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Sunday, October 8, 2023

Getting Religion from Politics

Daniel A. Cox at The Survey Center on American Life:
More conservatives are looking for religious communities that also affirm their political beliefs. New research by Shay Hafner and Audre Audette found that politics has become a more salient consideration for conservatives when choosing a church. The authors point out that political considerations are especially important for evangelical Christians who are less concerned with denominational differences and more comfortable with overt political appeals.

These findings are consistent with recent polling. A 2022 Lifeway Research survey of Protestants noted the growing appeal of politically homogeneous congregations. Fifty percent of Protestants interviewed said they preferred that their congregation reflect their own political views while 41 percent disagreed, a modest increase from a few years earlier.

The salience of politics in religious communities is likely to grow given that such issues are more of a priority for younger worshippers. Lifeway’s report notes, “Younger churchgoers are more likely than older ones to prefer sharing a pew with someone of the same politics. Almost 3 in 5 of those under 50 (57%) want a congregation with people who share their political views, compared to 47% of those 50 to 65 and 41% of those 65 and older.”

The problem of politicized churches is obvious. It represents a clear challenge to the political system. The regular use of apocalyptic language in political arguments discourages compromise and reduces the possibility of finding consensus. Even if churches have been historically segregated by race and ethnicity, they have long been places where people of differing economic and political backgrounds could come together.

Politically polarized worship spaces represent a societal loss as well. Religious institutions are incredibly valuable sources of social capital. They give purpose, direction, and meaning and connect their members to a wider world. At a time when more Americans are withdrawing from civic life, religious communities are more valuable than ever. What’s more, adopting an aggressive political posture overshadows all the other work that congregations do for their communities and the people in them.