The biblical call to maintain “a good reputation with outsiders” is becoming a bigger challenge in the US as public perception of clergy falls to a record low.
Americans are having a harder time trusting anyone these days—including pastors.
The country’s perception of clergy hit a new low in recent Gallup polling, with fewer than a third of Americans rating clergy as highly honest and ethical.
People are more likely to believe in the moral standards held by nurses, police officers, and chiropractors than their religious leaders. Clergy are still more trusted than politicians, lawyers, and journalists.
The continued drop in pastors’ reputation—down from 40 percent to 32 percent over the past four years—corresponds with more skepticism toward professions (and institutions) across the board.
“As American culture becomes increasingly pluralistic and post-Christian, we can’t assume that Americans in general default to a positive view of clergy,” said Nathan Finn, executive director of the Institute for Transformational Leadership at North Greenville University. “Ministers must work harder to gain public trust than was the case even a generation ago.”
Finn also pointed out how scandals like clergy sex abuse, growing political polarization, and evangelicals’ countercultural moral positions can contribute to the decline in credibility among clergy, “especially among those who have either had bad church experiences or whose worldview assumptions are already at odds with historic Christian beliefs.”
The most dramatic decline in clergy trust came around the crisis of sex abuse by Catholic priests in the early 2000s, when positive …