Christian nationalist groups see themselves as the great defenders of faith in America. They moan constantly about alleged efforts to drive religion out of the public square and work to undermine church-state separation, all in the name (supposedly) of protecting Christianity from “persecution.”
It’s highly ironic, then, that their efforts may actually be leading growing numbers of Americans to abandon religion entirely.
The site Fivethirtyeight recently ran an interesting column by Amelia Thomson-DeVeaux and Daniel Cox examining a spate of social science research exploring the question of why so many Americans are disconnecting from religious denominations. The two cite a paper by sociologists Michael Hout and Claude Fischer, who in 2002 put forth a theory that, “Distaste for the Christian right’s involvement with politics was prompting some left-leaning Americans to walk away from religion.”
Since then, Thomson-DeVeaux and Cox assert, other researches have undertaken studies that back up the Hout-Fischer thesis.
“Other research showed that the blend of religious activism and Republican politics likely played a significant role in increasing the number of religiously unaffiliated people,” write Thomson-DeVeaux and Cox. “One study, for instance, found that something as simple as reading a news story about a Republican who spoke in a church could actually prompt some Democrats to say they were nonreligious. ‘It’s like an allergic reaction to the mixture of Republican politics and religion,’ said David Campbell, a political scientist at the University of Notre Dame and one of the study’s co-authors.”
This effect is really pronounced in people who consider themselves to be liberal politically. Studies show that the more liberal you are, the more likely you are to be religiously unaffiliated. But it’s interesting to note that there has been an uptick – albeit a more modest one – in the number of conservatives and moderates who say they don’t hew to a particular faith either. That number has doubled since 1992.
The results of all of these studies would seem to indicate that the reckless mixture of partisan politics with religion – something Americans United has always stood against – isn’t in the best long-term interest of the religious community.
Conservatives may shrug at this data, asserting that they don’t care because right now, it’s mostly liberals who are leaving organized religion. But they should check that complacency. Polling data shows that the vast majority of Americans of all political views oppose houses of worship being used to promote or attack candidates for public office.
Put simply, Americans attend houses of worship to receive spiritual solace, not political marching orders. The more politics invades the pulpit, the more likely people are to vote with their feet.