Pew Research Study Shows Americans Want More, Not Less, Religion in Politics

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On Sunday, pastor Jim Garlow of Skyline Church in California stood before his congregation of more than 2,000 and told them he would be making an unusual announcement.

The pastor proceeded to warn his audience against voting for a candidate in the upcoming midterm elections who supports gay marriage and abortion, even if that candidate, Carl DeMaio, is a Republican.

Garlow, an outspoken evangelical who played a major role in organizing Christian groups in support of California’s anti-gay marriage Proposition 8, spoke plainly: He would not be supporting the Republican in this race.

“I know enough that you cannot have the advancing of the radical homosexual agenda and religious liberty at the same time, in the same nation,” he preached. “One will win, and one will lose.”

Instead, Garlow told his followers he would be endorsing DeMaio’s rival, Democratic incumbent Scott Peters, representative for California’s 52nd District, to send a scathing message to Republican leadership that candidates who back abortion and gay rights are unacceptable to the party’s Christian base.

Garlow is one of a growing number of Americans who say that religion should play a greater role in politics, according to the findings of a recent study by the Pew Research Forum’s Religion & Public Life Project.

The study found that almost three-quarters of the American public — 72% — believes that religion’s influence is waning in public life, the highest level in Pew Research polling over the past 10 years.

And many Americans say that trend is a bad thing, the study found.

“A growing share of the American public wants religion to play a role in U.S. politics,” the Pew study authors write.

What kind of role?

Let’s start with pastors, like Garlow, openly endorsing political candidates.

Nearly a third of Americans say they want houses of worship to back particular candidates, despite IRS rules against it. That’s an increase of 8 percentage points since 2010.

An even higher percentage – nearly half of all Americans – said churches and other religious institutions should openly express their views on social and political issues, an increase of 6% since 2010.

The findings of the Pew study contradict what seemed to be a trend toward increased secularization in American social and political life, surprising experts like Seth Dowland, an assistant professor of American religious history at Pacific Lutheran University in Washington state.

Dowland hypothesizes that this increased desire for religion in politics might be due to President Obama’s perceived lack of religion — as compared with former President George W. Bush, at least.

Though Bush made faith a major part of his public identity, Obama has not been quite so outspoken.

Obama “hasn’t emphasized his Christianity as much as Bush did, perhaps because Obama’s supporters are quite a bit less religious than Bush’s were,” Dowland said. “As a result, Americans perceive that we have less religion in public life.”

Dowland added that evangelical Christians have a “nostalgia for an era where the society wasn’t as crass and where Protestant Christians had moral control that evangelicals feel is lost.”

This sentiment may have contributed to the increased support for religious leaders discussing politics from the pulpit.

Garlow also pointed to the current political situation, saying that Obama and other left-leaning leaders have “overplayed their hands” by enacting laws that go against the desires of the people, or at least those of American evangelicals.

The evangelical pastor cited the enactment of gay marriage in many states by court order rather than by a vote by the citizenry.

“We have legal anarchy,” he said. “People get that there’s a legal injustice taking place.”

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SOURCE: CNN Belief Blog – Sara Grossman

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