By Joseph L. Conn
Poor Erik Stanley.
The Alliance Defense Fund attorney keeps pleading with evangelical clergy to step forward and become political bosses, but the clergy – and the American people – keep saying no.
Stanley and his Religious Right cronies salivate at the prospect of an evangelical Christian voting bloc marching in lockstep under the dictates of rigid right-wing pulpiteers and electing candidates who will tear down the wall of separation between church and state.
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The ADF even has a project that encourages preachers to endorse or oppose candidates from their tax-exempt pulpits in violation of the federal law that bars nonprofits from using charitable contributions for partisan purposes. This year, the ADF’s so-called “Pulpit Freedom Sunday” is scheduled for Oct. 2.
In his most recent screed, Stanley again implored participation, saying, “America needs patriot pastors today more than ever. If you are a pastor, would you prayerfully consider joining with us in the Pulpit Initiative?”
Unfortunately for Erik, the vast majority of American clergy have no desire to prostitute their spiritual roles and become cogs in his political machine. And the vast majority of Americans don’t want that either.
As a matter of fact, scholarly evidence suggests that the number of Americans who oppose the politicization of religion is escalating. According to a story this week at The Christian Post, General Social Survey data show that public disapproval of electioneering by religious leaders has grown sharply over the past two decades.
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“The percent of people who say they strongly agree that religious leaders should not do those things really went up quite dramatically,” Duke University Sociology and Religion Professor Mark Chaves told The Post.
Survey pollsters asked Americans whether they agree or disagree with two different statements. One was “Religious leaders should not try to influence how people vote in elections.” The other was “Religious leaders should not try to influence government decisions.”
The Post reports that in 1991, 30 percent of respondents said they strongly agree that religious leaders should not influence voters in an election. In 2008, that number rose to 44 percent. Chaves told the publication that the survey’s combined figures show that a solid majority of Americans – 73 percent – agree that religious leaders should not influence elections.
“It’s a clear trend in the direction of disapproval of religious leader involvement in politics,” Chaves said.
Southern Baptist lobbyist Richard Land was predictably disgruntled, calling the survey questions vague and the results meaningless. (Funny, they didn’t seem that way to me at all.) While the supposedly nonpartisan denominational operative says he doesn’t think clergy should endorse candidates from the pulpit, he does think “we should be looking for candidates who endorse us.”
What Land means is that the Republican office seekers should curry favor with religious conservatives in exchange for the evangelical vote. He once told The New York Times that the Religious Right was tired of being taken for granted by the GOP.
“The go-along, get-along strategy is dead,” Land said. “No more engagement. We want a wedding ring, we want a ceremony, we want a consummation of the marriage.”
Well, here’s some news, Dr. Land. Americans don’t want religion and politics to get hitched, let alone reach a – blush! – consummation! This is one situation where “abstinence only” is definitely the best approach.
Nobody benefits when religion is drawn into partisan politics. It undermines our secular democracy, divides congregations and communities, jeopardizes the rights of religious minorities and threatens the integrity of houses of worship.
Americans know that. Most clergy know that. It’s too bad that Stanley, Land and other Religious Right plotters don’t.