Who do people trust more than clergy?

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An end-of-year poll released by Gallup measures public perceptions of the honesty and ethics of 22 professions, and it shows no stalling of the steady decline in public trust enjoyed by members of the clergy.

Gallup has measured Americans’ views on the honesty and ethics of the clergy 33 times dating back to 1977. Although the overall average positive rating is 55%, it has fallen below that level since 2009. This year marks the lowest rating to date, with 42% saying the clergy has “very high” or “high” honesty and ethical standards. The historical high of 67% occurred in 1985.

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Views of the honesty and ethics of the clergy dropped precipitously in 2002 amid the sexual abuse scandal in the Catholic Church. While positive ratings of the clergy’s honesty and integrity rebounded somewhat in the next few years, they fell to 50% in 2009 and have been steadily declining since then.

Political differences affect the way in which people responded to the survey, and again, the numbers for clergy followed that trend. Republicans were 18% more likely than Democrats, and 24% more likely than Independents, to rank the honesty and ethics of clergy as high or very high.

Even among self-reported Christians, according to a Christianity Today analysis, trust in the clergy is below 50%. According to CT’s analysis, identifying as Republican was a greater indicator for ranking clergy as honest and ethical than identifying as a Christian.

Medical professionals continued to earn high trust from the people surveyed, as did military and police officers. TV and newspaper reporters ranked in the lower half of the graph, but not as low as members of Congress, who came in just above car salespeople and lobbyists. The Gallup report closes on a note of caution for clergy.

While the clergy are not at the bottom of the list of professions, this year’s ratings represent a new low for a profession with image problems in recent years.

Read the rest of Gallup’s recent research here.

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Lois Stern
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Lois Stern

If you work side-by-side with clergy or know them outside of their “job” (and make no mistake, it is just a job), you have a completely different perspective than if you only know them by going to church once a week. I think it’s a shame that people blindly trust anyone based on their occupation. People need to get to know the person behind the collar, or the surgical mask, or the badge. How? By doing a ton of research on that person’s previous appointments and places of employment. Talk to their former parishioners and vestry, or patients, or coworkers, or bosses. Go back in their past as far as you can. People can wear masks and put on their “games faces” in order to secure a job. Some can even talk their way to the very top.

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Marie Wagner
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Marie Wagner

I wonder how much of this is related to the decline in overall Church attendance. As overall attendance declines, less people have that first hand relationship with clergy in general. In this case, what are they relying on to form an opinion of the profession? The media?
Also, there are clergy and there are clergy so there is no real way to know what comes to the minds of the poll respondents when asked about trust in clergy. For example, I have an overall trust in clergy however if that particular clergy is a Joel Olsteen type of clergy then I would not use the term trustworthy. I am not dismissing the numbers, I am simply pondering that when it comes to asking about clergy as a profession, it's not quite as cut and dry as police officer, doctor or nurse.

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