Americans Mix Politics and Religion, Dulling Line between Church-State

Article excerpt

For more than a decade, conservative Christians have been making political inroads in the US - capturing seats in local school boards and influencing national elections with strong views on social issues ranging from abortion to gay rights.

Nor are they about to disappear. Today, if anything, both the intensity of conservative values and the number of politically involved Christians are rising.

These trends have contributed to a sweeping change in American society, according to a pathbreaking study released Tuesday. A majority of adults in the United States now believe that churches should be able to express political views - an attitude that is already changing the longstanding separation between church and state.

"There is a lot of religion in politics and politics in religion these days," says Andrew Kohut, who led the study by the Pew Research Center. "And there is more acceptance of it than 30 years ago."

The increase of white Evangelical Protestants is of particular political significance. Some experts refer to the phenomenon as the political mainstreaming of white Evangelicals. These individuals, many of whom eschew traditional "old-line" denominations like Methodist or Episcopal, represent 24 percent of all registered voters. That is up from 19 percent in 1987, the study finds.

"The people who do hard-core day-to-day politics in Washington have never looked in a detailed way about how the votes {of Evangelicals} stack up," notes Maureen Steinbruner, president of the Center for National Policy, a nonpartisan Washington political study group that oversaw the survey. "Now they are."

The intensity of conservative religious values among these Evangelicals is driving the change. "The conservatism of white Evangelical Protestants is clearly the most powerful force in politics today," said the study, "The Diminishing Divide ... American Churches, American Politics." "There is little indication of a coherent pattern of liberal belief associated with any major ... religious group."

In a shift, 54 percent of Americans now say churches and clergy members should "express their views on day-to-day social and political questions." Thirty years ago, in a Gallop Poll, 53 percent of Americans said politics and religion should remain separate. …