A common narrative today is that deeply held religious beliefs are a key driver of incivility. Yet new research on evangelical views on civility and democracy shows exactly the opposite effect.
This massive survey was released as part of a joint project by The Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission, Lifeway Research and the Fetzer Institute. The findings are often sobering and should cause followers of Jesus to reflect on our public witness.
Over half of evangelicals, for instance, believe that if their political opponents were to gain power, democracy would be threatened. Over half believe news more if it’s delivered by someone who shares their worldview. And 25% felt it fully justifiable for a political leader to insult his opponent, if in service to the right cause.
Straying from beliefs is the problem
That is a rather unsurprising analysis. But the researchers at Lifeway created what they describe as a “civility index,” which scores people on their ability to find common ground among those with whom they disagree, and came up with some interesting findings. For instance, evangelicals who believe in the exclusivity of Jesus as the pathway to God and the importance of religious liberty, who believe that every human being is created in the image of God (and in the “inherent and equal dignity of all“) had high civility scores. What should we make of this?
Perhaps the root of so much our civic nastiness is not a result of Christians holding too tightly to core convictions but rather a result of Christians straying from core convictions. In other words, it’s not our belief system that is the problem, it’s that we have strayed from what we say we believe. If Christians truly believe that Jesus is “the way, the truth and the life,” we are compelled to follow him into the world, loving our neighbors and caring for the people he came to redeem.
And if we genuinely believe, from Genesis 1, Psalm 139 and other passages, that every human being has dignity, we are compelled to treat even those who vociferously disagree with us as God’s image-bearers. And if we are truly animated by the idea of religious liberty, we should advocate it not just for our tribe but even for those who practice religions we consider to be false.
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SOURCE: USA Today, Daniel Darling