The Magazine of The Evangelical Lutheran Church in America


Religion in public life gets mixed reviews

Recent surveys reflect increasing ambivalence about the role of religion in American life.

A gradual decline in how satisfied Americans are about the influence of religion in society surfaced in a February Gallup poll (www.gallup.com/poll). In 2004, 55 percent said they were satisfied with the degree of such influence, down from 59 percent in 2003 and 69 percent in 2002. The number of Americans wanting religion to have less influence in society has been increasing, according to Gallup, which has asked Americans every January since 2001 if they approve of the influence of organized religion in society.

Thirty percent wanted religion to have more influence in 2001, 45 percent were happy with things as they are and 22 percent wanted it to have less influence. The latest poll shows 33 percent saying they want religion to have less influence, and 26 percent want it to have more influence.

A January 2005 Public Agenda poll (www.publicagenda.org) suggests a possible reason for the growing ambivalence. A majority of Americans want their elected officials to be able to make political compromises that often are needed to adopt or change the nation's laws and regulations, the poll reported. (Public Agenda describes itself as "a nonprofit organization dedicated to nonpartisan public policy research.")

But since 2000 there are a decreasing number of Americans who say it's OK for officials sometimes to make compromises in their personal convictions — on issues such as welfare, capital punishment, abortion and gay rights — to get results in government. The 2005 poll found that 74 percent of the general population agree such compromise is OK, down from 84 percent in 2000.

Among those who go to church each week, 63 percent agreed, down from 82 percent in 2000. From 2000 to 2004 the number of Americans who think it is "a negative" for religious leaders to take public positions on legislation and encourage congregations to adopt certain views rose from 22 percent to 28 percent in the general population.


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February issue


Embracing diversity