Catholicism is the plurality religion of the 113th Congress. A new Pew poll shows that 3 out of 5 people surveyed want lawmakers to have strong religious beliefs. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call File Photo)
“Never discuss politics or religion in polite company” is one of those rules to live by that family elders have been passing on for generations.
Now comes word that half the country has reached a different conclusion: Politics should play a bigger role in our religious discourse.
At the same time, there’s plenty of evidence to support the grandparental view that talking openly about religion and politics will only lead to discord. As with so much, Republicans and Democrats sharply disagree about how and when the two should mix.
Those are the central takeaways from the latest Pew Research Center survey of attitudes and trends shaping public life, released Tuesday. The new numbers add yet another layer to the rich portrait of an electorate that’s divided and conflicted about more or less everything.
Perhaps the most dramatic finding is how the public has rapidly become evenly split when asked if churches and other houses of worship should regularly express their views on social and political issues: 49 percent now say yes, 48 percent say no. It’s a marked reversal from the steady decline in support for church intervention in such matters during the previous decade. Just one campaign season ago, those who wanted churches to stay out of public policy debates outnumbered those who advocated such participation by 14 percentage points.
In addition, 32 percent now say religious leaders should make candidate endorsements — an 8-point jump since the last midterms, in 2010, when the conservative tea party wave delivered the House to the GOP.
Preachers, rabbis, imams and the like have a First Amendment right to explain their views of economic, social or foreign policy to their congregations, and they may engage more directly in campaigns by participating in outside organizations or political action committees. But the IRS has told religious leaders they endanger their faith community’s tax-exempt status whenever they urge a vote for or against a particular candidate from the pulpit. A growing number of preachers, at both ends of the ideological spectrum, have talked about testing the constitutionality of those restrictions.
The survey revealed a deepening partisan split about the role of religion in politics. Two in five Democrats currently think churches should be more vocal about their views, the same as in 2010. But among Republicans the number has surged from half in 2010 to three-fifths today — and to fully two-thirds among white evangelical Protestants. And while 28 percent in the Democratic Party favor churches making candidate endorsements, the same is true for 38 percent in the GOP. Full story