Islam is polarising opinions among American pastors; most evangelicals see it as a violent and dangerous faith, while the majority of mainline pastors associate it with peace, love and compassion according to LifeWay Research.
Though a growing number of all pastors labelled Islam violent, simultaneously a sharply rising minority called it spiritually good.
A majority of pastors considered Islam dangerous (52 per cent, up from 44 per cent five years ago) and almost half said it was spiritually evil (46 per cent, up from 39 per cent), yet there has also been an increase in those who consider Islam in positive terms. Fifty percent say Islam promotes charity, up from 33 per cent, and almost a third (32 per cent) say Islam is spiritually good.
"Minds are changing in more than one direction," according to Ed Stetzer, executive director of LifeWay Research.
Stetzer said that although there is an increasing divergence between positive and negative views of Islam, "the biggest move is in the smallest percent – and is in a more positive direction."
The key distinction is between evangelical and mainline pastors; the difference in opinion between the two groups has increased in the past five years.
Asked which of two well-known descriptions is closer to their beliefs, 59 per cent of evangelical pastors choose evangelist Franklin Graham's characterisation of Islam as "a very evil and a very wicked religion," while 51 per cent of mainline pastors choose former President George W. Bush's comment, "the Muslim faith is based upon peace and love and compassion."
"While these quotes are hardly new, they still embody opposite perspectives held by different theological groups of Christian leaders," said Stetzer.
The view that Islam is dangerous is increasingly prominent amongst evangelical pastors (59 per cent up from 50 per cent five years ago), while mainline pastors are increasingly saying that it is a tolerant religion (35 per cent, up from 25 per cent).
The statistics show that although there is a gulf of opinion between various pastors, the American public are even more divided. While 31 per cent of Americans said Islam is tolerant, almost as many (26 per cent) said it promotes violence.