Why Just 53% of Americans Trust Religious Leaders

This fall, the Pew Research Center found that just over half of Americans trust religious leaders to do what’s in their best interest; 53 percent of survey respondents noted that they had “a great deal” or “a fair amount” of trust in faith leaders.

Only business leaders (41 percent), the news media (38 percent) and elected officials (27 percent) ranked lower, with the military and scientists topping the list.

Sam Rohrer, president of the Pennsylvania Pastors Network recently talked about the study during an interview with host Perry Atkinson on “Focus Today” on The Dove TV and radio, which covers the Pacific Northwest and is also available to listeners online.

“Although this research shows that Americans trust religious leaders more than elected officials, the fact that just over half trust our faith leaders is a sorry statement,” said APN President Sam Rohrer. “One question is why. Why don’t more people trust religious leaders? In my opinion, it’s because, in some cases, the truth is not being fully told. A flat-out lie will certainly erode trust, but for many in the pulpit, it’s not that they are speaking falsehoods necessarily, but may be deceiving their congregations when it comes to the Gospel or faith in Jesus Christ as being the only way to heaven. Unfortunately, too many today do not preach the whole counsel of God, as the Bible instructs and as the American Pastors Network encourages.”

Rohrer added that this guilt comes by omission rather than commission, and that those in the pews want their church leaders to speak out on biblical issues and apply these principles to the matters of the day. In fact, a separate study found that while 90 percent of theologically conservative pastors believe the Bible speaks to societal issues, fewer than 10 percent of them are teaching people what the Bible says on these topics. (Read more here about the study from the American Culture and Faith Institute.)

“The trust factor, in large part, comes down to this point—if pastors won’t speak on these issues, their congregations may wonder what else their pastor is not telling them,” Rohrer continued. “There’s no substitute for the telling the truth all the time, exactly as God has laid it out. After all, that’s how He will measure us. There’s an old phrase that says the church follows the world by 10 steps. The reality is that the failure of the church to lead puts the world about 10 steps behind. The benchmark or standard for everything we do—culturally, in the family, financially or in anything else—is the biblical standard. That’s God’s standard.

“Today, many would say that the culture is dragging down the church, but in reality, the church is dragging down the culture by failing to uphold the standards across the spectrum of cultural living,” he added. “That puts the burden on the church and, ultimately, on the pulpit. The failure to preach the whole gospel—where many pastors fall short—lies with refusing to speak biblical principles and truth to the issues of the day. In the end, churchgoers cannot blame any of this on the pastors; everyone is responsible for themselves. But as they lead at the pulpit, it is the responsibility of pastors to apply these biblical principles to everything and remind their people of God’s commands in all things. Once that happens—even though it may seem difficult, uncomfortable and controversial—faith in the church, as well as trust in our faith leaders, will be restored.”

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