Academic journal article Political Research Quarterly

Religious Value Priming, Threat, and Political Tolerance

Academic journal article Political Research Quarterly

Religious Value Priming, Threat, and Political Tolerance

Article excerpt


The exploration of the religious underpinnings of intolerance has long focused on the effects of religious behaviors and beliefs, but has ignored a variety of important facets of the religious experience that should bear on tolerance judgments: elite communication, religious values about how the world should be ordered, and social networks in churches. We focus on the communication of religious values and argue specifically that values should affect threat judgments and thus affect tolerance judgments indirectly. We test these assertions using data gathered in a survey experiment and find that priming exclusive religious values augments threat and thus reduces tolerance.


tolerance, religion and politics, values, experiments

There is a time and place for fear and righteous indignation . . . But fear and anger inherently limit understanding and compassion. Now is the time for us to mature into a movement that is expanding its goals and striving to reach those goals in positive ways rather than limiting ourselves to being against a handful of negative trends.

-Rev. Joel Hunter 2008, 20 (emphasis in original)

If 2004 represented a new high water mark of evangelical influence in American politics with the reelection of George W. Bush and the passage of antigay rights amendments in the states, then the flood waters appear to have greatly receded since. Formerly prominent Christian conservative leaders have passed from the scene, and a new crop of leaders, several of whom pastor megachurches, have emerged to speak for a new evangelicalism. While the movement's scope and theological legitimacy are debatable, its potential political ramifications are likely not. Of particular interest to political tolerance scholars are the language and political positions adopted by "new evangelical" leaders like Rick Warren, Rich Cizik, Bill Hybels, Joel Hunter, Rob Bell, Sam Rodriguez, and Jim Wallis (Fitzgerald 2008; Garofoli 2009).

Their language is consciously inclusive, pluralistic, and bridge building. It varies considerably from the rhetoric of the old religious right leadership, who "have . . . done their best to see that evangelicals continue to regard themselves as an embattled subculture" (Fitzgerald 2008). Instead, it is common to hear from such figures as Rick Warren of Saddleback Church that "I think God likes variety. There's value in that. We should enjoy our differences" (Warren 2006), and to hear from parishioners at churches, such as Joel Hunter's Northland church in Florida, that "He pushed us out [into the community]. It's not a church that wants to gather you in with people of the same mind-set" (Fitzgerald 2008). Hearing speech like this suggests that the content of elite communication may be an important variable to consider given how closely these concepts relate to the group boundaries that shape tolerance judgments. Moreover, the level of religiosity in such churches is unlikely to be different from that in old religious right churches, highlighting that the particular values advanced in churches may be orthogonal to traditional measures of religiosity, at least within religious traditions.

Thus, in this article, we explore the effect of the promotion of inclusive versus exclusive religious values on perceptions of threat and political tolerance of least-liked groups. First, we discuss previous treatments of religion's effect on tolerance and focus more attention on factors either ignored or crudely operationalized in the literature's treatment of religion-elite communication, religious values, and social networks. We also hone in on the effect of religious experience on threat by proposing that threat should play a more prominent role in theorizing about the connection between religion and tolerance. We discuss the extent to which the values of concern are communicated across American religious groups and then report on survey experiment results from data conducted around Springfield, Missouri, in December 2009 to March 2010. …

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