Religion and Politics

August 26, 2008

I recently wrote that Christians should keep their political views between themselves and God, for the sake of unity. Subsequently, a new Pew poll has discovered that more conservatives are coming to the conclusion that it can be a bad idea to mix religion and politics. From the Pew Forum article:

Four years ago, just 30% of conservatives believed that churches and other houses of worship should stay out of politics. Today, 50% of conservatives express this view.

In 2004, there was a sharp difference between conservatives and liberals on this question. In that poll, Democrats preferred for churches to stay out of politics by a margin of 51% to 45%. But in the 2004 poll, Republicans felt churches should be active in politics by a margin of 58%-37%. In the recent (2008) poll, the difference between Democrats and Republicans on this issue has virtually disappeared.

Overall, 44% of those surveyed in 2004 said that churches should keep out of politics. Today, 51% take that position. Conservatives account for the majority of that shift.

In short, the change of mind about the role of religious institutions in politics is most apparent among people who are most concerned about the very issues that churches and other houses of worship have focused on, and among those who fault the parties for their friendliness toward religion.

There are many theories why conservatives have changed their minds on churches being active in politics. Steve Waldman at Belief Net wrote:

But just as likely, this is a reflection of a genuine disillusionment among conservatives about what political involvement has actually gotten them. As the Evangelical Manifesto, produced in May by a group of leading Christians put it: “Whichever side it comes from, a politicized faith is faithless, foolish and disastrous for the church.”

I think that comes close, but misses a key point. Conservatives are not feeling great about either political party right now. They have no champion in today’s political arena for their most cherished causes. I suspect this is the primary reason they are less inclined to engage in the political arena today than they were four years ago.

For me, two issues trump all of the other factors that could be mentioned. First, we don’t need to be creating any unnecessary obstacles in our mission to reach the lost. A public stance on politics is likely to turn off about half of the surrounding community, over a disputable matter that should be kept to ourselves. Second, politics has a real potential to divide a church. How are we going to show the world our unity, as Jesus prayed, if we are quarreling about political candidates? The church has more important things to talk about.

One comment

  1. I guess I have not followed your advice, since I have posted twice about politics since your original post. Of course, we differ a little on this issue, but I still appreciate your blog. It still challenges us to think.

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