Americans find­ing it eas­ier to talk pol­i­tics than re­li­gion

Daily Local News (West Chester, PA) - - OPINION - By Terry Mat­tingly Terry Mat­tingly is the ed­i­tor of GetReli­gion.org and Se­nior Fel­low for Me­dia and Re­li­gion at The King’s Col­lege in New York City.

While it’s hard to pin­point the pre­cise mo­ment it hap­pened, it’s clear that most Amer­i­can dis­cus­sions of re­li­gious lib­erty have turned into shout­ing matches about “re­li­gious lib­erty,” a term now com­monly framed in “scare quotes.”

The re­cent U.S. Com­mis­sion on Civil Rights “Peace­ful Co­ex­is­tence” re­port made this clear, claim­ing the First Amend­ment’s de­fense of the free ex­er­cise of re­li­gion is not as im­por­tant as some peo­ple think. Thus, “civil rights” now trump “re­li­gious lib­erty.”

The com­mis­sion stressed: “Re­li­gious ex­emp­tions to the pro­tec­tions of civil rights based upon clas­si­fi­ca­tions such as race, color, na­tional ori­gin, sex, dis­abil­ity sta­tus, sex­ual ori­en­ta­tion, and gen­der iden­tity, when they are per­mis­si­ble, sig­nif­i­cantly in­fringe upon these civil rights.”

In a quote that went vi­ral on­line, com­mis­sion chair Martin Cas­tro added: “The phrases ‘re­li­gious lib­erty’ and ‘re­li­gious free­dom’ will stand for noth­ing ex­cept hypocrisy so long as they re­main code words for dis­crim­i­na­tion, in­tol­er­ance, racism, sex­ism, ho­mo­pho­bia, Is­lam­o­pho­bia or any form of in­tol­er­ance.”

This cre­ates a ma­jor prob­lem for Americans who are wor­ried about civil pub­lic dis­course or even the odds of hav­ing friendly con­ver­sa­tions with friends, fam­ily and neigh­bors, noted Scott McCon­nell, head of LifeWay Re­search.

“What did our par­ents tell us when we were grow­ing up? They warned us not to talk about pol­i­tics, not to talk about re­li­gion and not to talk about sex,” he said in an in­ter­view.

Just how tense are Americans, when it comes to talk­ing about re­li­gion? Ac­cord­ing to a new LifeWay sur­vey, con­ducted dur­ing the chaotic pres­i­den­tial pri­maries in March, six in 10 Amer­i­can adults are more com­fort­able talk­ing about pol­i­tics than dis­cussing mat­ters of faith, spir­i­tu­al­ity and re­li­gion. McCon­nell said re­searchers al­lowed sur­vey par­tic­i­pants to use their per­sonal def­i­ni­tions of what is “po­lit­i­cal” and what is “spir­i­tual.” Thus, from the view­point of tra­di­tional re­li­gious believ­ers, a chat with friends or neigh­bors about sex and mar­riage might be seen as a “re­li­gious.” How­ever, peo­ple who con­sider them­selves lib­eral believ­ers or sec­u­lar non­be­liev­ers would prob­a­bly view the same con­ver­sa­tion as a po­ten­tially hos­tile de­bate about pol­i­tics. So who does, and who does not, want to talk about faith is­sues these days? Key find­ings in the LifeWay sur­vey in­cluded:

• About a quar­ter of the peo­ple sur­veyed said they would pre­fer to have fewer dis­cus­sions of spir­i­tual and re­li­gious is­sues. Only one in five said they wanted more.

• To no sur­prise, evan­gel­i­cals (32 per­cent), Americans 55 years old and over (26 per­cent) and peo­ple liv­ing in the Bi­ble Belt (24 per­cent) were the most likely to say they had spir­i­tual con­ver­sa­tions “less of­ten than I would like.”

• Lati­nos (38 per­cent), young adults (35 per­cent) and peo­ple who live in the highly sec­u­lar West (30 per­cent) were most likely to say they were in­volved in spir­i­tual con­ver­sa­tions “more of­ten than I would like.”

• Two-thirds of Americans (64 per­cent) said they had at least three con­ver­sa­tions about pol­i­tics in the pre­vi­ous month, while only 8 per­cent re­ported no con­ver­sa­tions about pol­i­tics. Fewer than half (44 per­cent) had three or more re­li­gious or spir­i­tual con­ver­sa­tions, while 22 per­cent said they had zero con­ver­sa­tions about spir­i­tual mat­ters.

• Men (69 per­cent) and nonevan­gel­i­cal Americans (65 per­cent) said they would rather talk about pol­i­tics. Mean­while, evan­gel­i­cals (63 per­cent), peo­ple who go to church at least once a week (57 per­cent) and women (51 per­cent) said they would rather talk about spir­i­tual mat­ters than pol­i­tics.

A key take­away is that, for many Americans, re­li­gious and spir­i­tual is­sues have be­come con­tro­ver­sial, painful or worse. Clearly, the ris­ing num­ber of de­bates about re­li­gious free­dom and sex­ual free­dom rep­re­sent the front lines in this cul­ture war over the na­tion’s fu­ture.

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