Video: The role of religion in politics

By Rehema Ellis Correspondent
NBC News
updated 2/28/2004 9:41:09 AM ET 2004-02-28T14:41:09

Faith — it’s a bedrock of American culture, so it’s not surprising it’s also fundamental in American politics. Today, studies show there are increasingly more Americans using faith as the lens through which they see and interpret politics and social policy.

Brad and Julie Williams, married with two children, living in Kansas, live in faith. They’re born-and-raised Southern Baptists. “We pray daily,” said Brad Williams.

And faith plays a critical role in determining how they vote.  “We want a leader who governs our land and prays to God — asks for knowledge from the eternal father,” Williams added.

The Rev. Deborah Givens, a Presbyterian pastor, says faith shapes her political views in a different way: “My faith as Christian makes me think of the poor people, the people who are powerless in society.”

Many faiths, many views — one nation. “So the question really is: How do we get along in a country where you have religious positions that affirm a variety of issues?” said Professor Robert Minor of the University of Kansas.

That question is particularly important in a country that polls show is sharply divided over the role faith should play in politics.

According to a Pew Institute poll, 38 percent of Americans say their religious beliefs are a factor in how they vote, while 36 percent say their faith rarely influences their decisions.

As the influence of faith becomes more important in shaping attitudes on both sides of the political spectrum, it’s becoming increasingly difficult for candidates for public office to find a balance between maintaining their base support and attracting enough voters from the middle to win elections.

It’s a delicate balance, according to some political analysts. “What I am worried about is that our politics will engage in the kind of rhetoric and demonization that could be bloody politically,” said Tom DeLuca of Fordham University.

Givens said Americans should be wary of politicians who preach about religion: “When politicians call on their religion publicly, I think that can be manipulative.”

For Julie Williams, what matters are the Scriptures. “Our country is slanting towards whatever goes, and if it feels good, do it, and I do not believe that’s God’s will. And I believe he is directing us back to the Bible,” she said.

It’s a matter of opinion in a country where, more and more, faith is framing the political debate.

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