The Pew Research Center for the People and the Press published the results of a survey last week suggesting that “a narrow majority of the public [believes] that churches and other houses of worship should keep out of political matters and not express their views on day-to-day social and political matters.”
As one might imagine, many secular pundits have pointed to the survey as evidence that Americans are becoming less and less interested in religious values and voices in the political sphere.
Not so fast, says Colleen Carroll Campbell:
There are several problems with those readings. For starters, more than 70 percent of Americans told Pew pollsters that a president should have strong religious beliefs, and 64 percent said they believe politicians today express their religious beliefs too little or the right amount. That’s not exactly the profile of a nation ready to eject God from political life.
As for the idea that the poll marks a rejection of religious conservatives and their values, it is noteworthy that the increase in concern over politicized religion did not come from secular liberals. It came from social conservatives and from Americans who regard America’s major political parties as insufficiently friendly to religion.
Campbell’s points are well taken. If social conservatives are the ones suddenly expressing a certain mistrust of the religious language found in political rhetoric or of the political overtones found in religious sermons, one can hardly conclude that the problem lies in religion or in the moral convictions that it may form.
Instead, it seems as though social conservatives are becoming increasingly skeptical that the religious vocabulary so often employed by both political parties will actually translate into results they hope for or that the political pulpit is the best tool to bring about the change they seek.