Thursday, August 24, 2006

Liberal or progressive Christians, who make up 34 percent of the population, are disunified on key issues, and only one out of four Americans considers the Democratic Party friendly to religion, a Pew poll shows.

Released yesterday, the wide-ranging poll on religion as it intersects with politics, public life, science, law and world affairs also showed an increase among Christians in sympathy for Israel.

“I’m not surprised,” said David Brog, executive director of Christians United for Israel, a Texas-based nonprofit that last month brought in 3,500 Christians here for a “Washington Israel summit.”

“More and more Christians in the heartland have heard the message coming from so many pastors and put Israel at the top of their priorities,” he said. “When it comes to the war on terror, conservatives have a clear platform and positions that are easy to understand. One of the problems liberals have had is providing a compelling alternative vision.”

Only 7 percent of those polled identified themselves as members of the religious left in the poll of 2,003 adults, conducted last month by the Pew Research Center for the People and the Press and the Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life. As a movement, the religious left lacks cohesive issues that define its views, said the poll, which has a sampling error of 3.5 percentage points.

Moreover, no political party welcomes the religious left with open arms. Twenty-six percent of those polled said the Democratic Party is friendly toward religion, 42 percent thought it was neutral and 20 percent thought it was unfriendly. Three years ago in a similar Pew poll, 42 percent said the party was friendly toward religion.

Israel gained support among all varieties of Christians, according to the poll. Forty-four percent of Americans supported Israel versus the 9 percent who support Palestinians. A subsequent Pew poll conducted Aug. 9 to 13 found 52 percent of Americans support Israel versus 11 percent for Palestinians.

White evangelical Protestants (69 percent) and black Protestants (60 percent) said they believed that Israel was given to the Jews by God. Fifty-nine percent of the white evangelicals and 56 percent of the black Protestants said Israel is the fulfillment of biblical prophecy that relates to the Second Coming. Far lower percentages of white mainline Protestants and Catholics agreed with both questions.

News from the poll was not all bad for liberal Democrats. Two important Republican constituencies: evangelicals and Catholics, saw the Republican Party as less friendly toward religion than in previous years. Nearly half (49 percent) say Republicans are friendly to religion, a decline of 14 points in the past year. Just 41 percent of the Catholics polled said the Republican Party is friendly to religion, compared with 55 percent a year ago.

Religion’s influence over the country is waning, said 59 percent of those polled.

A spokeswoman for the liberal Interfaith Alliance says her organization perceives religious influence on society as static or decreasing.

“We’d say the administration is more religiously right,” Megan Hoffman said, “but the public is not in agreement with them.”

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