Nationalist White Christians favoring U.S. church-state integration (rather than separation) are even outliers in the Republican Party, according to a new Pew Research Center report on American religiosity.
That’s fascinating because the Christian Right (and Republicans in general) seem so hell-bent on establishing an American Christian theocracy, despite our Founding Fathers’ secular vision that was decidedly earthbound, not heaven-sent. And many nonreligious citizens assume that all Republicans are like-minded with zealous evangelicals. Not so, Pew’s data shows.
On one hand, it’s encouraging to learn that a majority of Americans (55 percent) oppose any religion jumping in bed with our government, according to this latest Pew survey, released late last month. Its summary report is titled “In U.S., Far More Support Than Oppose Separation of Church and State: But there are pockets of support for increased church-state integration, more Christianity in public life.”.
On the flip side, it’s deeply worrisome, as the Pew data also shows, that those many U.S. citizens who do support church-state integration (largely White, nationalist, evangelical Protestants) hold some flimsy, fact-debunked views.
For example, Pew notes that,
“These [new survey] results are consistent with much of the existing research on Christian nationalism, which demonstrates that among White people, Christian nationalism is linked with support for the Republican Party, enthusiasm for Trump, hostility toward immigrants and denial that racism is pervasive or systemic in America. … [and that a majority of White Americans] reject the idea that being a Black person is a lot more difficult than being a White person in the U.S. today.
“In fact, strong church-state separationists are the only group of White respondents who are mostly Democrats, who mostly think Trump was a below average president, and among whom a majority say being a Black person in the U.S. today is a lot more difficult than being a White person.
“In other words, to the extent that church-state views are connected with other social and political attitudes among White respondents, those with the strongest church-state separationist viewpoint, are in some ways more distinctive from other White people than are those with church-state integrationist views.” (boldface mine)
Which is to say that still far too many White Americans are fine with the concept of church-state integration than is healthy for our secular democracy. Thankfully, with all key demographics represented (as in the latest Pew survey), 55 percent of Americans overall rejected church-state integration, 28 percent “strongly,” Pew reported.
In contrast, the report emphasized, only about one-in-seven U.S. adults (14%) — but that’s still many millions of Americans — express support for a “church-state integrationist perspective.”
So, happily, from a secular democratic vantage, “integrationists,” as Pew reported, are overall outliers, :
“The survey shows, furthermore, that even in the groups that tend to express the most support for the intermingling of church and state, the ‘church-state integrationist’ perspective is the exception, not the norm. Among White evangelical Protestants, for example, fewer than half (36%) express consistent support for a church-state integrationist perspective, although this is larger than the share of White evangelicals who favor the separation of church and state (26%).”
These results also track politically. Among Democrats and Democrat-leaning Americans, alternatively, a lopsided 72 percent prefer a strong church-state divide, Pew reported, compared with but 38 percent of Republicans (another 25 percent of GOP members favor integration of Christianity in U.S. government).
Surprisingly, the survey revealed that 38 percent of Black Americans, who are largely Democratic but also often fervently Christian, favor allowing public-school teachers being allowed to lead students in prayers. That’s even more than the 31 percent of White Americans overall who support that idea.
Discouragingly, majorities in each church-state integrationist category of the survey held clearly un-Constitutional views. Pew reported that 60 percent of these respondents wanted the federal government to “advocate Christian religious values,” and 88 percent favored allowing cities and towns to publicly exhibit religious displays and grant public school teachers the right to lead Christian prayers in class.
The percentages flipped with religious separationists, 58 percent of whom opposed public governmental religious displays, and 95 percent who adamantly rejected government ever declaring an official or favored religion.
Survey results show that support for church-state separation skews by education and age, with better educated and young Americans far more separatist in inclination than their opposites.
The good news is that extremist Christian Right views in American politics are currently held by nowhere near a majority , being roughly proportionate with the 26 percent of Americans who are atheist, agnostic or unaffiliated with any religion — the so-called “nones” (derived from their answer on official forms in declaring their religion).
Yet, politically, Christian Rightists have been consistently punching above their weight for decades, as newly emergent nonreligious Americans try to figure out how to develop effective political clout in American life. Religious Americans, particularly evangelicals, have been politically organized and successful since the 1980s Moral Majority movement got untracked, culminating in the 2016 election of now-former President Donald Trump. Christian lawmakers — Catholic and Protestant — not only dominate U.S. state houses and the U.S. Congress today but also the U.S. Supreme Court.
And in those venues is where religion gets insinuated into American governance, such as the addition of “under God” into the official Pledge of Allegiance and “In God We Trust” on all U.S. currency. These changes were spurred by congressionally amplified fear of “godless Communism” during the H-bomb terrors of the 1950s, and the need to appear more godly than Russia.
For the moment, separation of church and state in America is holding, somewhat, but influential Christian Right zealots keep trying, as with the 1950s divine slogans — occasionally successfully — to insert the dogma and practices of their faith into the tax-funded public square.
The divisiveness over church-state separation is historically not surprising in America and, as Pew noted, that “some Americans clearly long for a more avowedly religious and explicitly Christian country.”
It’s the age old conflict between what the Founding Fathers intended — a secular democracy based on reason — and the fact that most of the early settlers were fundamentalist Christian, evolving into modern-day dominance of the sect in U.S. affairs.
“The First Amendment to the United States Constitution states that the country shall have no official religion,” the Pew report points out. “At the same time, Christians continue to make up a large majority of U.S. adults – despite some rapid decline in recent years – and historians, politicians and religious leaders continue to debate the role of religion in the founders’ vision and of Christianity in the nation’s identity.”
Yet, it continues to be clear that U.S. Christians’ spiritual “longing” today does not match the Founders’ secular vision of yesteryear. And even their allies seem to understand that — as well as the inherent dangers of theocracy in a democracy.