Evangelicals on Evolution, Women, and the Future (RJS)

The Pew Research Center’s Forum on Religion & Public Life surveyed 2,196 evangelical leaders from 166 countries and territories at the Lausanne Congress of World Evangelization last October. The results of this survey are now available at pewforum.org: Global Survey of Evangelical Protestant Leaders. There are many interesting bits to pull out of this survey and think over.

Evangelical leaders from the global south are more optimistic about the future of evangelicalism than those from the global north. The global north includes Europe, North America, Japan, Australia and New Zealand, the global south includes sub-Saharan Africa, the Middle East and North Africa, Latin America and most of Asia. The graph below represents a comparison of the impression of the current state of evangelicalism in each respondent’s home country with that expected five years in the future using data from questions 1 to 3 in the survey.

Seven-in-ten evangelical leaders who live in the Global South (71%) expect that five years from now the state of evangelicalism in their countries will be better than it is today. But a majority of evangelical leaders in the Global North expect that the state of evangelicalism in their countries will either stay about the same (21%) or worsen (33%) over the next five years.

In addition, most leaders in the Global South (58%) say that evangelical Christians are gaining influence on life in their countries. By contrast, most leaders in the Global North (66%) say that, in the societies in which they live, evangelicals are losing influence. U.S. evangelical leaders are especially downbeat about the prospects for evangelical Christianity in their society; 82% say evangelicals are losing influence in the United States today, while only 17% think evangelicals are gaining influence.

It would do us in the United States a world of good to develop a more global perspective. I will look at a few more of the questions and responses after the jump.

Does the difference in perspective surprise you?

Creation. On the issue of creation Question 41 asked the leaders which statement came closest to their own views: Humans and other living things have evolved over time due to natural processes such as natural selection; A supreme being guided the evolution of living things for the purpose of creating humans and other life in the form it exists today; Humans and other living things have existed in their present form since the beginning of time.

Roughly 44% of those surveyed were comfortable with some form of evolution although the vast majority of these held that God guided the evolutionary process. This is not surprising, but will no doubt cause consternation among some adamant materialists. Although I would want to define what I meant by God-guided (surveys never allow enough nuance) I would choose this option from the answers provided. The result of the survey provides some encouragement for the future.

On a related question 64% of those surveyed felt that there is a natural conflict between being an evangelical Christian and living in a modern society while 33% felt there was no natural conflict (3% gave no answer).

Threats to Evangelicalism. The leaders at the congress were asked about threats to evangelicalism. Among the factors included in the survey were the influence of secularism, emphasis on consumerism and material goods, sex and violence in popular culture, and theological divisions among evangelicals. The largest threat perceived by those at the congress was secularism; 71% felt this was a major threat while 20 % felt it was a minor threat.

The Role of Women
. Finally on another issue often discussed on this blog – the role of women and women in ministry. Question 42 asked a number of gender related questions and Question 43 asked “Do you think women should be allowed to serve as pastors, or don’t you think so?” The general sense of those at the Congress was that men have a responsibility to be spiritual leaders in the home. However there were a few surprises.

Of those at the Lausanne Congress 75% felt that women should be allowed to serve as pastors, 20% answered no and 5% did not answer.  The large majority in favor was found in both the global north (73%) and the global south (77%).

The statement “Women should stay at home and raise the children in the family” also gave a result worth some thought and discussion.

The US had the largest percentage of agreement (44%) – larger than Europe (28% – no surprise) but also significantly larger than the global south (31%). The culture of a stay-at-home mom is local and a luxury.

Any thoughts on the survey in general? How would you answer the questions?

If you wish to contact me directly you may do so at rjs4mail[at]att.net

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  • Jason Lee

    16% of respondents are from the United States. 20% are from Europe. I presume a fair number of Aussies and Kiwis from Asia/Pac. My guess is that this lower representation of US people is what’s driving some of the more progressive results.

    One other thing is that I don’t have a good sense of what kind of person goes to Lausanne. Respondents are certainly not representative of those societies (except maybe the US where evangelicals are roughly 1/3 of the country) … Lausanners are a select group of “evangelical” leaders … and a certain slice of those leaders. The question is what kind of slice? Once we know what kind of slice, it may be more meaningful to think about why 44% were comfortable with some form of evolution.

  • JohnM

    I agree with Jason – #1. “Global Survey of Evangelical Protestant Leaders” as a title may be somehwat misleading.

    Question, if anyone knows, were any Pentecostals participants at Lausanne? One of the survey questions seemed to regard them as a tradition outside of evangelicalism, rather than a subset of it.

  • rjs


    It is, of course, a survey of those interested in affiliation with the Lausanne Congress, and this is but a subset of the whole. This is something that must be kept in mind when considering the results of the survey.

  • Joe Canner

    RJS, I’m confused: The graph says that 44% said “No Evolution” and less than 5% said “Natural”. Your commentary says that “[r]oughly 44% of those surveyed were comfortable with some form of evolution.” I don’t see where you are getting that from. The results in the graph seem pretty consistent with results from surveys done in the US, which is to say that they are not very comforting.

  • Joe Canner

    Here is a Gallup poll from 2008 asking pretty much the same question about evolution of a random sample of Americans:

    Man created <10,000 years ago: 60%
    Man evolved, God guided: 32%
    Man evolved, no God: 4%

    Democrats: 38%, 39%, 17%, respectively

    Independents: 40%, 36%, 19%

    Weekly church-goers: 70%, 26%, 1%

    At least monthly church-goers: 50%, 41%, 6%

    Non-church-goers: 39%, 28%, 24%

    According to Gallup, these figures have been stable since at least 1982.

  • rjs


    41% said God-guided evolution, 3% said natural evolution = 44% comfortable with evolution in some form.

    47% said no evolution.

    9% did not answer the question.

  • Adam


    I am amused that 1% of weekly church goers and 6% of monthly church goers believe there is no god.

  • Tom

    Could it be that our Evangelical leaders tend to want to major in the minors? We are losing ground because of the many years that Evangelicals have been influenced and confused with Fundamentalism. Evangelicals are still in many ways looked upon as uneducated and uncritical and therefore unable to engage society at large. We are so busy trying to maintain “correct doctrine” that we have given up the high ground to those in the university that still engage each other while we fight and exclude each other over eschatology, baptism, and every other secondary issue. Educated people are not interested in our foolishness. We have been fighting each other for 100 years now and just keep dividing into smaller groups (or even single independant churches). Why should we expect anything different. We have become a poorly run business with no core product. Sorry to be so negative today.

  • Pat

    I’m surprised that such a large number from the U.S. agreed with the statement as it’s worded that, “Women SHOULD (emphasis mine) stay at home and raise the children in the family”.

  • http://tranformingseminarian.blogspot.com Mark Baker-Wright

    Re, #9, I’m not surprised that such a large number of US respondents thought women should stay at home. It’s well-known that there’s a significant push (especially among evangelicals) for just that kind of thing. What surprised me is that no one else agreed with that statement in such strong numbers.

    There’s hope for those of us who support women in ministry, yet…. 😉

  • Joe Canner

    RJS, Thanks for the clarification. The way you phrased it sounded like a glass-half-full interpretation, and since I had a glass-half-empty interpretation, I assumed you had transposed the figures. Sorry about that.

  • Joe Canner

    Adam #7: Actually, I may have misrepresented the survey slightly in the interest of saving space. That category should say “Humans developed over millions of years, God had no part.” Technically, a person could answer this way and still believe in God, just that God didn’t have anything to do with human evolution. For someone who believes that God front-loaded the universe with the means to bring about human life, this might be an appropriate response, depending on your definition of “God-guided” (as RJS noted in the original post).

  • rjs

    Pat #9,

    The summary is a little misleading though. The question does say Women should stay at home and raise the children in the family, but the respondents could select from four options.

    completely agree (2%)
    mostly agree (31%)
    mostly disagree (35%)
    completely disagree (28%)
    (4% didn’t answer the question)

    I don’t know what the breakdown was for the US – but I would guess that as for the whole sample, the vast majority of the 44% who agreed with the statement checked “mostly agree.”

  • Jason Lee

    If other evangelical-type communities in other countries had not Scopes Trial-type event in their history, I could see why their leaders might be more open to theistic evolution.

  • AHH

    Jason #14,
    We’re both speculating here, but I’m skeptical of pinning that difference on the Scopes trial.

    A more likely suspect to me is the whole fundamentalist-modernist controversy (where Scopes was admittedly one episode) and especially the elevation of “inerrancy” to a central dogma. I think that has been much less of a big deal outside the US (how many outside the US read The Battle for the Bible?), which would lead to more openness to ideas of God having created in ways that don’t agree with those who think Genesis should be a perfect science textbook.
    The US origin of the modern “creationist” movement (and of the 7th-Day Adventist movement that gave it birth) probably also plays a role.

  • Jason Lee

    ahh: Yes, on the US’ unique fund-mod cleavage and elevation of innerancy (for which Scopes was fuel to the fire).

  • SFG

    JohnM @2 Yes, Pentecostals were present at Lausanne?

  • JohnM

    SFG @17 Thanks. What prompted my question was the survey question “How favorable or unfavorable is your overall opinion of the following groups”. Pentecostals were included on the list, along with Catholics, Orthodox Christians, and several non-Christian groups. The favorable view of Pentecostals was 92%. Presumably at least the Pentecostals in attendance held a favorable view of themselves :)

  • http://www.soulation.org Dale Fincher

    I’m not surprised that such a large number of evangelicals say women can be pastors. The way modern evangelical churches in the USA have morphed is to call anyone serving as a leader in a church as a “pastor.” But that isn’t the hotbed of the issue that would reveal where the current temperature about women today is at. The better question would have asked can women be “elders” or “head pastors.”

    I am surprised so many said man should be the “spiritual leader of the home.” I’m still flummoxed as to what that really means in exclusion of the woman also being a spiritual leader in the home.

    I like what Tom (#8) said above. There’s a constant temptation to correct our fellow saints in evangelical culture, rather than look outward, creatively, broadly, lovingly.

  • rjs


    In the places where I have heard this discussed “pastor” is a key word (as is elder or deacon or trustee in various traditions). No survey can catch all nuance though.

    In the US we often have large churches with staff – multiple pastors with various functions. Is that really the reality in most of the world – say in the Global South where 77% said women could be pastors?

    Some Americans might read the question and think “Women’s Pastor” or “Children’s Pastor” (or some other kind of role) – but I doubt if that is true world wide.

  • Jason Lee

    I don’t know if the survey clearly described what it meant by “pastor.” Clearly saying something like “the top leader of a local congregation” would have been clarifying (I couldn’t find the actual question in the link, but I didn’t look very long).

  • Richard C

    I was one of the 81% of those surveyed who agreed that governments should take responsibility for caring for the very poor. This made it one of the highest rating statements outside of the obvious “no-brainer” ones which one might expect of evangelical leaders (e.g. Biblical authority).

    However in relation to this question the report goes onto state:
    “Leaders from the United States stand out for relatively low levels of agreement with this proposition. A majority (56%) says that government should be responsible for very poor people who cannot care for themselves, but four-in-ten say they either mostly disagree (34%) or completely disagree (6%).”

    As a European I am wondering why is the US so different? Is it just as simple as the influence of right-wing economic views?

  • Jason Lee
  • rjs

    Jason (#21)

    The exact question according to the survey at the end of the downloadable report (pdf) is: Q43. Do you think women should be allowed to serve as pastors, or don’t you think so?

    This is somewhat ambiguous – and could be interpreted differently I expect in different contexts.