An excerpt from
The Truth about Conservative Christians
What They Think and What They Believe
Andrew Greeley and Michael Hout
The Politics of Conservative Christianity
|Word of God||96||92||34||40|
|Book of Fables||86||-a||54||61|
|2-3 times per month||95||90||43||43|
|Once a month||93||98||41||50|
|Read the Bible in past year|
|Not at all||-a||-a||47||56|
|a Too few cases for reliable calculation|
SOURCE: General Social Surveys, 1993-2004.
Religious practice also affects the direction of partisanship. African Americans who attend services and/or read scripture more often are more inclined to vote for Democrats; whites move in the Republican direction as they increase their attendance and scripture reading. The strongest Democrats in this tabulation are the African Americans in Afro-American denominations who read their Bible daily, followed closely by those who attend church weekly. The strongest Republicans are the whites in Conservative Protestant denominations who read their Bibles daily and attend services weekly.
We note also that the correlations represented in table 4.1 are very robust. They exist even when our statistical adjustments hold constant the possibly confounding effects of gender, region, marital status, education, income and liberal/conservative political orientation.
Table 4.1 reveals similar tendencies outside the Afro-American and Conservative Protestant denominations, especially among the white Mainline Protestants. But the effects of attendance and frequent Bible study turn out to be significantly weaker for Mainline than Conservative Protestants when tested in the multivariate context.
How can the same religious doctrine produce in people who are similar in all other matters such different political behavior? Conservative Christianity in both its American forms constitutes a single powerful religious story—God is on the side of His people as they struggle for freedom. In their own way the Conservative Protestants and the Afro-American Protestants identify with that story and bestow their allegiance of party loyalty to the party that best reflects that collective self-image. Is that dubious? Hardly. Religious stories are multilayered and polysemous. They are not completely malleable, not inkblots into which any meaning can be projected. But they do admit of different interpretations depending on the context in which they are being told. The Exodus story in which Moses led the chosen people out of Egypt can be applied by any group that feels that it is going forth on some sacred mission.
God communicates absolute religious truth to those on the mission and watches over them as they struggle for freedom, whether the exodus on which they are marching is liberation from racism or liberation from secular humanism. Since this story is there for Christians to make their own, it is adaptable to whatever struggle for freedom a given Christian people might experience. One might perhaps argue that biblical literalism provides rich resources for any populist Christian movement since it provides motivation and validation of one’s particular populist cause. “Mine eyes have seen the glory of the coming of the Lord... His truth is marching on.” One names the truth, and there is the Lord marching with “us” against “them.” Conservative Christianity, once mobilized, is likely to be militant politically for whatever godly cause—abolition, prohibition, civil rights, the right to life. The directionality of the militant march depends on whom the cause defines as the opponent. Race, as such, is not so much the issue in contemporary Christian militancy in the United States as it is occasion of the difference between the two Christian militant marches—one towards a time when we shall overcome and the other towards a restoration of God’s place in public life.
Liberals who decry the militant political stands of Conservative Protestants should beware of trying to have it both ways when they turn around to praise the militant political stands of Afro-American Protestants—and perhaps sing black freedom songs. Logically they should oppose the political effects of militant literalism wherever it appears—or accept it as an inevitable populist political story in this country. Republicans, it must be remembered, supported prohibition and Democrats (in the north) opposed it.
Therefore we suggest as the conclusion to this chapter that Conservative Christianity can promote a political agenda. American political history teaches us, though, that the direction it leads men and women cannot be determined in advance. Evangelical militancy is not new, and while it is distasteful when it marches in the opposite direction of our own cause, it can also be embraced (at risk of inconsistency) to support the “onward, Christian soldiers” march of one’s own cause.
While some disregard history to demonize Conservative Christianity’s involvement in politics that promote a conservative social agenda, we remind them that religious zeal in the pursuit of political objectives has not been the monopoly of one particular political camp. In the present era the same religious principles that lead whites to the right lead blacks to the left.
Copyright notice: Excerpt from pages 69-75 of The Truth about Conservative Christians: What They Think and What They Believe by Andrew Greeley and Michael Hout, published by the University of Chicago Press. ©2006 by The University of Chicago. All rights reserved. This text may be used and shared in accordance with the fair-use provisions of U.S. copyright law, and it may be archived and redistributed in electronic form, provided that this entire notice, including copyright information, is carried and provided that the University of Chicago Press is notified and no fee is charged for access. Archiving, redistribution, or republication of this text on other terms, in any medium, requires the consent of the University of Chicago Press. (Footnotes and other references included in the book may have been removed from this online version of the text.)
Andrew Greeley and Michael Hout
The Truth about Conservative Christians: What They Think and What They Believe
©2006, 216 pages, 23 line drawings, 27 tables
Cloth $22.50 ISBN: 0-226-30662-3
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