According to a new study cited by The New York Times, religious groups are a huge contributor to what is now the biggest political divide in recent U.S. memory.
Researchers found that people in their respective congregations are definitely divided when it comes to political ideology. But their respective religious leaders are even more so, with groups such as Unitarians and Jews being more liberal and evangelicals and Baptists being “overwhelmingly Republican.”
The study, titled Partisan Pastor: The Politics of 130,000 American Religious Leaders, found that even though there’s been a decline in religious worship in the recent years, church leaders still wield powerful influence, having “more opportunity than any other group of professionals in the U.S. to set political agendas, mobilize action, and influence opinion.”
The researchers, Eitan D. Hersh, Assistant Professor of Political Science at Yale and Gabrielle Malina, a doctoral candidate in government at Harvard, add that “when religious communities make consequential political decisions — for example whether to provide sanctuary to undocumented immigrants — it is largely up to the clergy to decide how to act.”
Our data on pastors’ political affiliations provide unmistakeable support for the hypothesis that denomination is a powerful proxy for the partisanship of pastors. Both within and between faith traditions, American clergy are significantly diverse in their political affiliations, suggesting that different religious denominations have profoundly different orientations toward politics; such differences are likely due to theological traditions and orthodoxy, as well as denomination-specific norms surrounding politics and political behavior.
The study seems to suggest that as religious practice gradually decreases, the most extreme elements have risen to the helm, helping to shape a modern political climate that may otherwise have been more tame.
From The New York Times:
The data brings fresh evidence to questions that have long been of interest to researchers. Does a religious leader who is significantly more liberal or conservative than his congregation bring their views more in line with his? Or are churches more like markets, where congregants attend a place of worship that best reflects their worldview? The data suggests both can be true: Clergy influence the views of their congregants, but they also represent the communities where they serve.
“They’re like members of Congress,” Mr. Hersh said. “They have constituents, but they’re also expected to lead.”
Featured image via YouTube