aAfter the 2022 midterm elections, most state candidates will temporarily phase out attack ads. Both parties are gearing up for an era of split government, which means compromises will be needed to govern the country. In his post-election speech, President Biden emphasized:
Religious leaders are also calling for a reduction in the political polarization that plagues America. As Rabbi David Wolpe said at a Los Angeles synagogue before the midterm elections, “God has no teams…God is greater than parties.” This idea forms the basis of US law on religion. increase. Ostensibly the church and the state are separate, and in order to maintain tax-exempt status, the church must avoid political endorsements of candidates and parties.
But in the days leading up to the election, prominent Republican candidates, in particular, showed up with pastors and prophets to try to convince voters that God was on their side and committed to their religion. Florida Governor Ron DeSantis released an ad that proclaimed, “On the eighth day…God made fighter planes,” referring to himself and calling out to God 10 times in 96 seconds. The message seems to resonate with religious voters. A number of studies suggest that there is, in fact, a “God Gap” where religious voters are more likely to support Republicans and non-religious voters are more likely to support Democrats. Religious and political divisions in America may be widening even after midterm elections and calls to reduce religious polarization, according to our new research.
A single culprit? church shopping.
Church shopping means a growing phenomenon of Americans visiting different places of worship to decide where to attend. Compared to previous generations, Americans’ religious “brand loyalty” is declining. For one, the second largest denomination is made up of former Catholics, behind the single largest denomination in the United States, Roman Catholics. National Catholic Reporter I used to call them “the Catholics who ‘had'”. These are Catholics who have left the church in favor of other options: Protestant churches, non-Christian faiths, or no faith altogether. It is this last option that is especially difficult for religious groups. A recent forecasting model from the Pew Research Center suggests that by 2070, less than half of the U.S. population will be Christians if trends in religious conversion continue.
Religious scholars point to various sources for these developments, but one source seems more prevalent than ever. It’s politics. In 2002, sociologists Michael Hout and Claude S. Fischer published groundbreaking research suggesting that conservative politics alienates people, especially moderates and liberals, from religion. On the other hand, there is also some evidence that some individuals seek politically active churches that fit their partisan values. The Russian Orthodox Church in the United States, for example, reports a slight increase in recent convert numbers, boosted by far-right politics and people praising Russian President Vladimir Putin.
This trend has raised questions about the extent to which church shopping is influenced by politics. I want to know not only how religion affects key political choices such as who to vote for, but also how politics affects key religious choices such as religious affiliation and identity I thought. I also wanted to ask directly about people’s religious and political behavior. To do this, we conducted a nationally representative survey of 2,000 US adults through the polling firm YouGov.
First, we asked respondents if they had ever shopped at a church. In fact, a majority (nearly 52%) say they have shopped at a church. We find this to be a high number, especially considering that some individuals may be strongly committed to the church, while others may not belong to the church at all. This provides further evidence that attachment to religious “brands” is not as strong as it once was.The American religious market is dynamic, and American religious identities are in flux.
72% of those who have shopped at a church said they were considering a church of at least one denomination, and 43% said they were considering many different denominations. While it seems intuitive that Baptists visit and consider the various Baptist churches in town, it seems that a significant number of Baptists also visit Presbyterian, Catholic, and non-denominational churches. Looking at the religious subgroups, we find that church shopping is common in all religious traditions (and even among non-religious people), but especially among evangelical Protestants. This makes sense. For example, because of the prevalence of evangelical denominations with similar theological views, evangelicals have fewer denomination barriers to cross when switching congregations than Catholics.
Given the intensity of politics in today’s religious environment, I wanted to learn how politics influenced their religious choices. A quarter say they have left or considered leaving a church due to political differences. There are no comparable historical data, but the number is likely higher than in previous periods due to the politicization of religion. Additionally, some may be unwilling to admit that politics drives religious decisions, so more church shoppers may weigh church politics when deciding whether to sympathize with a religion. After all, this is a significant number of Americans who are classified into religious groups based on political factors.
Further analysis of the results reveals that some politics are more influential than others. Democrats are much more likely than Republicans to leave or consider leaving their religion for political reasons, as are those who express displeasure with the church’s involvement in politics. This evidence reinforces the idea that conservative politics may be driving Democrats away from religion. supports theories that suggest that
The phenomenon is more pronounced among Democrats, but Republicans are still part of the crowd buying churches for politics. Evangelical demands for “muscular Christianity” in the United States have led some conservatives to seek out churches that defy state mandate. Politics is cited as a reason for considering To find churches that match their political identities, these Republicans are largely choosing churches that aren’t afraid to associate their religion with conservative politics, especially Donald Trump. A 2020 survey found that a majority of evangelicals believed that Donald Trump’s endorsement “demonstrated moral courage to pursue politics and actions consistent with evangelical Christian values.” It was shown that
But tracking political church shopping is more than just an academic challenge. Church pastors report fearing they are “losing people” on their political agenda. Democrats and moderates are completely out of church. Republicans are leaving churches for consistently conservative, “trump” congregations. The result is growth on both theological and political poles. The only groups consistently profitable are the most liberal (non-religious) and the most conservative (very religious and conservative evangelicals).
This reality paints a dark picture of the future of religion and politics, and of American democracy.
It is expected that the “divine gap” will expand in the future. Democrats will increasingly move away from religion, and Republicans will bolster the religious-political values that have been part of their coalition for decades. We will have to face an increasingly diverse and secular coalition, walking a fine line between reaching out to atheists at the same time. Republicans, on the other hand, will need to rely even more heavily on religious groups to try to capture and mobilize every last minute of the dwindling population.
Most importantly, church shopping politics continue to exacerbate political and religious polarization. This separation may be correlated with the recent rise of white Christian nationalism. Liberals, on the other hand, will become more skeptical of religious institutions and lose some of the social cohesion that religions provide in the form of (ideologically) diverse congregations.
Faith leaders’ comments that God has no political parties may make sense in certain theological circles, but at least in the context of Christianity, politics and church shopping are separate stories. Even as religious and political elites try to move away from the culture wars, our research suggests that constant political battles will continue, and that our church shopping practices It may even be exacerbated as a result of
In a question following his post-election speech, Joe Biden claimed: At the same time, he continued: Our study of church shopping unfortunately suggests that uniting America could be even more difficult in the future.
Religious and political polarization stays here.
Andre P. Audette is an Assistant Professor of Political Science at Monmouth College. Shay R. Hafner is a senior political science and data her science major at Monmouth College. This article is based on their research.church shopping politics,” in the journal politics and religion.