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Nearly Half of US Adults Doubt Clergy Have Positive Impact

U.S. adults expressed mixed views about clergy, with only 55% affirming that they have a positive impact on society, according to a report published July 8 by The Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research (AP-NORC).

Respondents with a religious affiliation and those who attend religious services at least monthly were more positive about clergy’s impact on society.

Among the religiously affiliated, 62% say clergy have a positive influence, compared to 77% of those attending weekly services.

Clergy were fifth out of seven surveyed professions regarding their positive impact on society, trailing teachers (84%), medical doctors (83%), scientists (80%) and military members (75%) and ahead of only lawyers (42%) and business executives (40%).

Only 34% of respondents say “trustworthy” describes religious leaders “extremely or very well,” compared to “caring” (50%), “intelligent” (40%), “honest” (39%), “narrow-minded” (31%), “selfish” (19%) and “lazy” (11%).

Just over half (55%) of respondents have been influenced “a lot or some” by clergy, with 47% saying they desire “a lot or some” influence from religious leaders.

While a majority are being significantly influenced by religious leaders, only 24% say they contact a member of the clergy “often or sometimes” for guidance when making important decisions – 6% often, 18% sometimes.

Volunteering or charitable giving were the most likely reasons respondents reached out to religious leaders, followed by issues related to marriage, divorce and relationships, childrearing and children’s education.

Those who do reach out were mostly positive in their assessment of clergy’s efficacy, with 43% saying the interaction was “extremely or very valuable” and 40% “moderately valuable.”

The overall margin of error is plus-minus 4.1%.

The full report is available here.