Politics in the Pews

A new poll by the Pew Research Center found most Americans favor the free expression of church leaders’ views on politics
( [email protected] ) Aug 25, 2004 09:45 PM EDT

According to a new poll by the Pew Research Center for People & the Press, a majority of Americans believe church leaders should express their views on political matters. Meanwhile, the same study found that most Americans disagree with political parties obtaining church rosters to increase support.

Fifty-one percent of those polled said church leaders should express their views on political matters while 44 percent said they should keep out of politics.

In recent months, with the November election inching in, numerous denominational heads have encouraged their congregants and clergy to “take a stand for God” in the political arena. The range of these groups varies widely from the conservative National Association of Evangelicals to the more liberal National Council of Churches. The groups, which stand at opposite ends of theological beliefs, have both urged its member denominations to encourage congregants to “Vote God” rather than vote along party lines.

Nevertheless, the two groups have often stratified across party lines with the more conservative NAE congregations supportive of Bush and the NCC groups more often supportive of democrats.

The Republican National Committee has thus sought church directories from congregations under the NAE as well as the ultra-conservative Southern Baptist Convention as part of its campaign. The move angered many political observers, including those within the Southern Baptist and Evangelical ranks.

The recent study reflected this view, with Republicans and Democrats being equally opposed to the practice; two thirds of the voters from each party said they thought it was improper. Religious leaders from both camps expressed concern that such outreach could severely violate limits on politics in church.

Meanwhile, the new poll, released on Tuesday night, found that most Americans believe Republicans have stronger ties to organized religion. Some 52 percent said Republicans are “friendlier” to religion while only 40 percent said the same for Democrats.

Last month, the Democratic National Committee hired its first “senior religious advisor” to reach out to faith-based communities. However less then two weeks into her job, the Disciples of Christ ordained pastor quit over controversies surrounding her support to remove the phrase “Under God” from the Pledge of Allegiance. Republicans meanwhile continue its vigorous outreach to churches.

The poll of 1,512 adults was taken Aug. 5-10 and had a margin of sampling error of plus or minus 3 percentage points, slightly higher for the sample of 1,166 registered voters. It was conducted for the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life.