09 September 2006

Do Protestant Ministers Use the Pulpit to Advocate Extreme Political Views?

Rochester has what I suspect is the most boring public radio stations in the country. If you don't believe me give WXXI a try. So, in the car I drive I usually listen to some of the local college stations or a local jazz station that is supported by one of the suburban school districts. This afteroon, I was searching for one of the latter as I drove into town. As you may have noticed the lower reches of the FM dial - the frequencies down betwee 87 and, say 91 - that used to be occupied by just such stations are now crowded with religious broadcasters of various sorts. I happened on one Christian station (from the Salem Radio Network) just at news time and heard a very interesting story.

It turns out that Ellison Research has conducted a survey of protest clergy and laity for a publication of the Southern Baptist Convention. The results are especially revealing. It turns out that Protestant clergy are considerably more conservative politically than the folks in their congregations. There is variation on this across denominations, but overall when asked to self-identify politically 62% of clergy said they were "conservative," while only 23% claimed to be "moderate," and 15% considered themselves "liberal." No real surprise there. By contrast, however, the figures for protestant laity were 38% "conservative," 45% "moderate" and 17% "liberal." Neither the clergy nor the laity, according to the study, seem to recognize this rather large discrepancy. And, most troubling, the more conservative clergy feel especially justified in using their office and the pulpit to push conservative political views, despite the fact that many of the laity find such activity inappropriate.

I am confident that these survey results will disturb all those conservative types who spend their time worrying about how all we "liberal" college professors are mis-using our positions to proselytize for leftist views in the classroom (to say nothing of all those reporters who populate the "liberal media"). After all, here is an influential group - ministers - who claim special insight into God's Will, who spend much time and energy cultivating the trust of their congregations, who differ significantly from their congregants politically, and who seem entirely willing to advocate their own extreme (non-mainstream) political views in their sermons and so forth! I have myself benefitted from the unsolicted attention of some local right-wingers. I am glad they now can turn their efforts toward the clearly urgent task of monitoring the really politically dangerous actors in the community!


Anonymous Anonymous said...

I think your comments here are very insightful - I wonder if I should email this post to David Horowitz an idea for a sequel to "The Professors."

There was a recent piece in the LA Times that highlighted two new polls on Americans attitude to religion that were conducted by the Pew Foundation. The post reports:

"Nearly all participants in the poll who attend religious services at least once a month say their spiritual leaders speak out on hunger and poverty. And majorities of those who attend services said their clergy discuss abortion (59%), Iraq (53%) and homosexuality (52%). Nearly half (48%) said clergy discuss the environment and four in 10 said they talk about evolution."

Of course that does not tells us whether the above mentioned clergy proffer charitable or political solutions to hunger and poverty - perhaps they do both. Nor their positions on the other issues mentioned. Overall the piece is in line with the poll you describe, suggesting most Americans are somewhat more moderate in their opinions on religion than the public commentary on the subject might lead us to believe.

On an entirely different topic - you might be interested to know about a conference that is going to take place at the Univesity of Connecticut, October 13-15 - Humanitarian Responses to Narratives of Inflicted Suffering. Though it does not seem as though there is a specific discussion of photogaphy, visual representation is an area under consideration. But what caught my eye was this desciption of the event;

"The main themes of this conference are: first, to understand the character, form and voice of the narratives themselves; and second, to explain how and why some narratives of suffering become part of political movements of solidarity, whereas others do not."

I thought that went along with one of the themes you post regulary on here, about the political aspects of photography. Here is a link to the conference info

10 September, 2006 07:16  
Blogger Jim Johnson said...

Thanks for both leads. I am not sure how reliable the survey I posted on actually is - there is no discussion of sampling error, etc. This was mostly just a provocation. If a similar report had been released about liberals in nearly any profession the right would be frothing at the mouth with denunciaiton.

I had heard about this conference from one fellow - Matthew Powell - who is presenting his photographic work. But the conference seems to more or less wholly neglect visual images otherwise, which is a bit odd. Perhaps people believe Sontag when she claims (mistakenly in my view) that photography cannot sustain narrative.

10 September, 2006 10:02  

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