We knew that.

So when the president tells the world that we’re not a Christian or
Jewish nation (or Muslim) but a ‘nation of citizens’, he was spinning
his own agenda for a new approach to diplomacy. And when Newsweek ran a
cover story at that time on the decline of Christian America, it was
part of an ongoing media effort to render religiously informed voices
irrelevant to the serious debates of the day over domestic and foreign
policy.

In other words, saying something doesn’t make it true.

So what’s true?

I attended a lecture last evening by Luis Lugo, Director of the Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life, which was not about Pew’s newly released study on changes in religious affiliation in the U.S. I’ll get back to that topic soon…

This one was called “Fault Lines of Faith? Religion and Politics in
World Affairs”. He said we have a “built-in imperative to take matters
of religion seriously in America” with both political parties heavily
influenced by people of Christian faith. Seven out of ten Americans say
they want their president to have strong religious beliefs, a number
that’s remained consistent over the past several elections. Americans
will elect a president who may hold any number of beliefs, said Lugo,
but not atheism. “Americans would not vote for an atheist. Religion
almost serves as a proxy for morality in US politics. People look at
whether a candidate is religious or not as a moral compass.”

The fact that a majority of Americans are still guided by a moral
compass may come as a surprise to mainstream media pushing the story
lately that we’re losing our religion. “The vast majority of Americans
still believe there’s either the right amount of religion in political
campaigns or too little,” said Lugo. He said they still believe in
“American exceptionalism”, that “America has not only interests but
values to promote in the world.”

Who were these poll respondents? Protestants – particularly
Evangelicals – ”Mainliners”, Catholics, and Unaffiliated. Another scoop
for the media: ”One of the most under-reported stories about the
resurgence of evangelical involvement in politics is their concern for
foreign affairs and global human rights.” Lugo said there’s a
perception that their interests are mainly domestic and even
protectionist.

Anyone surprised that Christians would be concerned about global human rights doesn’t understand Christianity well.

In a list of categories that define the order of priorities for
people of faith, Lugo pointed out that “Following Moral Principles” was
most important, higher than being “Cautious”, “Decisive”, “Practical”,
“Compassionate”, “Flexible”, “Idealistic” or “Forceful”.

Though Lugo didn’t point this out, I noted that at the bottom
of every charted response, under the percentages of faithful who
believed each of these things, there were two other categories:
those who practice their faith regularly, and those who don’t. They
should pay more attention to that. Because Catholics alone are divided
practically right down the middle on how they perceive social issues,
and how they vote. And the two factions are defined by whether they
attend Mass regularly, or not.

That’s a significant fault line, right there.

Sheila Liaugminas

Sheila Liaugminas is an Emmy award-winning Chicago-based journalist in print and broadcast media. Her writing and broadcasting covers matters of faith, culture, politics and the media....