The new Pew Research Center for the People and the Press poll on religion and American politics was published today and there are some surprising results. Nearly as many Americans, for example, identify with "liberal Christianity" as with "evangelical Christianity."
But unlike the religious right, the Pew Research Center notes that those in the "religious left" tend to be more divided and less, well, orthodox about issues.
The survey finds that religious conservatives, and white evangelical Christians specifically, have no equal and opposite group on the religious left. About 7% of the public say they identify with the "religious left" political movement. That is not much smaller than the 11% who identify themselves as members of the "religious right," but the religious left is considerably less cohesive in its political views than the religious right.
The survey traced the spiritual roots of the religious right and left to two broader faith communities. On the right, white evangelical Christians comprise 24% of the population and form a distinct group whose members share core religious beliefs as well as crystallized and consistently conservative political attitudes.
On the left, a larger share of the public (32%) identifies as "liberal or progressive Christians." But unlike evangelicals, progressive Christians come from different religious traditions and disagree almost as often as they agree on a number of key political and social issues.
These differences in the makeup of the religious left and right are an important reason why white evangelicals remain a more politically potent force. On issues ranging from the origins of life to Christ's second coming, evangelicals express distinctly different views from those held by the rest of the public and even other religious groups.
Political partisans who want a counter weight to the Religious Right will be upset that progressive Christians cannot articulate a political vision with the same success as groups like Focus on the Family have done.
As a progressive Christian, I take (of course) another view: the divisions among progressive Christians on different social issues may show evidence of a rich theology at work that allows for debate and discernment instead of ridge adherence to a political master.
With an eye cast to the November elections it is worth noting that only a quarter of Americans viewed Democrats as being "friendly" towards religion. No surprise there. When U.S. Senator Barack Obama gave the keynote address earlier this year at the Call to Renewal Conference and spoke about his faith and emerging views on religion and politics there was an outcry from some quarters of the Democratic Party (certainly among many liberal bloggers). Democrats seem unable to speak about faith even though most of their members are religious.
There is a wealth of information to read through in this poll. Enjoy.