Role of Clergy in 2004 Election Questioned

The re-election of President Bush has been heralded as a victory for Christian “values voters” through and through – numerous Christian groups even listed it as one of the top three events that occurred in the past year. However, according to more moderate and liberal Christians, the role of the church was not as impacting as some have claimed.

"I think the role of clergy is often overstated," said James Matthew Wilson, a political science professor at Southern Methodist University in Dallas. "Secular people like to think of religious voters as naive, unthinking automatons who are specifically instructed by their pastors on what candidates to vote for. For the most part, though, voters don't need specific political direction from clergy to find the candidates who most closely align with their values."

Rev. Steve Ross, pastor of the McMinnville United Methodist Church, said to the United Methodist News Service (UMNS) that those outside the church may have been “driven further away” by what some perceive to be a "very triumphalistic attitude among the conservative right."

"When people talk about taking this country back, that sets this type of person off," Ross said. "To them, they're being told they're unholy or ungodly and to go away."

According to Ross, religion was not a main factor in determining the outcome of the election, but religion did come into the spotlight after the media frenzy that followed the election.

"In my part of the country, 80 percent of the people are unchurched," he said. "They consider themselves spiritual, but they're highly individualistic and, at the same time, interested. They might wonder what religion has to offer, if it obviously can get people together to accomplish something."

Exit polls have consistently shown a strong correlation between the religiosity of a person and their political affiliation – the more religious and protestant you are, the more likely you are to vote for President Bush. These same mostly republican voters were also found to be more pro-life and pro-traditional marriage.

Wilson noted that the last two presidential campaigns “have set a patter that will endure for the foreseeable future.”

"The issues at the core of the values debate - abortion, gay marriage, religion in schools - are not going to go away any time soon,” Wilson added.

Wilson also said, however, that the clergy’s role should be limited to rallying support for civic duty – not making the decision on behalf of the congregation.

Clergy's role is best limited to presenting voting in the historical context and limiting personal admonitions, he added, according to UMNSA.

"Clergy may play a role in helping to emphasize the moral dimension of politics," he said, "but that is usually the extent of it."