Division Defines Political Parties, Churches

By Reese, Thomas | National Catholic Reporter, November 18, 2016 | Go to article overview

Division Defines Political Parties, Churches


Reese, Thomas, National Catholic Reporter


At an October Fordham University panel discussion on the election, I was asked, "Is there some similarity between the dissatisfaction and disengagement we see among Americans for religious institutions with the same phenomena for political parties?"

It is a thought-provoking question. There are some interesting parallels between what is happening in the political and religious arenas.

First, the percent of people who do not identify with a political party has been increasing just as the percent of people who do not identify with a religion increases. This is bad news for both political parties and churches.

In 2014, 39 percent of Americans identified as independents, 32 percent as Democrats and 23 percent as Republicans according to Pew Research Center. Pew reported that "this is the highest percentage of independents in more than 75 years of public opinion polling."

Likewise, the number of people identifying as "nones," that is not identifying with any religion, has also been increasing. According to PRRI, 25 percent of the U.S. population identify as nones, about the same as identify as Catholics.

It is especially among young people that the percent of nones is rising. Nearly 40 percent of those under 30 are unaffiliated with any religion. The alienation of young people from religious institutions is a growing phenomenon. Young people also tend to identify as political independents more than do their elders.

The reasons people abandon organized religion and political parties are similar.

* The institution is not fulfilling their needs. Both parties and churches are not serving the felt needs of many people, especially the young.

* They do not believe in its platform (teachings). Parties and churches are speaking to activists and elites, not to real people.

* They are disillusioned with the institution's leadership. Political and religious leaders have been caught in lies and cover-ups. Too many have been caught in sexual and financial impropriety They do not believe in transparency They use their positions for their own advancement rather than in service to their people. As a result, Pew reports that only 3 percent of Americans have a great deal of confidence that elected officials will act in the best interests of the public. Religious leaders do only slightly better: 13 percent.

In short, people feel betrayed and abandoned by the institution, and their response is to abandon the institution whether it is a party or a church.

The conflicts within political parties and religious organizations are also significant. Various factions are fighting over the soul of the institution, whether church or party

The Republican Party is divided among evangelicals, business elites, tea party activists, and establishment politicians. Democrats are also divided between progressive activists and establishment politicians.

Likewise, churches are divided. Progressive Catholic activists didn't like Pope Benedict XVI, and now conservative Catholic elites are upset with Pope Francis. As can be seen from the emails hacked from the Clinton campaignand released by WikiLeaks, Catholic progressives badmouth conservative Catholics, while a perusal of conservative blogs will show conservatives doing the same toward liberal Catholics. …

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