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How you view organized religion may depend on your political party

Research shows that Democrats and Republicans have very different ideas about the value of organized religion

This article was first published in the State of Faith newsletter. Sign up to receive the newsletter in your inbox each Monday night.

Democrats and Republicans disagree on a lot these days, including the trustworthiness of religious institutions.

A recent Gallup poll found that just 26% of Americans who identify as a Democrat or lean Democratic have a “great deal” or “quite a lot” of confidence in organized religion, compared to 51% of Republicans and Republican-leaners.

When I first saw those figures, I was shocked by that partisan gap. Although I’ve written quite a bit about the growing significance of nonreligious voters in the Democratic Party, I hadn’t previously thought about that trend fueling a crisis of trust.

After doing more research, I can’t deny that such a crisis exists. Multiple recent surveys have shown that Democrats are more concerned than Republicans about religion’s impact on American life.

“Most Republicans say churches and other religious organizations generally do more good than harm in American society (71%), strengthen morality in society (68%) and mostly bring people together rather than push them apart (65%), while fewer than half of Democrats take each of these positions,” Pew Research Center reported in 2019.

To be clear, there are still many Democrats who identify as religious and worry about religion’s declining influence in the world. But, within their party, surveys show they’re the exception, not the rule, which helps explain why America’s two major parties increasingly clash over religion-related laws.

Moving forward, religious leaders will need to work to not only close the partisan gap, but also build trust within both parties. After all, the share of Republicans who have a “great deal” or “quite a lot” of confidence in organized religion — 51% — is still somewhat low.


Fresh off the press

I took on extra editing duties last week, so I didn’t publish anything new. But it was my pleasure to help shape some great religion stories by my colleagues, including Jennifer Graham’s reflection on the surprisingly secular nature of Jeff Bezos’ trip to space and Mya Jaradat’s look at what the National Association of Christian Lawmakers accomplished during its first annual policy conference.


Term of the week: Pioneer Day

I had Friday off from work thanks to a holiday I’d never heard of before moving to Utah. It’s called Pioneer Day, and it commemorates men and women who traveled West during the pioneer era in search of religious freedom, including members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

Pioneer Day celebrations are similar to Fourth of July fun. There are parades, fireworks and lots of family barbecues. If you’re the parent of a small child like I am, there are also many diaper changes and tantrums, just like on every other day of the week.


What I’m reading...

President Joe Biden, like his predecessor, is working to boost religious freedom around the world. However, unlike the Trump administration, Biden’s team doesn’t put religion-related concerns at the center of their international human rights work. In a recent column for The Hill, scholar Elizabeth Shakman Hurd argued in favor of reducing religion’s role in foreign policy decisions.

On a related note, the U.S. will soon withdraw its last remaining troops from Afghanistan, a move that could exacerbate religious tensions in the Middle East. The White House has said it will use diplomacy and humanitarian aid to protect members of religious minority groups affected by the shift in military strategy, according to Baptist News Global.

Wally Funk became the oldest person to travel to space when she left Earth’s atmosphere last week alongside Jeff Bezos. Members of her church, White Chapel United Methodist in Southlake, Texas, held a watch party to commemorate the event. “This is just helping people dream about what’s possible,” Funk’s pastor, the Rev. John McKellar, told Religion News Service.


Odds and ends

Earlier this month, I wrote about the Pray Safe Act, a bill that calls on the government to do more to keep houses of worship safe from violent attacks. Although the bill has yet to pass, the Biden administration is already working to meet this goal. Last week, the Department of Homeland Security announced it had handed out $180 million as part of its Nonprofit Security Grant Program. Churches and synagogues were among the recipients.

Last week, my beloved Milwaukee Bucks won the NBA championship. I was so happy for them, but also grateful for the chance to learn more about their opponent, the Phoenix Suns, and especially that team’s coach, Monty Williams, who credits his faith with keeping him humble on good days and calm on bad ones.

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