Pulpit politics: Churchgoers encouraged to vote but few being told who to vote for

Published: Friday, Nov. 2 2012 11:38 p.m. MDT

"Nearly half (45 percent) of black Protestant churchgoers say the messages they hear at church favor a candidate, and every one of those says the message favors Obama," the Pew study stated. "Fewer white churchgoers say they are hearing things that favor a candidate, but among those who are, the messages are far more favorable to Romney than Obama."

Academic researchers have claimed that mixing partisan politics with religion is a primary way churches drive away members, particularly those born after 1980 — so-called millennials who are increasingly leaving organized religion. A recent analysis of those who are unaffiliated with any religion found 67 percent of them viewed religion as too involved in politics, compared with 46 percent of the general population.

But research has also shown that religious institutions have backed off political messaging from the pulpit. Academics Robert D. Putnam and David E. Campbell, who wrote "American Grace: How Religion Divides and Unites Us," found in 2006 that 32 percent of Americans attending a church heard political content in sermons at least once a month, compared with just 19 percent in 2011, which is the same percentage in the Pew survey in October.

And the Pew study said few voters are hearing messages at church that conflict with their own voting preferences. Among those who favor Obama, 32 percent said what they heard at church is supportive of Obama, compared with 5 percent who said the messages were more supportive of Romney. Among Romney supporters, 24 percent heard messages more favorable to Romney than Obama (1 percent).

"Our congregation is so conservative," Miller noted, "that if I stood up and endorsed Romney publicly I would probably get a standing ovation."

email:mbrown@desnews.com

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