Last year, the Pew Research Center did a fascinating analysis of more than 50,000 sermon transcripts that had been posted online, representing a variety of Christian denominations. There’s so much information that reports are still being released a year after the data was first collected.
Today, Pew released a report focusing on the topic of abortion. How many pastors are talking about it? What are they saying? Things like that.
Given how contentious and political the topic is, especially among evangelicals and Southern Baptists, you might expect that the subject gets brought up quite a bit.
That’s not the case at all.
Of all the sermons Pew researchers looked at last spring over the span of eight weeks, only 4% brought up abortion, “and when they did, it was rarely mentioned repeatedly.” Of course, it was almost never in positive terms.
The findings suggest that roughly one-in five congregations in the evangelical Protestant, historically black Protestant and Catholic traditions heard at least one message that touched on abortion during the study period. Meanwhile, only one-in-ten mainline Protestant congregations heard about abortion during the same period.
It obviously makes a different how the issue is raised, too, and no surprise there: Most pastors treat abortion like it’s uniquely awful — not just another medical procedure, not just another sin, and certainly not just about a woman’s right to decide what happens inside her own body.
When researchers individually examined 60 sermons that discussed abortion, only four seemed to support access to abortion services. As a result, sermons that express a positive view of abortion rights were too rare to identify across the whole database.
That also suggests that if Christians are pro-choice, they’re coming to that conclusion on their own or despite what their pastor is saying.
It’s telling which words Pew found in the sermons that mentioned abortion. In evangelical churches, for example, if abortion came up, you would also be more likely to hear the words “heartbeat,” “pornography,” and “evolution.” Catholics would pair it with “pro-life” and “good Catholic.”
Also interesting: Sermons that mentioned abortion were also more likely to bring up the Old Testament.
Indeed, 72% of all sermons that mention abortion reference a book of the Old Testament, compared with 60% of sermons overall.
Makes sense. It’s not like Jesus had a lot to say about it.
Maybe this isn’t very surprising to you, but it should serve as a kick in the pants for progressive Christian leaders. Even if the topic is controversial, we need more pastors to talk about abortion — to normalize it, to treat it like the medical procedure it is instead of like a genocide, which it’s not. Especially when you consider that women are usually not the ones speaking from the pulpit, the men who have that privilege have a responsibility to do more.
After all, it’s a lot of those pastor’s daughters who will need to hear this information the most.
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