GOP ==> Jesus

Really interesting Op-Ed in the NYT by Michele Margolis today describing her research on religion and politics.  I’ve made the case here many times that many Evangelicals clearly put their political beliefs ahead of their supposed Christian beliefs, but Margolis’ research systematically shows that, we really are in the world of PID before everything.  To be fair, this happens for Democrats, too, but moves them in the opposite direction.  Margolis:

Most Americans choose a political party before choosing whether to join a religious community or how often to attend religious services. [emphases mine]

Faith often becomes a peripheral concern in adolescence and young adulthood — precisely the years when we tend to form stable partisan attachments. Religion typically becomes relevant again later, after we have children and start to think about their religious upbringings. By that time, our political views are set, ready to guide our religious values and decisions.

This is precisely the pattern that produced the religiosity gap between Democrats and Republicans. In 1965, M. Kent Jennings and Richard Niemi conducted a survey of over 1,500 American high school seniors, and then followed up with those people when they were in their 20s and 30s, and at 50.

Analyzing these data, I find that twentysomething Democrats and Republicans were equally secular: Most had pulled away from religion after high school, and Democrats and Republicans did so at similar rates. But nine years later, Republicans had become much more likely to attend church than their Democratic counterparts. In contrast, even those who bucked the secular trend and remained religious in their 20s were no more likely than less religious members of their cohort to join the Republican ranks in their 30s…

In one experiment, I showed some people a flyer advertising their political party, while other people saw an apolitical flyer. Relative to Republicans who saw the apolitical flyer, Republicans who saw the partisan flyer reported feeling closer to their religious faith. Democrats who saw a political flyer, in the other hand, had the opposite response.

In other words, a subtle nudge to think about politics made Republicans feel more religious and Democrats feel more secular.

It may seem counterintuitive, if not downright implausible, that voting Democrat or Republican could change something as personal as our relationship with God. But over the course of our lives, political choices tend to come first, religious choices second…

These same dynamics help explain religious identity in the age of Donald Trump. The familiar narrative that religious beliefs lead white evangelicals to the Republican Party ignores the flip side: how Mr. Trump’s polarizing presidency could be changing evangelicalism in America.

Hearing evangelical leaders praise Mr. Trump and noting his persistent approval among white evangelicals, white Trump supporters may find themselves more and more drawn to the evangelical label and to churches they know will be filled with politically like-minded congregants.

In my case I’ve been an (almost) weekly church-goer my whole life and that never changed.  And the Catholic Church drives me crazy some times, but there’s enough focus on social justice (you know, the stuff Jesus talked about literally all the time), that I’m not going anywhere.  Fair to say, focusing on politics, though, almost surely makes me think in a more secular manner (though, I’m a very secular thinker– whatever that is– for a weekly churchgoer), in part, because “Christianity” in American has become so allied with the GOP.

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About Steve Greene
Professor of Political Science at NC State http://faculty.chass.ncsu.edu/shgreene

3 Responses to GOP ==> Jesus

  1. Nicole K. says:

    Yeah, I always find it frustrating that most people who are not Christians automatically assume all Christians are evangelical.

    The Methodist church is split about 50-50. That actually may change in February when they vote on what they are calling The Way Forward. That’s a vote to remove restrictive language from our Book of Discipline regarding LGBT ordination and same-sex marriage. There is a traditionalist faction that will likely leave the denomination should the so-called One Church Plan that leaves it up to individual churches to decide how they deal with LGBT issues. That’s the plan endorsed by our bishops.

    If they are unable to remove the language that says “the practice of homosexuality is incompatible with Christian teaching” and “self-avowed practicing homosexuals” cannot be ordained as ministers, appointed to serve or married in the church, I am probably leaving the church and I would most likely just avoid organized worship. I am hoping that the correct decision is made in February, but it will be a close vote due to the large number of UMC churches in Africa who are deeply opposed to anything but the traditional plan that keeps the language as it is.

  2. Mike in Chapel Hill says:

    Or, just recognize that Christianity is one more mythology, like Norse, Roman, Greek, Cherokee, or Aztec and then it is clear that Jesus <= x, where x is pretty much anything.

    • Nicole K. says:

      Yeah, well I don’t believe most of the Bible is literal in the sense that I’m reading a history book. Most of the Christians I know don’t. You don’t need to tell me how stupid I am for participating in a religion. I get something out of it or I wouldn’t participate.

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