More and more Americans are expressing discomfort with the idea of mixing religion and politics. A recent survey by the Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life finds 52 percent agreeing that houses of worship should keep out of politics, an eight point increase since 2004.
"This marks the first time since the Pew Research Center began asking the question in 1996 that those who say churches should keep out of politics outnumber those who say churches should express their political views," reports Pew.
Interestingly, the increase results from a change of heart among conservatives. Pew reported that four years ago, only 30 percent of conservatives believed that houses of worship should stay out of politics. Today, 50 percent of conservatives express this view. The conservative view is falling into line with opinions long held by moderates and liberals.
Americans may be leery of mixing religion and politics, but our major political parties seem to believe that religion and politics are like a salad – the more thoroughly mixed the better. As the Jewish Telegraphic Agency (JTA) reported recently, the Democratic National Convention begins in a couple of days, and several prayer services and other religious events are on the program.
"The convention is kicking off with a multifaith gathering on Sunday that will include Scripture readings from Jewish, Christian, Muslim and Buddhist lay and cloth leaders, and the week's proceedings will be studded with 'faith panels,'" reported the JTA.
At least seven rabbis will play an "unprecedented role" during the convention, said the news agency. It went on to note that several evangelical Christians will be taking part as well. Among them are Joel Hunter, a Florida pastor who is gaining national prominence; moderate evangelical Jim Wallis of Call to Action, and, perhaps most interestingly, Cameron Strang, son of Charisma magazine founder Steve Strang. Charisma is popular among charismatic Christians and leans sharply to the right politically. Cameron Strang had originally been invited to give a benediction but decided not to go through with that. He will instead speak on a panel titled "Faith in the '08 Election."
The party program lists numerous faith-oriented events and lists religious leaders of various stripes offering invocations and benedictions. The Republican Party's program has not yet been released, but it traditionally contains a huge dollop of religion as well.
Not everyone is pleased. "It's excessive, it's aggressive and it's beyond saying 'vote for me because I'm a person of faith,'" Abraham Foxman, national director of the Anti-Defamation League, told the JTA. "It's all over the conventions, and that's not where religion belongs."
Americans United Executive Director Barry W. Lynn added, "Private groups can do whatever they want, but it's a troubling trend to emphasize so often the connection between a party and a particular religious outlook."
It is indeed troubling – and, increasingly, it's an approach record numbers of Americans are rejecting.