NEW YORK — While abortion remains one of the most divisive issues in American public life, particularly among people of faith, a new study suggests that it is rarely discussed from the pulpit.
Findings from the Pew Research Center released on April 29 found that only four percent of sermons posted online during the spring of 2019 discussed abortion. Further, the study revealed that when pastors do discuss it, the topic is rarely repeated and Church leaders are almost unanimous in their opposition to it.
While the study is not comprehensive of all sermons from Christian churches in the U.S., analysts reviewed nearly 50,000 sermons posted during an eight-week period from over 6,000 U.S. churches.
The study found abortion was most commonly mentioned by evangelical and Catholic congregations, with 22 percent of evangelical congregations and 19 percent of Catholic congregations sharing at least one sermon mention abortion during the period of the study.
Further, the study showed that abortion was rarely the focus of the entire sermon, with researchers segmenting out the percentage of words dedicated to abortion during the entire sermon.
“When sermons are broken into smaller segments of 250 words (the median sermon runs 5,502 words), three-quarters of all sermons that mention abortion do so in just one segment,” the concluded. “As a result, only 1 percent of all sermons across the whole database discuss abortion in more than one segment.”
In addition to pastors expressing opposition to abortion, researchers combed through the differences in language surrounding how different traditions discuss the topic. Among evangelicals, the most commonly used phrases were words such as “womb,” “heartbeat” and “pornography.” Among Catholics, the most commonly used phrases were “pro-life,” “good Catholic” and “church teaching.”
The latest analysis from Pew comes ahead of the upcoming presidential election, where both Republican candidate Donald Trump and presumptive Democratic nominee Joe Biden are expected to make strong appeals to religious believers.
Just last week, Trump used a phone call with Catholic leaders to highlight his support of the pro-life movement and contrast it against the Democratic Party’s pro-choice platform.
Nationally, most Americans, including Catholics, remain deeply divided on the issue of abortion.
The most recent comprehensive data from Pew in 2019 revealed that 56 percent of Catholics believe abortion should be legal in most cases, compared to 61 percent of the general public.
Follow Christopher White on Twitter: @cwwhite212