Michael Dwyer, Associated Press
For the first time since Gallup started polling people on who they trust, the clergy has dropped below 50 percent.

For the first time since Gallup started polling people on who they trust, the clergy has dropped below 50 percent.

With 47 percent rating clergy "high" to "very high" in honesty and ethical standards, religious leaders were ranked seventh out of 22 professions, according to the Gallup poll released this week.

That's the lowest ranking for clergy since Gallup began the survey in 1977. Historically, religious leaders have polled in the 60 percent range, receiving a high of 67 percent in 1985.

"If views of a certain profession have changed, it usually has been a function of scandal surrounding it," Gallup's Art Swift wrote. "The Catholic priest abuse stories from the early 2000s helped lead to a sharp drop in Americans' ratings of clergy, a decline from which the profession has yet to fully recover."

John Fea, a history professor at Messiah College, told the Christian Post that scandals among Evangelical pastors likely has also contributed to this cynicism.

He suggested pastors focus more on tending to their congregations than cultivating their public images as a way to reverse the trend.

"I think the rise of megachurches and celebrities pulls these pastors away from daily work of pastoring and perhaps the answer may be to return to a smaller model," he told the Post.

Coincidentally, those polled didn't think too highly of the profession that exposes clergy scandals to the public. Just 21 percent rated the honesty and ethics of newspaper reporters as "high" or "very high," followed by television reporters at 20 percent.

The bottom five in the survey were advertising practitioners, state officeholders, car sales representatives, members of Congress and lobbyists.

"When it comes to honesty or ethical standards, common stereotypes appear to apply to professions or career fields. Nurses, pharmacists, and doctors — considered to be in 'healing' occupations — rank the highest," Swift wrote. "Politicians — especially those working for the federal government — remain in low esteem, mirroring a commonly held distrust of the federal government that has developed in the U.S. in the past 40 to 50 years."

Christianity Today noted the news hasn't been all bad for religion in the view of the public.

According to another Gallup poll earlier this year on confidence in religious institutions, 48 percent responded saying they had a "great deal/quite a bit" of confidence in "the church or organized religion," a 4 percent increase since 2012.

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