June 22, 2011 / 6:25 PM / 8 years ago

Evangelicals split on faith's influence: survey

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Christian evangelicals’ influence is seen waning in developed countries, while the faith’s future is bright in the developing world, a survey of evangelical church leaders concluded on Wednesday.

People pray during a religious service for bikers at the German Evangelical Church Congress in Dresden, June 4, 2011. REUTERS/Thomas Peter

Growing secularism, consumerism and sex and violence in popular culture were viewed by the church leaders as the gravest challenges to the faith, which comprises several denominations whose collective membership outnumbers Roman Catholics in the United States where they are a key voting bloc.

The Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life conducted the survey at the Third Lausanne Congress of World Evangelization meeting in Cape Town, South Africa, where roughly half the attendees participated in the October 2010 poll.

Of the 2,196 evangelical leaders surveyed, 64 percent said there is a “natural conflict” between being an evangelical and living in modern society.

Evangelicals tend to be conservative, and the number of converts is expanding in Africa, Latin America and other parts of the developing world where leaders tend to hold more pronounced conservative views, the Pew report said.

In the survey, two-thirds of evangelical Christian leaders in Europe, North America, Japan, Australia and New Zealand said their faith was losing influence in their countries, while 58 percent from Africa, the Middle East, Latin America and most of Asia responded that their faith was gaining influence.

U.S. evangelical leaders were particularly pessimistic, with 82 percent saying the faith’s influence was waning.

Evangelical Christian leaders shared some views: nearly all opposed the right to abortion and said society should discourage homosexuality. Most believed men should serve as religious leaders in their marriage and family.

But nine in 10 of the leaders rejected “prosperity gospel,” which is preached in some U.S. “mega-churches” and holds that wealth and good health is granted for strong belief.

The leaders generally agreed the Bible is the word of God, though they split evenly on whether it should not be read literally, word for word, and they were divided on whether belief in God was necessary to be a moral person.

Nearly all evangelical leaders from Muslim-majority countries viewed Islam as a threat, but competing faiths were much less of a concern in other countries. A majority had a favorable view of Jews, Catholics, and other Christian faiths.

Slightly more than half said they believed the second coming of Jesus Christ would occur in their lifetimes.

Reporting by Andrew Stern, Editing by Jackie Frank

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