NASHVILLE, Tenn. (BP)–Despite what many in the mainstream media say, a majority of Americans, and an even larger majority of religiously affiliated citizens, don’t believe that Christians are too involved in politics, a new poll shows.
Over half of all Americans surveyed (52 percent) disagreed with the statement, “I am concerned that at times Christians are too involved in politics,” according to a survey conducted through a joint project of LifeWay Research and the Southern Baptist Convention’s Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission.
Ed Stetzer, director of LifeWay Research in Nashville, said that when it comes to sharing the Gospel and also being engaged with public policy, Christians can do both.
“[I]t is … both/and not either/or,” he said. “You cannot stand for justice and be told you cannot speak of Jesus, nor can you love God and His word and not care for unborn children, the abused, and social justice.”
The findings, released May 7, challenge the assertion of secularists who say that Americans’ religious beliefs should be purely a private matter and should be somehow segregated from weighty discussions of social issues and public policy.
Forty-four percent of Americans agreed (25 percent “strongly” and 19 percent “somewhat”) with the assertion that Christians were often too embroiled in politics.
When researchers asked those who attend religious services of any type at least weekly, rejection of the premise was even greater — 65 percent of those polled indicated a high degree of comfort with the notion of Christians being involved in politics.
Only one in five (21 percent) either said they strongly agreed or somewhat agreed with the contention that Christians are too engaged politically.
Americans who described themselves as “born-again,” “evangelical” or “fundamentalist,” including Southern Baptist respondents, expressed the highest degree of disapproval (72 percent) with the statement that at times Christians are “too involved in politics,” with just over a quarter (27 percent) of these individuals telling researchers they agreed (“strongly” or “somewhat”) with the statement.
Most Southern Baptist pastors (67 percent) surveyed indicated their disagreement with a claim that believers are “too involved in politics,” with 26 percent “somewhat” disagreeing and 41 percent “strongly” disagreeing. Only eight percent of Southern Baptists pastors surveyed agreed “strongly” with the statement that Christians are “too involved in politics,” with 23 percent saying they “somewhat” agreed.
“These results do not surprise me at all,” said Richard Land, president of the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission. “They underscore and reinforce the feedback I get on a consistent basis from grassroots Christians of all perspectives. …
“The survey results are very much in line with the involvement of people of faith throughout our nation’s history with political issues that have a moral component,” Land added. “Perhaps the most dramatic examples of religiously motivated movements generated in reaction to grave social injustice are the abolitionist movement against human bondage and the civil rights movement in opposition to segregation and racial injustice. The abolitionist and the civil rights movements are not explicable or comprehensible apart from the religiously motivated outrage that created them, the religious leaders who led them and the religious supporters who made possible their eventual triumph.”
Warning there may be a temptation for some Christians to craft an informal alliance with a single political party, Stetzer said, “Christians need to speak prophetically to all parties, not be beholden to one. If evangelicals are seen as a voting bloc of the Republican Party, I am concerned. If Christians are told to leave their faith outside the public square, I am more concerned.”
Land added that people of faith have an obligation to be involved in the process and to do so in a principled, issue-oriented fashion.
“We should be voting our values, beliefs and convictions based upon our understanding of the imperatives of our faith,” he said.
Yet there is a balance to be considered when one’s faith is brought into the political arena, Stetzer said, adding, “As evangelicals we need to not try to moralize the unconverted. Our primary mission is to convert the immoral — other sinners like us.”
In the survey conducted by a national polling firm for LifeWay Research and the ERLC, more than 1,200 random Americans were polled by telephone April 10-12, 2008. Researchers also completed an online survey of nearly 800 Southern Baptist pastors between April 16 and May 5, 2008.
Dwayne Hastings is a vice president with the Southern Baptist Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission.