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Moderation in all things? Do United Methodists really own the middle ground?

SUMMARY: United Methodists often perceive that they are more moderate on religious, social and political issues than their conservative or progressive Protestant neighbors. 

Is this perception accurate or a relic of the past?  Recent research from the Pew Foundation provides a new look at this question.

Pew report on the U.S. religious landscape study
Early this year the Pew Foundation released information regarding religious affiliation and changes in denominational affiliation within the U.S. population.  On June 26, the organization released a second installment of data from this landmark survey, this time focused on attitudes toward religious, social and political issues. 

The survey sample included approximately 36,000 individuals of which 2,239 identified themselves as United Methodists.  The attached chart shows how these individuals responded to the questions, along with responses from those who identified themselves as being affiliated with the Episcopal Church, Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, Presbyterian Church USA and "Protestant."  The Protestant classification includes all Protestant groups, including Pentecostal groups, nondenominational churches, Southern Baptists, other evangelicals and mainline Protestant churches.  The samples from these other mainline Protestant churches range from 474 to 869 individuals.  Given the size of the sample groups, only a small point difference can reflect a significant difference between attitudes of the groups.

Religion-related issues
In general, attitudes of United Methodist members toward religion appear very similar to those of other mainline Protestants; yet, United Methodists also tend to be closer to general "Protestant" positions than other mainline groups.  Practices and beliefs tend to be open-not dogmatic-regarding Scriptural interpretation. United Methodists are somewhat more likely than other mainline Protestants to engage in prayer and to consider religion important in their lives.  

 

 

Total U.S.

 Protestants

 UMC

ELCA

PC USA

Episcopal

 Absolute Belief in God

71

84

77

71

69

70

 Religion Very Important in Life

56

70

56

50

51

49

Attend Church Weekly

39

50

40

35

43

36

Pray at Least Once a Week

75

86

82

74

79

73

Receive Weekly Answers to Prayer

19

24

14

11

13

11

Word of God to Be Taken Literally

33

46

24

21

18

10

Bible Not Word of God

28

14

22

28

28

41

More Than One Way to Interpret Teachings of My Religion

68

64

83

85

84

88

My Religion Is the One True Faith

24

27

11

10

12

6

Political/social Issues
United Methodists represent a true mix of attitudes toward political and social issues.  They tend to be fairly moderate in their opinions on key issues of the day. 

 

 

Total U.S.

Protestants

UMC

ELCA

PC USA 

Episcopal

Lean Republican

36

42

46

39

49

44

Lean Democratic

47

44

42

46

42

45

Independent

10

9

9

9

7

8

Conservative

37

44

41

36

34

31

Moderate

36

34

40

42

45

41

Liberal

20

15

15

17

18

22

United Methodists appear more accepting of homosexuals and abortions than Protestants in general.  United Methodists are likely to see abortion as legal in some instances and tend to be more open to homosexuals than the general U.S. population.

In these areas, they express attitudes similar to other mainline denominations.  United Methodists worry that government is too involved in protecting morality and in world affairs.  They also perceive environmental laws as worth the cost to the economy.

 

 

Total U.S.

Protestants

UMC

ELCA

PC USA 

Episcopal

Want Smaller Government

43

45

55

54

55

54

 Want Larger Government

46

44

33

34

34

35

             
Abortion Legal All Cases

18

14

17

22

21

30

Abortion Legal Most Cases

33

31

42

43

47

44

Abortion Illegal Most Cases

27

30

28

23

22

17

Abortion Illegal All Cases

16

18

6

5

5

4

             
Homosexuality to Be Accepted

50

38

51

59

58

66

Homosexuality to Be Discouraged

40

51

38

31

32

27

             
Government to Protect Morality

40

44

36

33

31

28

Govt. Too Involved in Protecting Morals

52

47

56

59

62

66

             

Stricter Environmental Laws Hurt Economy

30

33

29

26

26

23

Stricter Environmental Laws Worth Cost

61

57

63

67

68

71

             
U.S. To Be Active in World Affairs

36

36

41

38

48

49

U.S. Should Pay Less Attention to World

55

55

51

54

44

42

Methodology
In summer 2007, the Pew Foundation conducted telephone surveys among approximately 36,000 U.S. residents to understand the U.S. religious framework.  Because random-digit dialing was used, each U.S. household had an equal opportunity to participate in the research.  Low-incidence groups such as Muslims, Hindus and households that use only cell phones for phone service were over-sampled to ensure the sample used in the study reflected the population.

 If you are interested, here is the complete Pew report.