Another day, another depressing poll. According to the most recent Gallup survey on American’s perception of honesty and ethical standards amongst various professions, things are still looking dour for the clergy. According to the study…
“Americans' ‘high’ or ‘very high’ ratings of the clergy slipped to 44%, its lowest point since Gallup first asked the question in 1977. The clergy rating first dropped below 50% in 2013 to 47% and slipped one point to a new low in each of the past three years.
Clergy ranked at the top of the list in 1977 with a 61% rating when Gallup first included the profession in the list. In 2001, almost two-thirds of Americans rated the honesty and ethical standards of the clergy as ‘high’ or ‘very high.’ But the sexual abuse scandal that engulfed the Roman Catholic Church in 2002 brought the rating down to 52% that year. By 2013, after a series of further revelations of abuse, less than half of the public gave the clergy a ‘high’ or ‘very high’ rating.”
So, yeah, perception of the clergy would seem to be at an all-time low. But you know the problem with perceptions, right? The initial ones aren’t always the most accurate, as the short film Leaning aptly demonstrates. (Content warning: there will be blood.)
Perceptions can change. Even Gallop’s survey hints at it. For instance, go further into the data and you find this tidbit:
“Among those most likely to give the clergy a ‘high’ or ‘very high’ rating this month were Protestants (59%), those aged 65 and older (58%), those who attend religious services at least weekly (57%), and Republicans (56%). The groups least likely to rate the clergy's standards as ‘high’ or ‘very high’ were the nonreligious (22%), 18- to 29-year-olds (30%), those with annual household incomes under $30,000 (31%), those with a high school education or less (37%), and liberals (37%).”
In other words, those who rate clergy low on the trustworthiness scale are those unlikely to interact with them on a regular basis. Those who do, such as regular churchgoers, tend to rate clergy much higher. Just as in Leaning, perceptions change once you see what the clergy is actually up to. The truth is, once you get to know the majority of clergy (there’s always a few duds), the more you discover just how much these people devote their lives to serving others. So, if we want to increase the positive perception of the clergy, the solution is simple. Help get more people into the Church. And we do that by becoming better Christians. Somehow, it always comes back to that, doesn’t it?