Sunday, July 30, 2006

Politics and Religion

On another "Myths and Realities" related note, one of the main themes of the paper was the re-establishment of churches as agents for political organization. The companion piece in JEP, Purple America, takes a slightly different view on the importance of religion in modern politics arguing that economics remains a more important predictor of political orientation than morals.

In support of their argument, Ansolabehere, Rodden and Snyder show that people's opinions about specific economic issues do a better job of predicting voting for Republicans than their opinions about social issues. Underlying this analysis, however, is the assumption that people exogenously form opinions and then vote the for candidate that best represents their opinions. Glaeser and I disagree with this assumption (see footnote 7 of our paper for our "full" response). We believe that people's opinions on a issues are frequently shaped by their party affiliation (and not the other way around). E.g., I become a Republican because my parents were or because they take the position I agree with on some important issue, and this leads me to adopt the Republican position on other issues (likely because I want my "team" to win).

The NYTimes provides an interesting glimpse into the modern church-politics relationship that provides some anecdotal support for our positions (both that churches are important political organizers and people take their cues about what to believe from the party) in its profile of evangelical minister Gregery Boyd's attempt to separate evangelical Christianity from the Republican Party and politics:
[Boyd] said he first became alarmed while visiting another megachurch’s worship service on a Fourth of July years ago. The service finished with the chorus singing “God Bless America” and a video of fighter jets flying over a hill silhouetted with crosses.

“I thought to myself, ‘What just happened? Fighter jets mixed up with the cross?’ ” he said in an interview.

Patriotic displays are still a mainstay in some evangelical churches. Across town from Mr. Boyd’s church, the sanctuary of North Heights Lutheran Church was draped in bunting on the Sunday before the Fourth of July this year for a “freedom celebration.” Military veterans and flag twirlers paraded into the sanctuary, an enormous American flag rose slowly behind the stage, and a Marine major who had served in Afghanistan preached that the military was spending “your hard-earned money” on good causes.

In response to the increasing co-mingling of politics and religion, Mr. Boyd preaches that "the role of Christians was not to seek “power over” others — by controlling governments, passing legislation or fighting wars. Christians should instead seek to have “power under” others — “winning people’s hearts” by sacrificing for those in need, as Jesus did."

When he started preaching this he lost 1000 members (or 20%) of his congregation. The family pastor at Boyd's church reports that some of the people who left said, "You’re not doing what the church is supposed to be doing, which is supporting the Republican way."

This last quote, if true, suggests that a substantial proportion of people expect their churches to serve as political organizers, and, potentially (one can interpret the quote in a number of ways) that people take their cues on what to believe from the party and expect their church to line up behind those views and not the other way around (I suspect this is particularly true of non-social issues -- e.g., Glaeser reported to me that he found that our measure of evangelicalism in 1926 strongly predicts the adoption (or lack thereof) of zoning regulations in the 1970s, 80s, and 90s).

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