Mixing Religion and Politics – bad for religion too

Check out this fascinating new study from the Barna group that appears to show the damage that is being done to the Christian faith by the political actions of right wing fundamentalists. This should serve as a serious wake-up call for the culture warriors who are attempting to increase the role of religion in politics – they are alienating the next generation of believers and non-believers severely.

The study shows that 16- to 29-year-olds exhibit a greater degree of criticism toward Christianity than did previous generations when they were at the same stage of life. In fact, in just a decade, many of the Barna measures of the Christian image have shifted substantially downward, fueled in part by a growing sense of disengagement and disillusionment among young people. For instance, a decade ago the vast majority of Americans outside the Christian faith, including young people, felt favorably toward Christianity’s role in society. Currently, however, just 16% of non-Christians in their late teens and twenties said they have a “good impression” of Christianity.

One of the groups hit hardest by the criticism is evangelicals. Such believers have always been viewed with skepticism in the broader culture. However, those negative views are crystallizing and intensifying among young non-Christians. The new study shows that only 3% of 16 – to 29-year-old non-Christians express favorable views of evangelicals. This means that today’s young non-Christians are eight times less likely to experience positive associations toward evangelicals than were non-Christians of the Boomer generation (25%).

The study explored twenty specific images related to Christianity, including ten favorable and ten unfavorable perceptions. Among young non-Christians, nine out of the top 12 perceptions were negative. Common negative perceptions include that present-day Christianity is judgmental (87%), hypocritical (85%), old-fashioned (78%), and too involved in politics (75%) – representing large proportions of young outsiders who attach these negative labels to Christians. The most common favorable perceptions were that Christianity teaches the same basic ideas as other religions (82%), has good values and principles (76%), is friendly (71%), and is a faith they respect (55%).

Even among young Christians, many of the negative images generated significant traction. Half of young churchgoers said they perceive Christianity to be judgmental, hypocritical, and too political. One-third said it was old-fashioned and out of touch with reality.

So why is this happening? Who exactly is to blame for this view among both Christians and non-Christians that their religion is hypocritical and overly political? I think this study shows that it’s the culture warriors.

Interestingly, the study discovered a new image that has steadily grown in prominence over the last decade. Today, the most common perception is that present-day Christianity is “anti-homosexual.” Overall, 91% of young non-Christians and 80% of young churchgoers say this phrase describes Christianity. As the research probed this perception, non-Christians and Christians explained that beyond their recognition that Christians oppose homosexuality, they believe that Christians show excessive contempt and unloving attitudes towards gays and lesbians. One of the most frequent criticisms of young Christians was that they believe the church has made homosexuality a “bigger sin” than anything else. Moreover, they claim that the church has not helped them apply the biblical teaching on homosexuality to their friendships with gays and lesbians.

The result appears to be a continuing alienation of each subsequent generation towards Christianity.


And the Barna researchers believe that this isn’t just a trend seen in young people that will reverse as they get older.

As pointed out in the Barna Update related to atheists and agnostics, this is not a passing fad wherein young people will become “more Christian” as they grow up. While Christianity remains the typical experience and most common faith in America, a fundamental recalibration is occurring within the spiritual allegiance of America’s upcoming generations.

I think the message is clear to those that are willing to see it. Politics and religion is bad for both politics and religion. It is generally believed that one of the reasons religion has been so successful in the US while it has waned in European countries is because there has been separation of church and state in this country. When religion interferes in politics it has classically generated contempt and animosity for religion. As fundamentalists have become the most vocal and visible element in Christianity due to their politicking for bigotry towards gays and lesbians, as well as foolish abstinence laws and legislated morality, their public image has been severely compromised both within and without the Christian community.

H/T Box Turtle Bulletin.