Tuesday, June 5, 2012
Party values versus religious values
I've blogged about this issue in Christianity's Deal with the Devil and in the Americanization of Christianity, but the Pew Research Center has just released a survey confirming what I've been saying about the political takeover of religious values.
In their report, Partisan Polarization Surges in Bush, Obama Years, Pew reveals that for the first time in U.S. history, Americans are more divided by political party than by gender, class, race, education, or religion. What is especially interesting about this report is how it demonstrates how particular issues that used to be considered religious are now political. These include abortion, gay rights, traditional family composition, and helping the poor.
Anyone paying attention the last decade could see the Republican Party adopting more religiously conservative issues in its political platform. However, this Pew report says that the Democratic Party has become less involved with religious issues over the years. Now you might say, "duh!" but not so fast. The Democrats used to consider themselves the party of immigrants, working-class people, and those striving for better opportunities. The Catholic Church had been closely associated with the Democratic Party for years because of this platform. However, the abortion issue changed all of that in the 70s and the gay rights issues of recent years and the more recent blunderbuss over contraception has pushed the Catholic Church into the arms of the GOP.
Evangelical Protestant Christians, who make up the base of the GOP, have a history of opposing Catholics. Years ago many evangelicals, including the Southern Baptist Convention, did not accept that Catholics were even Christian. When Roe v. Wade was passed in 1973, the SBC supported it mainly because the Catholic Church opposed it. Another reason was the Baptist belief in the separation of church and state. Yes, I wrote that correctly. The separation of church and state is a term coined by America's first Baptist, Roger Williams. Thomas Jefferson repeated the idea and gets all the credit for it now. However, the Baptist legacy to the United States is the separation of church and state.
Of course the SBC isn't as fully committed to the separation of church and state as it once was just as the Catholic church has decided to be less committed to the poor in favor of opposing abortion, contraception, and gay rights. As recently as 1994 the SBC resolved to accept Catholics as Christians and to work with the Catholic Church on certain issues important to both groups including abortion. According to the Pew Global Survey of Evangelical Protestant Leaders, 70% have a favorable view of Catholics.
So Baptists have given up their theological concerns about Catholics and Catholics have given up their theological concern for the poor so they can walk arm in arm to the GOP's drumbeat against the godless Democrats. Not that I want a revival of religious bigotry, but I find the alliance between the SBC and the Catholic Church disturbing. They've each compromised fundamental principles in order to support the GOP platform. Both even are making nice with Mormons now that Mitt Romney is the GOP challenger for the presidency. Strange bedfellows indeed...
On the other side of the metaphorical aisle, Democrats seem to have given up trying to court Christians of any flavor. With President Obama's public support of gay marriage and his health care policy of making all insurers cover contraception (except those with a religious exception) the Democrats are courting younger voters who are far less likely to hold conservative social views.
It should come as no surprise that the majority of Baptists in congress are Republican. There are more Catholic democrats than Republicans in congress, but not by a large number. There is one Jewish Republican House member and no Jewish senators. The other 38 Jews in congress are Democrats. Other than the one Jew, there are no non-Christian Republican congress members. There are 51 non-Christian congress members who are Democrats, 6 of whom are religiously unaffiliated.
So once again I ask, who is in control of the message? Is it religious leaders or party leaders? This Pew study makes it quite clear that political parties, not religious leaders, are driving the moral agenda in the United States.