In a Gallup poll conducted earlier this month, participants
were asked, “Please tell me how you would rate the honesty and ethical
standards of people in these different fields—very high, high, average, low, or
very low?” According to the results, only 47 percent of Americans rate clergy
high in honesty and ethics. Six other professions rated higher: nurses,
pharmacists, grade school teachers, medical doctors, military officers, and
police officers. Nurses topped the list with a whopping 82 percent of Americans
ranking them high in honesty and ethics. For the clergy, this is the first year
that its number has dropped below 50% since Gallup first asked about the clergy
in 1977. Now I know that as far as the results of polls go, you can
dissect them any number of ways. Click here if
you want to read more on the Gallup poll, but in this post, I want to zero in
on one particular point and give my take on it. I want to focus on the point that
the participants were not limited to people of faith or to churchgoers; rather,
the participants constituted a random sample of all adults 18 and older. I am assuming that if in the survey the participants were limited
to the religious community that the clergy would rate higher. Is that
necessarily a certainty? No. Among the church family, the numbers could go farther
down, but let’s assume that my assumption is right that the clergy would do better
if only people of faith were grading them.
But I believe the relevant point to take away from this
Gallup poll, if there is one, is that the poll is a reflection of the American
public and not just the religious community. I have read a few of the comments in
response to the poll results, some of which border on sarcasm. I get all of
that. But as a member of the clergy, I believe we must be concerned with how
the general public views us in the areas of honesty and ethics.
Why? One, our image in the areas of honesty and ethical
standards to those outside the church has bearing on their openness to our
message as ministers of the gospel. Two, honesty and high ethical standards are
essential to our ability to effectively lead others in their faith experience. Three,
one of our objectives as members of the clergy is to endear a commitment to
honesty and high ethical standards to those whom we serve as spiritual leaders.
And the message from this recent Gallup poll is that Americans
don’t rate the spiritual leaders high in these two vital areas of character.