Americans of faith and those unaffiliated with a faith group agree that fixing the economy should be the government’s first priority, according to a Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life analysis.
A Pew survey found that 83 percent of white evangelical Protestants ranked strengthening the economy as their top priority, compared to 88 percent of white mainline Protestants and 89 percent of white non-Hispanic Catholics.
The second priority was improving the job situation. Pew said that 85 percent of white evangelical Protestants gave job improvement a high ranking, compared to 82 percent of white non-Hispanic Catholics and 77 percent of white mainline Protestants.
“Given everything we know about religiously based political differences in the
United States, you’d expect to find that different religious groups have
different priorities, and they do,” said Gregory Smith, a research fellow at the Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life.
He told the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, “We’ve seen these divisions over and over again in recent years, and yet what’s striking is that even with those differences, pretty much all these groups are united in saying the economy is their top priority.”
Fixing the economy and reducing joblessness also ranked high for the religiously unaffiliated.
After the unity around economic issues, the faith community divided over other issues.
The survey found that 83 percent of white evangelical Protestants prioritized defending the nation against terrorism, whereas 76 percent of white non-Hispanic Catholics and 73 percent white mainline Protestants did.
Dealing with moral breakdown was a priority for 59 percent of white evangelical Protestants, compared to 40 percent of white mainline Protestants and 33 percent of white non-Hispanic Catholics.
Only 28 percent of white evangelical Protestants listed environmental protection as a top priority, a tad lower than the 29 percent of white non-Hispanic Catholics. Thirty-five percent of white mainline Protestants gave that issue a top ranking.
Smith said, “Compared with the economy at this point in time, these other issues are of a lower priority in people’s minds,” although he noted that being a lower priority should not be interpreted to mean unimportant.
The Pew survey disclosed no insight into agreement or disagreement among Christian groups about the solutions to fixing the economy and improving the job picture.
With the national unemployment rate at its highest level in 25 years, the Dow Jones industrial average having lost more than half of its all-time high value of 14,165 in October 2007, and constant reports about banking problems and bankruptcies, many Christians and Christian organizations agree that the Obama administration should focus on the economy.
While agreement on the need for government action on the economy transcended theological and moral disagreements, bad economic times have not triggered increased church attendance.
At least that was the finding of a mid-December 2008 Gallup Poll.
Another Gallup Poll released last week found that 44 percent of Americans reacted positively to Obama’s new 10-year budget plan, compared to 26 percent who reacted negatively.
It will be interesting to watch how American Christian leaders seek to shape the attitudes of their adherents about which economic and financial solutions they should favor. Already the Christian Right is vigorously slinging the “s” word—socialism—at Obama. Other Christian leaders appear to be sitting on the public policy sidelines, offering pastoral care and leading their churches to provide direct, material services to the needy.
Robert Parham is executive editor of EthicsDaily.com and executive director of its parent organization, the Baptist Center for Ethics.