The New Ethics Rankings Are Out. Where Do Pastors Stand?

Gallup’s newest ethics survey is out. The results are fascinating. First, let’s look at the overall ranking. The numbers in parentheses depict the percentage of those who rate the ethical standards of the profession as “very high” or “high.” The other categories were “average,” “low,” and “very low.”

1. Nurses (79%)

2. Medical doctors (62%)

3. Pharmacists (58%)

4. High school teachers (53%)

5. Police officers (50%)

6. Accountants (41%)

7. Judges (39%)

8. Clergy (34%)

9. Bankers (26%)

10. Real estate agents (24%)

11. Journalists (23%)

12. Lawyers (22%)

13. Advertising practitioners (17%)

14. Business executives (16%)

15. Car salespeople (12%)

16. Members of Congress (10%)

17. Telemarketers (8%)

Second, let’s try to discern why approximately two-thirds of Americans rate clergy and pastors so low. To try to understand these negative sentiments, I went back to an article I wrote about why non-Christians view Christians negatively*. The comments from non-Christians are insightful. It’s not a perfect analogy to sentiments about pastors, but it helps. Second, I reviewed the comments of our community at Church Answers, almost 2,000 church leaders.

It would seem that the top reasons for negative sentiments toward pastors are:

  • General negativity about the beliefs of Christianity
  • Church sex abuse scandals
  • Sexual moral failures of church leaders
  • Negative presence of church leaders on social media
  • Ethical failures of pastors dealing with financial issues
  • Pastors who are consistently against something

To be clear, Gallup’s survey is precise and accurate. My six points represent a non-scientific survey of comments from several of our sources.

I would love to hear your thoughts about these ratings.

In the meantime, members of Congress can be grateful for telemarketers.




Church Answers*

Do you want to find out the characteristics and beliefs of your church’s community? Here is a great tool: Know Your Community.




Posted on January 16, 2023

With nearly 40 years of ministry experience, Thom Rainer has spent a lifetime committed to the growth and health of local churches across North America.
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  • Justin Gatlin says on

    I think Gallup’s own explanation fits well with yours: “Members of the clergy were first measured by Gallup in 1977 and were frequently among the top-rated professions until 2002, amid a sexual abuse scandal in the Roman Catholic Church. While the clergy’s high/very high ethics ratings recovered to some degree in subsequent years, they fell to 50% in 2009 and have been declining since 2012 as Americans’ religious identification and church attendance have also fallen. The latest reading of 34% for members of the clergy is the lowest by two points.”
    It is much easier to keep trust than to reclaim it!

  • Steven Chapman says on

    Would another be abuse of power by church leaders? Often that happens in conjunction with sexual misconduct and financial impropriety. However, it seems this still seems different than those you mentioned. Power comes to the for when the Pastor seeks to defend the brand from criticism.

  • Andrew Doubleday says on

    As a keen observer of American Politics from the other side of the planet, I would have thought the primary reason was obvious – the willingness of so many Evangelical pastors to support a cruel narcissist for president who lead an attempted coup against American democracy and continues to perpetuate the big lie of stolen elections with so many gullible Christians embracing the craziness under the direct encouragement of their leaders. It’s true, when Paul says ‘Not many wise’ are chosen -the world recognizes the truth of this – even if we don’t.

  • I am not surprised. Look at the pastors who are making all of the noise. Some are so judgmental. Some are so quick to condemn. We are supposed to set the best example. A small number making it difficult for all.

  • Thank you Thom for this post. I will be sharing it with our church planting network. As someone who works with community social justice agencies, one “reason” I might add, is the resistance of white clergy to speak out against injustices (racism, hate language, abuse, trafficking, exploitation, poverty, etc) in our community. I hear from others that they assume we are complicit in these matters because we do not address them in sermons.

  • Steve Davis says on

    If the unbeliever gets a portion of their view of God from those who proclaim to belong to God; and there is a continual news report of pastors who cheat, steal, and the like, it is easy to see why so many view pastors negatively and by virtue, God whom they say they serve.

    Selfishness may be a root problem. We all deal with it on some level (I believe). When we are more important than the gospel, failure is around the corner.

  • Rick Hassell says on

    In my 48 years of ministry I’ve seen White Ministers drop from #3 to #8. Black ministers have fallen from #1 in the black communities. I haven’t seen current data on where they’ve landed. It appears that a low opinion of God and His Word, and public moral failures by clergy have undermined our position of respect and influence across our society. It appears we have REAL work to do!

  • Robin G Jordan says on

    A segment of the public may have a negative view of pastors because they have had a negative experience with a pastor. Pastors are human beings and they suffer from the same weaknesses as other human beings. They can misperceive a person or a situation and make poor judgment calls. They are not free from what psychologists call the “negativity bias” or the “negativity affect,” the tendency to see a situation or person in the worst possible light. They can let their feelings influence their thinking. Pastors also live in a goldfish bowl and they may become a lightning rod when problems arise. A number of pastors who love the limelight, being the focus of public attention, have contributed to a negative image of pastors. Due to the negativity bias or affect, which is hard-wired into the human brain, human beings pay more attention to the negative things that pastors do than they do the positive things. They are apt to overlook, minimize or dismiss the positive things that pastors do. I recall overhearing a conversation between one young man and a fellow university student in which the young man was boasting how he seduced young Christian women to prove to himself and others that they were no different from any other woman. He had a very low, misogynistic opinion of women and a over-inflated opinion of himself. I observe something similar happening with pastors. People are looking for their flaws and regrettably a number of pastors have obliged them.

  • Larry Webb says on

    I thought pastors would rank higher. I remember, years ago a pastor said, “do not do anything to cause the world to blaspheme the name of God.” I think there are plenty of cases to cause the world to be negative. Even scandals in Christian universities. We are called to a higher standard! The world is watching us. Watching to see what we do. I thought it would be higher. A good piece, reminding us of our responsibility as representatives of the kingdom.