Skip to comments.Culture wars and politics (Evangelical or conservative Christians stereotyped as bigots)
Posted on 02/07/2006 11:57:12 PM PST by DeweyCA
Although we hear and read the words "culture wars" and "polarization" almost every day in the media, such words do not accurately portray the attitudes of the American people. Moreover, they have created stereotypes of Evangelical or conservative Christians that are unfair and indeed bigoted.
In the words of Stanford professor Morris P. Fiorina, "There is no culture war in the United States no battle for the soul of America rages, at least none that most Americans are aware of. Certainly one can find a few warriors who engage in noisy skirmishes. The bulk of the American people are somewhat in the position of the unfortunate citizens of the some Third World countries who try to stay out of the crossfire which Maoist guerrillas and right-wing death squads shoot at one another."
The majority of Americans, careful social science research has demonstrated, are pragmatic moderates who approve of legal abortion in some circumstances and reject it in other circumstances. They are neither consistently pro-choice nor consistently pro-life. Moreover, abortion has never emerged as one of the top political issues in America when people are asked about the most important issues.
Similarly, the pragmatic majority also supports either gay marriage or civil unions for homosexuals. The argument here is not that the moderate majority is morally or religiously correct on these issues. They may well be morally wrong.
The "culture wars" model
The argument is rather that the picture of national polarization is a distortion that detracts from the real problems that the majority of Americans experience, such as the cost of health care.
In the "culture wars" model, conservative Christians have emerged as the enemy in the national media. They are depicted as Bible-thumping militants determined to impose their convictions on matters such as evolution, prayer in schools, pornography, abortion and homosexuality on the rest of the country. Zealous, well-organized, rigid, anti-intellectual, well-funded, they are seen as President Bush's political base and determined to take control of America.
The "Evangelicals" have become an approved hate group in contemporary America. The popular image of them suits the purposes of their leadership, their liberal adversaries and the national media for whom culture wars is a handy paradigm around which to wrap news stories.
It just doesn't happen to be true. They may be able to mobilize to affect a school board election or a primary, but they are not the mighty force that many on both side of the so-called culture wars would like to believe.
A year-long study
Over the last year, my colleague Michael Hout and I have studied members of conservative Christian denominations (Southern Baptist, Missouri and Wisconsin Synod Lutheran, Assembly of God, Pentecostal, Mormon, for example) to find, in the name of fairness and accuracy, whether they are indeed all that different from other Americans. We relied on the General Social Survey, a representative national sample of Americans that has amassed over the decades more than 42,000 interviews.
In a book to be published in the summer by the University of Chicago Press, we report that conservative Christians are more devout than members of mainline denominations (Methodist, Lutheran, Episcopal, Presbyterian, United Church of Christ, for example). They are more likely to believe in God, heaven, hell and religious miracles, to attend church, to belong to church organizations, to feel close to God, to pray, to read the Bible, to report born-again experiences, and to seek to convert others to Jesus.
The spirituality makes them more likely to report personal happiness, but only if they are married and attend church regularly. They are more likely to believe in predestination, they are also more likely to believe in God's forgiveness.
While Hout and I found that conservative Christians a third of the American population do have distinctive religious beliefs and convictions, they are more similar to the rest of us, especially mainline Protestants, than the culture war image would have us believe. They are not, for example, distinctively Southern or distinctively less educated than other Americans. Twenty percent of them watch PBS news every night, the national average.
Conservative Christians believe in the literal, word-for-word inerrancy of the Bible. Those who believe in biblical literalism, oppose abortion in all circumstances, and think homosexual sex is always wrong are about 1 percent of the American population.
One percent is enough to create a movement, to march in demonstrations, to send out newsletters, to contribute funds. It is enough to scare political leaders who think that the activists around a spokesperson in a TV picture represent a substantial segment of the population, but they are a threat only to those who want or need a threat to spread their own agenda.
Nor are conservative Christians a major component in the president's political base. They are about 6 percentage points more likely to vote Republican than mainline Protestants, which adds about 2 percentage points to the base enough in some cases to swing a very close election. The real Republican base is white Protestant and the well-to-do the "haves and the have mores" as the president once referred to them.
Their family patterns are a bit more traditional than those of mainline Protestants, yet they profess a conviction that men should help with housework and are only too ready to accept paid leaves at the time of childbirth.
Eighty-two percent believe that abortion should be legal when the mother's health is in danger. They are more conservative on homosexual sex being a matter of choice, and on evolution, though not different from mainline Protestants on sex education in public schools and pornography.
However, they are more likely than mainline Protestants to have divorced and among the unmarried to have permanent sexual partners, to live with such partners and to have had more sexual partners during the last year and during their lives.
The sexual revolution may not have affected them, but the partnership revolution has. One wonders whether their leaders are aware of these phenomena and, if they are, why they remain silent. "Family values" apparently means abortion and homosexuality (and nudity on television), but not activities that the Bible would label adultery and fornication.
A false assumption
To some extent the bias against conservative Christians is based on the assumption that "conservative" religion correlates with "conservative" politics. If you are so "conservative" that you believe in the literal, word-for-word inerrancy of the Bible, well then, of course, you will vote Republican.
However, that assumption flies in the face of the fact that African-American conservative Christians are as likely to believe in biblical literalism and more likely to vote Democratic. Is one kind of evangelicalism better than another? Moreover, literalism draws conservative African-Americans and conservative whites even further apart from their mainline colleagues.
In this country, the inerrant Bible with its access to divine truth, we speculate, can become an engine that drives social movents in the direction that members of such movements want to go whether the movement is abolition, prohibition, prairie populism (of the William Jennings Bryan variety), civil rights or the "movement to reclaim America." Conservative movements can claim no right to it. Nor is evangelicalism inherently conservative politically.
Neither Hout nor I is a conservative Christian. We share some of their beliefs, but not all of them. Indeed, we belong to a denomination whose members are high on the list for vaporization should the Rapture occur.
As sociologists, however, we are interested in reporting facts and in shattering stereotypes that create bigotry, no matter who the victims of the bigotry might be. We believe that it is absurd and dangerous to write off a third of the American people with a few casual clichés.
The national media are inclined, it seems to us, to make religion an election issue when it is not. "Values" we are told by The New York Times, was the decisive issue in the last presidential election. Didn't 22 percent say so? Values means religion. That is big news scary news and for secular liberals: the Evangelicals are taking over!
We expect resistance to our research from secular liberals, from conservative Christian activists, and from journalists who have so much invested in their culture wars paradigm. A journalist said to me when I detailed our findings, "You're taking my Evangelicals away from me."
Sorry about that.
Contact the Rev. Andrew M. Greeley at email@example.com.
Yo! Eye opening.....not what you'd expect. Need to think that through a bit.
The same Andrew Greeley who is a Catholic priest that writes pornographic novels?
Why am I not surprised.
Why would they do that? They don't have a hidden agenda and back a specific political ideal... do they?
I seriously doubt this statistic. This issue is one that is unusually susceptible to sneaky wording, as "health" has been defined down by the courts to where it has no real meaning.
Like most opposed to abortion, I believe that when faced with a true choice between death of mother and death of fetus, the right thing to do is generally to perform an abortion. But such a choice is remarkably rare.
Greeley defines extreme left wing idelogy as pragmatic middle of the road. If we are to believe him then true believer conservatives are hypocrites incapable of applying their beliefs to their lives.
Let Greeley aned his mad lib friends have ther foolish notions. It will only serve to end their tyranny.
I don't agee about gay marriage. It has been voted down eveywhere it was put to the vote- even the liberal west coast has voted it down. My feeling is I have nothing against gay people, but marriage is between a man and a woman. Also, I do not believe in civil unions-for gays or unmarried couples. It is not good for society in general.
Yes, seriously. Fr. Greeley has been infamous for quite a while. It started with his trashy books, unheard of from a priest, and continued with his leftist preaching. The left loves him so they try to present him as someone with a firm grasp of the things of God and man, a "progressive Christian."
Just remember when dealing with Mr. Greeley -- the devil is in the details. I can see by his statements that he is playing a bit loose with his lies, d*mned lies, and statistics.
Thanks for informing me - it shows how careful you gotta be, especially when you don't know the news source.
Looking at his facts again I suspect they are what he would like them to be. No one is co-habiting in my church (that I know of).