Suppose I asked, “Which, if any, of the following people do you believe are Christians?” and listed five people:
- Barack Obama
- Glenn Beck
- Sarah Palin
- Oprah Winfrey
- George W. Bush
Do you think a poll like this offers substantial information which assists us with the Great Commission? Or, could the negativity toward the inquirers (Lifeway affiliated with the Southern Baptist Convention) outweigh any potential assistance the feedback could offer? Well Lifeway Research answered "yes" to the first question and "no" to the second.
Not with an added benefit of a free pass, however.
For example, consider New Mexico pastor, Howell Scott, in his lively critique of Lifeway's "asinine survey."
How is a one-question survey like this helpful, either within the church or in our culture in general? How does Lifeway, an entity of the Southern Baptist Convention, think this survey, which asks pastors to judge the personal faith of these five people – anything other than politics cloaked in the veil of religiosity? Who exactly is supposed to use the nifty Power Point presentation that is available for download? Is it intended for pastors and churches to integrate into their worship during the elections of 2012?... Did no one at Lifeway Research or in the main offices of Lifeway...stop to think about how this survey...would be perceived by not just Southern Baptists but, by the general population? Are the people in Nashville so clueless when it comes to the politics of this?
Scott concludes by taking comfort in the fact no CP funds were wasted on "unhelpful" research. Granted. However, such comfort easily vanishes when one thinks of the negative feedback sure to come as a result of this hopelessly irrelevant survey.
And here I thought culture-watchers like Ed Stetzer were profoundly concerned that Southern Baptists were viewed so negatively already within the culture at large. Indeed Thom Rainer himself laments the negativity people have toward Southern Baptists. In January of this year I wrote:
...in April, 2009, Dr. Thom Rainer, President of Lifeway twittered the question, "What do you think when you hear ‘Southern Baptist’?” ((//link). According to his report, "the results were fascinating, if not a bit troubling," results being 60% negative views of Southern Baptists. Some of the responses included, Legalism, Controlling, Fights, Pharisees, Don’t drink, Fundamentalism, Bickering, Suits and dresses, Old school, Not real, Behind the times, Extreme conservatism, Crazy people, Restricted missionaries, and being Inefficient
How does a poll question implying Protestant pastors, generally speaking, are the only reliable judges when it comes to evaluating true spirituality--not to mention "judging" whether a person is a "real" Christian or not--fare in the public square at large? Does it make Southern Baptists look better in the public's eye? Or, does such a poll lend itself to images of "Pharisees," "Fundamentalism," "Old School," "Not real," "Extreme Conservatism," etc.?
It must further be asked if Lifeway made a mistake by getting into the research marketeering business at all; or, put another way, would it have been better use of funds to farm out the research needed to reputable, independent polling firms?
With that, I am...