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Religious Tolerance logo

Religious beliefs of Americans

Ratings of clergy honesty and ethics.
Stable, changing, unexpected beliefs.

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Honesty and ethics ratings of clergy and other professions:

The Gallup Poll regularly conducts surveys of the American population to determine their opinion of the honesty and ethical standards of various professions. 14

Only one of the professions polled deals with religion. The percentage of American adults that rate clergy as very high or high in ethics and honesty has decreased steadily since the mid 1980's:

The increase in 2001 may well have been influenced by the 9/11 attack. Church attendance surged for a brief interval and then returned to normal figures (40% as reported by the public; 20% in reality).

The sudden dip in 2002 may well have been caused by the revelation earlier that year of extensive child sexual abuse by Catholic priests.

Still, the public's rating has a long way to sink before reaching the level of automobile sales persons (6%) or Members of Congress (9%). They have a long way to rise before matching nurses (83%).

Additional data:

Gallup stated in 2009:

"In addition to the clergy and bankers, ratings of stockbrokers have hit a new low, and ratings of business executives, members of Congress, and lawyers have tied their previous lows."

% rating high or very high: 2008 data 2009-NOV-21 data
All adults 56% 50%
Roman Catholics 60% 55%
Other Christians 63% 56%
No religious affiliation 31% 34%
Weekly church attendance 68% 63%
Nearly weekly or monthly 62% 57%
Seldom or never 46% 40%

Religious beliefs that are relatively stable:

bulletNumbers are stable for American adults who:
bulletmet the pollsters definition of "Evangelical." These dropped by 1%: from 8% in 2000 to 7% in 2001. This is not statistically significant. 7
bulletmet the pollster's definition of being "born again;" numbers remained stable  at 41%, between 2000 and 2001. 8 
bullethave "a great deal" or "quite a lot" of confidence in organized religion (56% in 1997). 8

Religious beliefs that are changing:

bulletThe most accurate survey to date shows that the number of American adults who identify themselves with Christianity dropped from 86% to 76% between 1991 and 2001.
bulletThe largest gain of any religious group was among non-believers.
bulletCanadian census data shows that the percentage of non-Christians has more than tripled in that country, from 5% to 17% between 1981 and 1991. The percentage of adults who consider themselves to be Christian has dropped from 95% to 83% over the same decade.
bulletIn 1963, two out of three people believed that the Bible was the actual word of God. Associated with this belief is the concept that the writings in the Bible are inerrant, and infallible. By 1999, the numbers had reversed. Two out of three now regard the Bible as composed of "divinely inspired" texts or ancient fables, legends and human-recorded moral codes. 9
bulletBarna Research reported a sudden drop between 1997 and 2001 in two factors:
bulletBelief in the inerrancy of the Bible, from 58% to 41%
bulletBelief that religion is very important personally; from 87% to 68%

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Unexpected religious beliefs:

bullet12% of adults believe that Joan of Arc was Noah's wife!
bulletOnly 42% of adults were aware that the Sermon on the Mount was preached by Jesus.
bullet58% of adults believe that the Bible is totally accurate in all that it teaches. We would have expected this to much lower.
bulletMore born-again Christians believe in channeling , astrology and reincarnation than non born-again Christians. 10


  1. "Angels are in; Devil & Holy Spirit are out," results of a survey conducted in 1997-JAN by Barna Research. Accuracy: within 3% points, 19 times out of 20. See: http://www.barna.org/PressAngels.htm
  2. "Religious beliefs vary widely by denomination," 2001-JUN-25, Barna Research Group, Ltd., at: http://www.barna.org/cgi-bin/
  3. "Annual study reveals America is spiritually stagnant," Barna Research Group, Ltd., at:
  4. Zoetics poll for Total Living Network. Reported by ReligionToday on 2000-MAR-2. 1000 adults sampled. They found that "viewers are overloaded with TV preachers and want more entertaining fare."
  5. Reported in Newsweek, 2000-MAY-1 edition.
  6. "Annual survey of America's faith shows no significant changes in past year."  See: http://www.barna.org/PressNoSignificantChanges.htm  
  7. 1965 Gallup Poll, described by Charisma. Online at: http://www.mcjonline.com/news/00/20000225e.htm 
  8. Emerging Trends, 1999-SEP, Princeton Religion Research Center, at: http://www.prrc.com/et.html
  9. G. Gallup and D. Lindsay. "Surveying the American Religious Landscape: Trends in U.S. Beliefs," Morehouse Publishing, (1999). Review/order this book
  10. "Answers to frequently asked questions," at: http://www.barna.org/PageStats.htm (link may be broken)
  11. "Number of Americans with no formal religion increasing, survey finds,"
    2002-JAN-7, PCUSA NEWS news release.
  12. "Survey: Majority of Americans OK With Ten Commandments, Pledge in Public," Religion News Service, 2003-AUG-5, at: http://www.beliefnet.com/
  13. "Separation of Church and State," Pew Research Center, 2007-OCT-05, at: http://pewresearch.org/
  14. Jeffrey M. Jones, "U.S. Clergy, Bankers See New Lows in Honesty/Ethics Ratings' Police officers? image recovers," Gallup, Inc., 2009-DEC-09, at: http://www.gallup.com/

Site navigation:

 Home page > Christianity > Christian history, belief... > Polls > here

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Copyright © 1999 to 2009. by Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance
Originally written: 1999-MAY-13
Latest update: 2009-DEC-10
Author: B.A. Robinson 

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