April 15, 2004
A March 2004 poll for Religion & Ethics Newsweekly and U.S. News & World Report indicates that Evangelical Christians in America agree on some important issues that help to bind them as a unified constituency. But the survey also reveals that, although U.S. Evangelicals have gained a secure footing in mainstream America over the years, they are not completely comfortable with their society and are much more diverse than that society often perceives them to be.
The poll found a number of uniting factors. For instance, the overwhelming majority of Evangelicals agree that personal faith in Christ is the only way to salvation, as compared with only 56 percent of non-evangelical Protestants and 38 percent of Catholics. Also, a strong majority (72 percent) of evangelical Americans believe the mass media are hostile to their moral and spiritual values; three-fourths of this group feel they have to fight to be heard in their society; and nearly half feel that evangelical Christians are looked down on by most other Americans.
In addition, the survey found that despite Evangelicals' involvement in global issues such as human rights and religious freedom, they rank military strength, controlling weapons of mass destruction, and fighting terrorism as much more important than international relief efforts or foreign aid for improving living standards in less developed countries.
Still, for all the ideological ties that bind Evangelicals to one another, researchers found that the voice of evangelical America is not unified in all respects. Some of the greatest division, perhaps unsurprisingly, can be seen along racial lines. Black, white, and Hispanic Evangelicals differ significantly on political, social, and moral questions.
For example, some 69 percent of white Evangelicals say they are Republican or lean that way, while 84 percent of African American Evangelicals identify themselves as being or leaning Democrat. And significantly, more than a third of white Evangelicals ranked moral values as their greatest concern, while only 16 percent of African Americans and 13 percent of Hispanics said that moral values worried them most.
The U.S. economy and jobs were more often ranked as the biggest worries for blacks (41 percent) and Hispanics (34 percent), while only 25 percent of white Evangelicals ranked those concerns first. And although white Evangelicals are almost evenly divided about whether the nation is currently moving in the right direction or is on the wrong track, an overwhelming majority of African Americans feel the country is definitely going wrong.
Polarization at the Polls?
Clearly race must be factored into the description of the Evangelical mindset. As John Green, organizer of the March survey, pointed out in an Associated Press interview, black and white evangelicals are particularly divided over political concerns. He noted, "Black Evangelicals look like white Evangelicals in terms of many religious beliefs -- the view of the Bible, the view of salvation -- but when it comes to politics, they're almost exactly the opposite."
Green says 71 percent of white Evangelicals said they would vote for President Bush over Senator John Kerry if the election were held today, while about 85 percent of Black evangelicals said they would vote for Kerry.
Nevertheless, on many other domestic issues such as Social Security and health care, white Evangelical thinking was found to be similar to that of other groups. Asked specifically about the direction of moral values in the nation, researchers found only slight discrepancies, with more than three-fourths of white Evangelicals, 94 percent of black Evangelicals, 74 percent of Hispanics, and 71 percent of Americans in general agreeing that the country's moral values have gone seriously off track.
Notably, Green says the majority of Evangelical Christians are very much in accord in their opposition to homosexual marriage and civil unions. "They're very strongly opposed to gay marriage," he says, and "over 80 percent supported traditional marriage over civil unions or same-sex marriage."
Still, Green notes that less than half of Evangelical Christians in America believe a federal constitutional amendment is the best way to deal with the problem of homosexual marriage. He says the majority feel that allowing state legislatures to address the issue would be more appropriate.
The results of the Evangelical Survey for Religion and Ethics Newsweekly and U.S. News & World Report will be the basis of an upcoming four-part series scheduled for broadcast on PBS stations the weekend of April 16.
Detailed results from the survey are available on the Internet at http://www.pbs.org/wnet/religionandethics/week733/results.pdf.
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