Did 2012 Make Religion Less Political?
Yes, in Some Corners. But the Partisan Faithful Doubled Down.
More Americans want less religion in politics, survey data say. But while that message resonated loud and clear this year in some religious circles, it fell on deaf ears in others.
As Election Day neared, Southern Baptist powerbroker Richard Land broke a longstanding personal pledge not to endorse candidates when he threw his weight behind Mitt Romney’s presidential bid. Earlier in October, more than 1,500 pastors used Pulpit Freedom Sunday (PFS) to preach support for specific candidates. This record-breaking level of participation in PFS happened despite warnings from the Internal Revenue Service that partisan politicking can jeopardize a church’s tax-exempt status.
Yet as some faith leaders went partisan, others made fresh efforts to stay above the fray. Example: more than 650 churches planned to serve communion on Election Day. They were part of a movement to reject “political idolatry” and refocus on Jesus Christ, not party politics, as humankind’s best hope.
What’s more, high-profile Christian writers such as Jonathan Merritt and Greg Boyd struck chords with calls to depoliticize faith. Boyd, a megachurch pastor in Woodbury, Minn., publicly vowed not to vote, saying on Twitter: “I’m better able to place ALL my hope in Christ when I don’t.”
These seemingly conflicting trends beg the question: is religious involvement in politics on the rise or the decline? The answer is both. It’s rising in religious circles that have hitched their identities to partisan wagons and now find much of their raison d’être in the prospect of influencing public policy. It’s fading in faith communities whose brands are removed from the political categories of “left” and “right.” For some groups, politicizing faith has always been unwise, but it’s even less wise in these times of polarization and distrust of institutions.
Consider which groups are doubling down on partisan politicking even though most Americans, according to 2012 data from the Pew Research Center, wish they’d give it a rest.
On the right, some Southern Baptists and non-denominational evangelicals have made the championing of Republican policies a pillar of Christian witnessing. Land insisted this year that defense of traditional marriage and the unborn ought to trump all other issues for Christians. Southern Baptist Theological Seminary President Albert Mohler used his daily podcast, The Briefing, to tell why a Christian worldview dovetails conveniently with every major plank in the GOP platform, from low taxes to repealing Obamacare.
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