Over the past few weeks, a national polling firm for LifeWay Research and the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission conducted a survey asking Americans to respond to this statement: "I am concerned that at times Christians are too involved in politics."
The results were quite informative. The majority of Americans (52%) either "strongly disagree" (32%) or "somewhat disagree" (20%) with the statement. Even larger majorities of faith-affiliated Americans disagreed with the statement. When researchers asked Americans who attended religious services of any faith at least once a week, disagreement with the statement was even higher, with 65% indicating they were comfortable with Christians being involved in politics, and only 21% expressing varying discomfort with Christians' political activity.
Those who self-identify themselves as "born-again," "evangelical," or "fundamentalist" expressed the highest level of disagreement (72%) with the assertion that "at times Christians are too involved in politics" with only 27% telling pollsters they agreed ("strongly" or "somewhat") with the statement.
These results do not surprise me at all. They underscore and reinforce the feedback I receive on a consistent basis from grassroots Christians of all perspectives, particularly conservative Christians – Catholic and Protestant.
The survey's findings are particularly dramatic given the fact that LifeWay Research and the ERLC worded the poll's question in a way that would elicit the most negative response possible, by using the word "politics" as opposed to "social issues" or "public policy." "Politics" has a negative connotation and is often perceived as partisan, rancorous, and something that many Christians feel is too "worldly."
If we had posed the question, "I'm concerned that at times Christians are too involved in social issues or public policy," I am quite confident the level of disagreement with the statement would have been even higher.
These polling results suggest that those pundits, analysts, and religious leaders that tell us that people of faith are disillusioned with politics and public policy need to get out more and talk with the people who actually go to churches, mosques, synagogues, and temples. If they did, they would find that the people who most often attended religious services disagree with their assessment by an almost two to one margin, 65 percent to 31 percent. On a more personal note, among Southern Baptist pastors who were asked the question of whether "at times, Christians are too involved in politics", two thirds of them either "strongly disagreed" (41%) or "somewhat disagreed" (26%).
When people of faith enter the political process they should always understand that their ultimate allegiance is to the Almighty, not any ideology or party. People of faith have an obligation to be involved as "salt" and "light" in the world, and that includes "politics." They should be voting their values, beliefs, and convictions, based on their understanding of the imperatives of their faith.
This column originally published at Casting Stones, a blog hosted by Beliefnet.com.
Dr. Richard Land is president of The Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission, the Southern Baptist Convention's official entity assigned to address social, moral, and ethical concerns, with particular attention to their impact on American families and their faith.