By Bob Allen
The “Francis effect” is real for U.S. Protestant pastors, according to LifeWay Research.
Half of Protestant pastors polled by the research firm housed within the Southern Baptist Convention’s publishing arm said Pope Francis has affected their opinions about the Catholic Church.
Nearly four in 10 said the pope has had a positive impact on their opinions of the Catholic Church, and nearly two-thirds view Pope Francis as a genuine Christian and “brother in Christ.”
Ed Stetzer, executive director of LifeWay Research, said the results were striking because of the nature of the sample. Protestants, by definition, are in denominations that emerged from a schism beginning in the 16th century over the issue of papal authority that historians call the Protestant Reformation.
“Within a few centuries, the pope has gone from anti-Christ to ‘brother in Christ’ for a lot of Protestants,” Stetzer said.
For 43 percent of Protestant pastors, the current pope has not changed their views of the Catholic Church, the survey found. Ninety percent of Protestant pastors agree Catholics can be “born-again Christians,” but 22 percent disagree and 16 percent are unsure that Pope Francis is a genuine Christian.
Skepticism about the pope’s salvation is higher for evangelical than mainline Protestants. While 80 percent of mainline Protestant pastors believe Francis is a true Christian, only 58 percent of evangelical pastors agree.
Stetzer acknowledged the idea the pope isn’t a Christian might seem strange to people outside of Protestantism, but the founders of the Protestant Reformation likely would not have viewed the pope as their “brother in Christ.”