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Evangelical Leaders See Secularism as Greater Threat Than Islam

Evangelical Lutheran Church service in the US (File)

Evangelical Lutheran Church service in the US (File)

Despite many who have criticized Islam, Evangelical leaders around the world say they do not see Muslims as as much of a threat to their faith as secularism and popular culture.

The Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life conducted the survey during what it called a "geographically representative" meeting of global evangelical leaders last year in South Africa.

The survey indicated 47 percent of respondents say Islam is the main threat to evangelical Christianity, but 71 percent put secularism in that category.

Luis Lugo is director of the Pew Forum. "To put it in context, it is not as though it is not seen as a threat, it is just that secularism in its associated practices tend to be seen as much more of a threat," he said.

Evangelical Christians generally believe in the authority of scripture, the importance of preaching, and conversion - even for Christian-born adherents.

Many leaders said in the survey that there is too much sex and violence in their societies and that consumerism and materialism are at odds with a Christian lifestyle.

But the study points to a North-South divide. While a century ago the world's 80 million evangelicals lived mostly in Europe and America, that population has since tripled and today most live in Africa, the Middle East, Latin America and Asia.

More than eight in 10 U.S. respondents told the survey evangelicals are losing influence in this country. But in the southern hemisphere most evangelical leaders feel they are gaining influence.

And while Islam is seen as the greatest threat by 90 percent of evangelical leaders living in Muslim countries, Lugo says they have the most favorable views of Muslims as people.

"So clearly, these evangelical leaders, they are not Pollyannaish [overly optimistic] about their situation, they understand the reality of violence and some of the governments in Muslim majority countries that are repressive towards them. But they are able to put, somehow, those things in the broader context of their knowledge of Muslims, their knowledge of Islam," said Lugo.

The study also found a more or less an even split between evangelical leaders who believe scripture should be read literally - or word for word - and those who believe the passages are figurative and in need of interpretation.