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Monday, August 30, 2004

Who's your co-pilot?

The headline over Bill Broadway's article in the Washington Post says: "In Congress, Religion Drives Divide: Polarization of Political Parties Strengthened by Differences in Faith Affiliation." But after reading the story I can't see where it shows that religion can take much credit. What the research reported on in the Post really seems to show is that both the Republican and Democratic Parties have been taken hostage by ideologues in the abortion war.

I was hoping to find out what trends there were in representation from different religious groups, but we only learn that the number of Evangelicals in Congress has gone up from about 10 percent in the 1970s to about 25 percent today. When it comes to changes in the Catholic or mainline Protestant delegations, we only find out that the conservatives are more conservative and the liberals are more liberal. Sigh.

In another important development, Roman Catholic legislators are no longer predominantly aligned with the Democratic Party. Traditional Catholics land on the Republican side and theologically liberal Catholics on the Democratic.

"Religion is much more aligned with partisanship than it was in the past," said Guth, a professor of political science at Furman University in Greenville, S.C. Evangelical Protestants recruit other evangelicals to run for office, as do theologically liberal Catholics, conservative mainline Protestants, and so forth.

The most visible examples of such alignments have occurred among mainline Protestants and Roman Catholics, according to D'Antonio and Tuch.

Most mainline Protestant denominations have taken a formal position supporting a woman's right to have an abortion, while the Catholic Church has steadfastly opposed any form of abortion. Yet some lawmakers affiliated with those faith groups in recent sessions have voted the other way.

From 1979 to 2003, mainline Protestant Democrats — Episcopalian, Lutheran, Presbyterian, Methodist and United Church of Christ — generally followed their church's teaching, increasing their abortion-rights votes by 13 percentage points, from 62 percent to 75 percent, according to the study.

During the same time, mainline Protestant Republicans in the Senate shifted from being split on abortion — 45 percent for abortion rights and 55 percent against — to being 80 percent antiabortion in 1996. Mainline Protestant Republicans in the House have remained steady — 80 percent are against abortion rights, D'Antonio said.

Not surprisingly, Catholic Republicans remained overwhelmingly antiabortion during the period of the study, voting almost unanimously with the antiabortion position taken by the Vatican and by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, D'Antonio said.

At the same time, Catholic Democrats have evolved from being strongly in favor of abortion rights to overwhelmingly so.

On other key issues taken by the bishops, the roles are reversed, with Catholic Republicans opposing the positions Catholic bishops have taken and Catholic Democrats supporting them. Such issues include taxes, minimum wage, health care, removing sanctions against Cuba and nuclear weapons.

Another way to look at this, of course, is to observe that the mainline denominations have also been divided by "culture war" issues during the last quarter-century. And because the article doesn't tell us how the number of mainline Protestants or Catholics in Congress has changed since 1979, it's not that easy to see what's driving the polarization. We learn that the number of Catholic Republicans in Congress has gone up — but not by how much — and we learn that the number of Evangelicals has gone up, too, but all we learn about mainline Protestants is that the differences of opinion among them have hardened along partisan lines.

(Hat tip to The Revealer.)

Copyright © 2004 by Philocrites | Posted 30 August 2004 at 5:09 PM

Previous: Conservatism's identity crisis.
Next: 'Catastrophic success.'

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