Public Supports Religion in Social Sector, Questions Politics, Says Report


The American public is optimistic about the role religion can play to improve the nation's moral quality, said a report released last month by Public Agenda, a research organization founded in 1975.

Americans "see religion as a unique force especially capable of righting a ship on the wrong course," read the report entitled "For Goodness' Sake."

Citing a 1998 Gallup poll, the report noted that 49 percent of Americans said the nation had a "moral crisis," while 41 percent said the state of morality was "a major problem."

The Public Agenda's telephone survey found that 69 percent of Americans said more religion would help strengthen family values and moral behavior in America.

If more Americans were "deeply religious," 79 percent of those surveyed said crime would decrease. Eighty-seven percent said Americans would do more volunteer work and 85 percent said parents would do a better job raising their kids.

Accompanying the high marks given to religion as "an antidote to declining social morality" was a healthy skepticism about religion in politics.

The report found "religion in the service of inspiration and emotional fortitude is one thing--in the service of policy making it is quite another. Here many Americans seem to harbor their misgivings or indifference."

The majority of survey participants said they were "less likely to vote for a candidate who 'relies on church leaders for advice on how to vote on specific legislation.'"

Roughly a quarter of Americans said they "would be more likely to vote for a candidate who always votes for legislation according to his or her religious convictions."

Those surveyed were split over the question of whether religious leaders were "intruding into areas best left to politicians when they speak out on political issues." Forty-nine percent saw intrusion, while 48 percent did not.

Interestingly, "the public does not view religious leaders' involvement as the cure-all that will transform politics for the better," according to the report.

Robert Parham is BCE's executive director.

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