September 26, 2014

​Religion Loses Clout: Why Many say That’s a Bad Thing

 ©2014 Religion News Service

More Americans today say religion’s influence is
losing ground just when they want it to play a stronger role in public
life and politics.

A new Pew Research Center survey finds 72 percent
of Americans say religion’s influence is declining in society—the highest percentage
since Pew began measuring the trend in 2001, when only 52 percent held that

“Most people (overwhelmingly Christians) view
this as a bad thing,” said Greg Smith, associate director of Pew’s Religion
& Public Life Project. “That unhappiness may be behind their desire
for more religion and politics.”

Growing numbers want their politicians to pray in
public and for their clergy to endorse candidates from the pulpit. And nearly
half of Americans say business owners with religious objections to gay marriage
should to be able to refuse wedding-related services to same-sex couples.

There are three ways to look at the findings,
released on September 22:

Americans say amen to mixing faith, politics

Just as campaigns ramp up for the 2014 mid-term elections:

* 49 percent want churches and other houses of
worship to “express their views on day-to-day social and political issues,” up
from 43 percent in 2010.

* 41 percent say political leaders today show
“too little expression of religious faith and prayer,” up from 37 percent in
the last mid-term election. “People still see religion as one of the
foundational sources of morality. They still want to see that in their
leaders,” said John Green, professor of political science at the
University of Akron and senior research adviser for the Pew Research Center.

* 32 percent support clergy endorsing candidates
from the pulpit. That’s a jump from 24 percent in 2010 although nearly
twice as many—“63 percent, including some highly religious people—still say ‘No,
no, no,’” Smith said.

“It’s a surprising reversal of trends,” Smith
said. In 2010, 52 percent said churches should keep out of politics.

stick to their corners

Party identification and social attitudes “are
becoming even more polarized between people who identify with a religion—mostly
Christians—and those who claim no religious label (the “nones”) said Smith.

There is discontent and divisiveness within each
of the two political parties, but not enough drive people to jump the fence.

Democrats are split on whether their party
is too liberal or not liberal enough. Republicans, particularly white
evangelicals, say their party is not conservative enough on resisting
government spending, abortion, same-sex marriage and illegal immigration.

Even so, the survey finds no noteworthy change
since 2010 in party preferences: 48 percent of registered voters identify
with or lean to the Democratic Party and 43 percent favor the Republican Party.
Most black Protestants and “nones” expect to vote Democratic this fall, while
evangelical Protestants expect to vote for the GOP candidate in their district.

identity was, unsurprisingly, the deciding factor here.

Those who said businesses should serve all
clientele, included 61 percent of “nones,” 57 percent of Catholics and 59
percent of black Protestants.

However, 71 percent of white evangelicals and 49
percent of white Protestant mainline faithful said wedding businesses should be
allowed to refuse gay couples when owners have religious grounds.

The same people who support an opt-out for
religious wedding vendors are also more inclined to say “homosexual behavior is