Most Americans uncomfortable with church-politics mix

For the first time in more than a decade, a majority of Americans believe churches and houses of worship should keep out of political matters.

The change of heart is the result of a shift in view among some social conservatives disillusioned with the major political parties, according to a survey released Thursday by Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life.

Currently, half of all conservatives believe churches and other houses of worship should keep out of politics, up from just 30 per cent four years ago.

In particular, the survey found the shift is strongest among Americans who are less educated, who consider gay "marriage" a very important issue, and who think the two major parties are unfriendly towards religion.

"To my mind, that spells frustration," said Andrew Kohut, president of the Pew Research Center, according to The Associated Press. "But by the same token, we know these very same people are not interested in less religiosity in the political discourse. They almost universally want a religious person as president.

"It's not that they want to take religion out of politics, it's that their frustrations with the way things seem to be going are leading them to say, 'Well, maybe churches should back off on this.'"

With this new shift, conservatives now hold similar views with moderates and liberals on the issue of church and politics.

Overall, a slight majority (52 per cent) of the public now says churches should "keep out" of politics and not express their views on social and political matters, compared to 44 per cent who held this view in 2004.

Also, the sharp divide between Republicans and Democrats on the issue has disappeared.

Now, 51 per cent of Republicans say churches should keep out of politics, and 52 per cent of Democrats hold this same view. Back in 2004, there was a big gap in view between the two parties on the issue, with only 37 per cent of Republicans wanting churches to not participate in politics, compared to 51 per cent of Democrats.

Meanwhile, the American public's opinion has remained relatively unchanged on the belief that churches and other houses of worship should not endorse candidates and that it is important for presidents to have strong religious beliefs.

The survey was conducted through phone interviews on July 31-August 10 from a national sample of 2,905 adults. This is the first time a majority of Americans want churches to stay away from politics since the Pew Forum started asking the question 12 years ago.

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