The vote earlier this month in Kansas on an abortion issue once again raised the question of how involved religious institutions are -- or should be -- in political matters.
To begin an exploration of that question, I want to say something I've said more than once before: The idea of church-state separation in the U.S. should not keep religious voices out of the public square. Rather, it should keep the government from interfering in religion.
That said, there are -- and should be -- restrictions on what houses of worship can do politically if they are to retain their non-profit status with the Internal Revenue Service. Pastors, for instance, should not endorse specific political candidates from the pulpit.
And yet in many ways faith communities are inevitably engaged in politics. The very first creed of what became Christianity -- "Jesus is Lord" -- was a deeply political statement, implying that Caesar was not lord. (Ask Caesar how he liked that, assuming you and he spend the afterlife in the same place.)
So it was not surprising to find that in the recent election in Kansas, faith communities were deeply involved. As KCUR-FM reported before the election, for instance, "The proposed amendment — which would say the Kansas Constitution does not protect access to abortion — has received support from the Catholic Church, the Kansas-Nebraska Convention of Southern Baptists and the Lutheran Church–Missouri Synod, Kansas District. All told, each organization oversees or is affiliated with hundreds of churches across Kansas, creating a powerful force urging churchgoers to vote for a change to the constitution."
And as the National Catholic Reporter noted, "In Kansas, both sides together spent more than $14 million on their campaigns. Abortion providers and abortion rights groups were key donors to the 'no' side, while Catholic dioceses heavily funded the 'yes' campaign." In fact, here is an RNS story describing how the vote was "a rejection of the Catholic Church hierarchy."
It turns out that this whole area of religion's involvement in politics has been the subject of scholarly attention over the years. This RNS story, for instance, describes a fairly recent Pew Research Center study about what people in the pews are hearing about political matters from the pulpit.
The story says that the Pew study "in March of 2021 asked people if they had heard sermons that contained references to the fallout from the 2020 presidential election in the previous month. The survey asked about four topics specifically: the possibility that the 2020 election was rigged, former President Donald Trump’s inaccurate statements about election fraud, as well as support for or opposition to those who stormed the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021."
You can find answers to those questions at the story link I've given you. But here's one part of what was found: "Democrats, the poll found, were just as likely as Republicans to hear the winner of the (2020) presidential election mentioned from the pulpit. However, when asked if their pastor had called Trump out for making false statements about election fraud, Democrats were nearly three times more likely to answer affirmatively compared with Republicans (20% vs. 7%)."
One thing that tells us is that people tend to belong to faith communities that are in some way in harmony with their political views -- or at least communities that don't actively criticize political positions members take.
Another important faith-politics connection is this: If your religious beliefs don't somehow inform or at least help to shape your political beliefs (using that term in a broad, not a partisan, way), what good are they? One's theology should help form how one lives every part of one's life, including politics, and how one relates to others. Otherwise it's an empty shell.
(By the way, a new survey of students who plan to attend a four-year college shows that about a quarter of them say they won't consider applying to a school in a state in which abortion is banned. Imagine that.)
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WHO WINS WHEN FAITH GROUPS ARE ON OPPOSITE SIDES?
To continue the theme above a bit, Jamie Manson, president of Catholics for Choice and former book review editor of The National Catholic Reporter, has written this opinion piece suggesting that the U.S. Supreme Court's recent decision overturning Roe v Wade wasn't nearly the victory for people of faith that the recent vote by Kansans to protect abortion rights was. "The vote in Kansas," she wrote, "shows that when pro-choice people of faith speak, act and vote their values, they can win even when they are up against the power, money and influence of the Catholic hierarchy."
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P.S.: The U.S. Department of Justice has started an investigation into the Southern Baptist Convention in the wake of SBC messengers, or delegates, to the denomination's recent annual meeting passing a resolution On Lament and Repentance for Sexual Abuse. Southern Baptists also voted overwhelmingly then to adopt a report that approved recommendations toward addressing and preventing sexual abuse in the SBC and its churches. The first link in this paragraph will take you to an SBC announcement of the DOJ investigation. This link will take to you a story about this by Christianity Today.