Bloomberg News

What Jesus Might Say Is Debated in Survey of Christian Politics

February 02, 2012

Jan. 30 (Bloomberg) -- Christians in the U.S. who labeled themselves politically liberal or conservative told researchers Jesus wouldn’t necessarily agree with their social views if he were alive today, according to a study.

The conservatives said Jesus would probably be more against abortion and same-sex marriage than they are, and less opposed to helping illegal immigrants obtain citizenship. Liberals believe Jesus would be tougher than them on morality and more open on questions concerning fellowship.

The researchers asked 787 self-identified Christians to use a 100-point scale representing liberal to conservative to gauge Jesus’s views. The results, reported today in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, confirms previous findings that people often separate political views from traditional religious teachings.

“Liberals are conceding that they’re deviating from Jesus on their views on moral issues and conservatives are conceding that they are deviating from Jesus on fellowship issues,” Lee Ross, the study’s lead author, said in an interview. “They differed almost as much in Jesus’s views as their own.”

The research, completed using an online survey, was designed to look at how rationalizing is easier as a group than alone, said Ross, a professor of psychology at Stanford University near Palo Alto, California.

On defining marriage to exclude same-sex couples, survey participants recorded a 32-point difference between their political views. There was 54-point difference, though, on what they said Jesus would say.

Elections Loom

With U.S. elections looming, people may need to be reminded that the Bible doesn’t take a stand on modern-day issues, said Corwin Smidt, a political science professor at Calvin College in Grand Rapids, Michigan, who wasn’t involved with the study.

“Be cautious about projecting where Jesus stands on these issues, and be a little more charitable to your opponent,” said Smidt, director of the Henry Institute for the Study of Christianity and Politics at the college.

Shaun Casey, professor of Christian ethics at Wesley Theological Seminary in Washington and President Barack Obama’s faith adviser during his 2008 presidential campaign, said he was disappointed the study defined Christians only as liberal and conservative. Many Christians are a mix of both, depending on the issue, he said.

“One’s religious community does shape your politics,” Casey said by telephone. “It’s very complex how people actually do that. How do you account for movement across the political spectrum from some of these religious groups over time?”

About 32 percent of U.S. Protestants and 23 percent of Roman Catholics identify themselves as Republican and 32 percent of Protestants and 33 percent of Catholics are Democrats, according to a survey by the Washington-based Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life.

--Editors: Chris Staiti, Andrew Pollack

To contact the reporter on this story: Nicole Ostrow in New York at nostrow1@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Reg Gale at rgale5@bloomberg.net


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