pewchart.gifA few weeks ago, when spurned McCain booster John Hagee announced at his huge annual “Night for Israel event that he wouldn’t be endorsing another presidential candidate anytime soon, God-o-Meter expresses its amazement. It wondered aloud whether this was a sign of serious evangelical political disengagement, three decades after Jerry Falwell convinced evangelicals and other conservative Christians to shed their political inhibitions and to start organizing. It got some flack for this theory, but a recent Pew Poll offers some real evidence that GOM might have been onto something.
The poll, released last week, got some ink because it reported that a majority of Americans feel that churches and other houses of worship now play too big a role in politics and government. But the real story is below the fold: the folks who have grown skeptical of the church playing in the political sandbox are the very ones who’ve been playing the hardest these last few decades: Christian conservatives.

The new national survey by the Pew Research Center reveals that most of the reconsideration of the desirability of religious involvement in politics has occurred among conservatives. Four years ago, just 30% of conservatives believed that churches and other houses of worship should stay out of politics. Today, 50% of conservatives express this view.

And not just any conservatives, but religious conservatives in particular:

In addition to somewhat greater worries about the way religious and non-religious groups are influencing the parties, the survey suggests that frustration and disillusionment among social conservatives may be a part of the reason why a greater number now think that religious institutions should keep out of politics. However, there is little to suggest that social conservatives want religion to be a less important element in American politics.
The greatest increases since 2004 in the view that churches and other houses of worship should not express themselves on political matters have occurred among less-educated Republicans and people who say that social issues such as abortion and same-sex marriage will be important to their vote. For example, among people who rate gay marriage as a top voting issue, the percentage saying that churches should stay out of politics soared from 25% in 2004 to 50% currently; there was little change over this period on this question among people who do not view same-sex marriage as a very important issue….
In short, the change of mind about the role of religious institutions in politics is most apparent among people who are most concerned about the very issues that churches and other houses of worship have focused on, and among those who fault the parties for their friendliness toward religion

God-o-Meter considers this a huge development with enormous political ramifications. Will conservative Christians really withdraw from public life again in big numbers, like after the Scopes Monkey Trial? That would change the Republican Party, which owes so much of its modern ascent to mobilizing previously reluctant evangelical voters, as we know it. A McCain win could create a post-Christian Right party. A McCain loss could send the GOP, hat in hand, back to its social conservative base.
In the meanwhile, with the Democrats making serious plays for religious moderates, this poll spells more danger for McCain.


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