Evangelicals Sour on Politics
A new Beliefnet survey reveals why many born-again Christians have cooled on Republicans and political fray.
BY: Steven Waldman
Part of the problem, many reported, was that Christianity has become too closely associated with the Republican party. 42.9 percent said "Christians are too closely allied with the Republican party," compared to 29.6 percent who wanted a tighter connection to the party and 27.5 percent who said the current balance is just right.
A significant minority apparently believes that Christian involvement in politics has hurt the faith's image. 26.3 percent said Christian involvement in politics had given them a "more negative" impression of Christianity itself.
(This view was even more pronounced among non-Christians. 63.8 percent of Jews surveyed said Christian involvement in politics gave them a more negative impression of Christianity, compared to 7 percent who said it made them more positively disposed.)
The evangelical voters dislike many of the most well known Christian leaders involved in Republican politics. For instance, while they liked like Billy Graham, Rick Warren and Joel Osteen–who are known more for their uplifting spiritual message than their political activism–these Christians have negative views about the men often identified in the media as the pre-eminent evangelical leaders.
For instance, 50 percent had an unfavorable impression of Jerry Falwell, compared to 17 percent who viewed him positively. 46 percent viewed Pat Roberston unfavorably to 28 percent who viewed him favorably. While 4 percent still liked Ted Haggard, 58 percent viewed unfavorably, although very few said his downfall affected their vote.
The one highly political conservative religious leader who remains personally popular is James Dobson, whom 49 percent viewed favorably.
A small bit of good news for Republicans: evangelicals still overwhelmingly believe that President Bush better exhibits Christian principles in his presidency than did Bill Clinton (53.2 percent-21.3 percent).
And among the broader group of evangelicals surveyed, there seems to be an odd disconnect between what they personally viewed as the most important issues and those they think Jesus would care most about. While 16 percent of those surveyed listed abortion as their number-one issue, 34.4 percent said Jesus would consider abortion as the "most serious example of immorality today"–far more than the number who thought that Jesus would list homosexuality (11 percent) , poverty (12.8 percent) or the Iraq war (4.8 percent).
Though they disagreed with each other about what Jesus would emphasize, they were confident that Jesus would believe that our political leaders were "focused on the wrong things." 82.5 percent took that position.