Most Americans don't believe Christians are too involved in politics, according to a new survey which challenged common media portrayals that say otherwise.
The survey released Wednesday by LifeWay Research found that 52 percent of Americans disagreed with the statement, "I am concerned that at times Christians are too involved in politics." Less than half, 44 percent, somewhat or strongly agreed with the statement.
An even smaller minority of those who attend religious services at least weekly don't hold the perception that Christians are too embroiled in politics. Only 21 percent of religiously affiliated persons said they believe Christians at times are too politically involved.
Born-again, evangelical or fundamentalist Americans were most likely to strongly disagree with the claim that Christians are too involved in politics with 72 percent indicating disapproval.
"These results do no surprise me at all," said Richard Land, president of the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission, which commissioned the survey as a joint project with LifeWay. "They underscore and reinforce the feedback I get on a consistent basis from grassroots Christians of all perspectives, particularly conservative Christians – Catholic and Protestant."
Land went on to say that the survey results are in line with history and how people of faith have engaged political issues that have a "moral component."
"Perhaps the most dramatic examples of religiously motivated movements generated in reaction to grave social injustice are the Abolitionist Movement against human bondage and the Civil Rights Movement in opposition to segregation and racial injustice," Land said. "The Abolitionist and the Civil Rights Movements are not explicable or comprehensible apart from the religiously motivated outrage that created them, the religious leaders who led them and the religious supporters who made possible their eventual triumph."
The prominent Southern Baptist leader encouraged participation in politics, arguing that people of faith have an obligation to be involved in the process and to do so in a principled, issue-oriented fashion.
"We should be voting our values, beliefs and convictions based upon our understanding of the imperatives of our faith," he commented.
Christians, particularly pastors, have been urged by conservative evangelical groups during the 2008 presidential election year to remove their muzzles and speak on political issues and even present overviews of candidates' positions.
Family Research Council, Focus on the Family, Alliance Defense Fund, Concerned Women for America, and the James Madison Center for Free Speech issued a letter – "Constitutional Protections for Pastors: Your Freedom to Speak Biblical Truth on the Moral Issues of the Day" – to pastors nationwide in October informing them of their right to speak on politically-related issues.
"[I]n regards to public policy, it is a both/and, not either/or," said Ed Stetzer, director of LifeWay Research. "You cannot stand for justice and be told you cannot speak of Jesus, nor can you love God and His Word and not care for unborn children, the abused and social justice."
Stetzer, however, advised against crafting an informal alliance with a single political party.
"Christians need to speak prophetically to all parties, not be beholden to one," he said. "If evangelicals are seen as a voting bloc of the Republican Party, I am concerned. If Christians are told to leave their faith outside the public square, I am more concerned."
Survey results are based on the response of over 1,200 Americans who were polled April 10-12, 2008.