Black Protestants (86%), and white mainline Protestants (84%).
Encourage a peaceful transition
Similar numbers of Americans (81%) believe it is vital for religious leaders to stress the importance of a peaceful transition of power no matter who wins the election.
Again, large majorities of Christian groups say pastors should be involved in speaking out on this issue, including 91% of white evangelical Protestants, 90% of Black Protestants, and 80% of white mainline Protestants.
Support for issues
While less than the other areas, 3 in 5 Americans (62%) say it is important for religious leaders to speak about their support for a particular issue or issues.
Sizable majorities of white evangelical Protestants (76%), Black Protestants (74%), and Hispanic Protestants (73%) believe it is important for pastors to talk about their support of certain issues.
Fewer white Catholics (60%), Hispanic Catholics (59%), and white mainline Protestants (52%) believe it’s important to hear from religious leaders about their stance on issues.
Support for a candidate
Americans aren’t as anxious to hear religious leaders voice their support for particular politicians. Less than half (45%) say it’s important.
White evangelical Protestants (65%) and Black Protestants (62%) are more likely than Hispanic Catholics (47%), Hispanic Protestants (40%), white Catholics (37%), and white mainline Protestants (34%) to see this as important.
While a growing number of pastors have endorsed candidates outside of their church role (32% in 2020, up from 22% in 2016), according to LifeWay Research, most (65%) still avoid any type of endorsement.
Most Americans (61%) also say pastoral endorsements during church services are inappropriate, but those who are OK with such political statements are growing—24% in 2020, up from 13% in 2008.
AARON EARLS (@WardrobeDoor) is online editor of Facts & Trends.