- The Washington Times - Monday, September 22, 2014

A growing percentage of Americans say houses of worship should bring politics to the pulpit, according to a new survey from Pew Research.

The survey saw an increase from 43 percent to 49 percent of people who said churches should express their views on politics, while the percentage of people who said houses of worship should stay out of politics dropped from 52 percent to 48 percent.

“The public’s appetite for religious influence in politics is increasing in part because those who continue to identify with a religion have become significantly more supportive of churches and other houses of worship speaking out about political issues and political leaders talking more often about religion,” the survey found. “The [religious] ‘nones’ are much more likely to oppose the intermingling of religion and politics.”

While support might be growing for more religious influence on political issues, most Americans do not want their clergy to get involved with candidates.

Though the percentage of Americans who said churches should come out in favor of candidates rose from 24 percent to 32 percent, 63 percent still say houses of worship should not back specific candidates.

“That seems to be where people are drawing the line,” said Rob Boston, spokesman for Americans United for Separation of Church and State. “Most who say they want to see religion in public life are assuming religious organizations are going to echo their own political view.

“People are happy when the church speaks out in a way that coincides with what they believe. People are less enthusiastic about churches getting involved with politics when the political view clashes with their own,” Mr. Boston said.

The survey also found that 72 percent of Americans think religion is losing its influence, compared to the 22 percent of Americans who think religion’s influence is increasing.

That decline could be the cause of the uprising in the desire for more religion in politics, the survey suggested, but politics and religion experts said it could be the result of the shifting tide of public opinion.

“When conservative Protestants entered politics 35 years ago, they did so to defend the culture against secular drift,” said Andrew Hogue, political science professor at Baylor University.

Between the 1980s and 2000s, laws limiting abortion rights and gay rights were championed; however, public opinion has moved, Mr. Hogue said.

“The burden is on religious conservatives in ways it wasn’t in the preceding era,” he said. “The feeling in all quarters is that religion is losing its influence. And the response for many believers, it seems, is to advocate the methods that worked in the 1980s — preachers who guide, instruct, and exert influence on the political process.”

Brenda Norton, visiting lecturer at Baylor University’s Department of Political Sciences, said she didn’t see anything too startling in the new percentages, but acknowledged that opinions change depending on what the big issues are in the country.

“Many people look to religious organizations for moral guidance on important life decisions and this includes some political issues,” Ms. Norton said. “At the same time people are skeptical of religious organizations becoming tainted with worldly issues or trying to remove ‘free will’ on political decisions so the religious organizations cannot be perceived of as being too involved in political issues.”

But David Campbell, director of the Rooney Center for the Study of American Democracy at the University of Notre Dame, said the uptick is surprising.

“One data point does not a trend make,” Mr. Campbell said, but between 2006 and 2010, “we saw quite a significant drop in the percentage of Americans that said either that they’d heard politics from the pulpit or wanted to hear politics from the pulpit.”

The survey was conducted among 2,002 adult Americans between Sept. 2 and 9. It has a margin of error of plus-or-minus 2.5 percentage points.

• Meredith Somers can be reached at msomers@washingtontimes.com.

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