Research sheds light on why some people don't like evangelicals

(Photo: Unsplash/Kiwihug)

New research by the Barna Group offers fresh insights into why some people are turned off by evangelicals. 

In the study of 1,067 US adults, a quarter of respondents said their view of evangelicals was "somewhat negative" or "very negative", compared to just under a third (30%) who said their perception was "somewhat positive" or "very positive". 

Of the 268 respondents with a negative perception of evangelicals, two thirds (67%) said this attitude was because they felt evangelicals were "too pushy with their beliefs".  Sixty-one per cent said that evangelicals were "hypocritical", while half said they were "homophobic" and a similar proportion (51%) said "their beliefs are outdated". 

A smaller proportion (41%) said that evangelicals were "too conservative politically", while over a third (39%) believed them to be "too racist" and 30% said "they are misogynistic". 

Of the 322 respondents who had a positive view of evangelicals, 61% said this was because "they are committed to their beliefs", while around half said "they are loving" (51%) and "honest" (49%). 

One result that surprised Barna was the large proportion of Millennial Americans (52%) who have a neutral attitude towards evangelicals.  By comparison, only 22% of Millennials had a negative perception of evangelicals, while 26% were positive.

Commenting on the findings, Barna President David Kinnaman said: "Somewhat surprisingly, the research does not neatly fit the narratives that younger Americans are lining up against evangelicals or that support comes only or mainly from old-guard Christians.

"What generational differences we found are more strongly correlated around things such as political, educational and religious lines."

The findings are featured in a new report from Barna called "The Brand of Evangelicals".

"Taken together, these results may leave evangelicals to feel confused. For instance, one of the frequently noted positive qualities of evangelicals is that they have a commitment to their faith/beliefs," the report reads.

"However, at the same time, many respondents also indicate that evangelicals are too pushy with their belief system. On its face, these two findings seem contradictory, yet public opinion research often finds that individuals can espouse two opinions that seem entirely incongruent."

It goes on to suggest that "many people admire that evangelicals are people of deep faith but want to make it clear that this same belief system would not work for them personally".

Kinnamin added: "The findings strongly suggest that the perceptions of evangelicals are more barrier than bridge on the road to gaining a hearing for the Gospel.

"As such, the results of this research require much soul searching among Christians to discern a way forward with the current 'evangelical brand.'"