Megachurch goers ‘less likely to exercise moral influence publicly’: Survey
ISEAS study examined attitudes on various issues among Christians who attend different types of churches
by Syed Amir Hussain
Updated 02:49 PM Apr 17, 2012
SINGAPORE – A survey of church-going Protestants by the Institute of Southeast Asian Studies (ISEAS) has found that those who attend megachurches were, among other things, “less likely to view the moral character of public policy in Singapore with concern” compared to other church goers. They are also less likely to publicly support “intervening in public policy matters” in comparison.
The survey was conducted between December 2009 and January last year. Respondents were asked to fill up a questionnaire. The findings – released yesterday at a press conference – were based on 2,663 questionnaires from respondents at 24 churches here. According to the ISEAS researchers – Dr Terence Chong and Dr Hui Yew-Foong – the survey’s objectives were to understand the “socioeconomic profiles of Protestant churchgoers” and their “attitudes towards finance, politics, sexuality and other communities”.
Speaking to Today, Dr Chong said that the reason behind the survey was to collect “quantitative data” on the growth of Christians in Singapore, since none existed.
According to the latest census, the proportion of Christians among the citizen population increased from 14.6 per cent in 2000 to 18.3 per cent in 2010.
In 2009, there was a leadership tussle in the Association of Women for Action and Research (AWARE) which cast the spotlight on religious activism.
When queried, Dr Chong told Today the ISEAS survey was not linked to the AWARE saga.
According to common definition – which was also used for the survey – a megachurch is a Protestant church that draws a weekly attendance of at least 2,000 or more, is non-denominational, and identifies itself as Pentecostal, evangelical or charismatic. Examples here include City Harvest Church and New Creation Church.
Independent churches were defined by the researchers as those “not embedded in the organisational structure of any established denomination”.
Among the findings: About one-third of respondents who attend megachurches agreed that “Christians should collectively express their views on public policy issues in public”, compared to 49.2 per cent of those who attend independent churches, 52.1 per cent of those who attend Anglican churches and 56.7 per cent of those who attend Methodist churches.
Follow-up focus group sessions with respondents from megachurches found that, to them, “morality was articulated as a private matter” and “moral influence is to be exercised through one’s private capacity in spheres that one is active in, rather than by imposing values through the church as a civic organisation”.
Nevertheless, more than eight in 10 of the respondents from all the various types of churches agreed that their Christian values influence their views on public policy issues such as abortion and casinos.
Compared to other church goers, 28 per cent of those who attend the megachurches agreed with a statement that the Government “is becoming too liberal in terms of moral values”. The figure contrasts with 46 per cent of those who attend Methodist churches, 42.7 per cent of those who attend Anglican churches and 45.2 per cent of those who attend independent churches.
The survey also indicated that, while the respondents from megachurches are as conservative, if not more, compared to other churchgoers with regard to values related to sex and sexuality – such as pre-marital sex, the moral status of homosexuality and abortion – they are more willing to interact with, and have friends who are homosexuals.
It also found that those who attend a megachurch tend to give more to their church in the form of tithes, come from the emergent middle class and be more likely to view wealth as an indicator of a person’s faithfulness.