God in Government
Fiery Response to Pew's Torture Analysis
A firestorm erupted this week over an analysis from the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life showing that white evangelical Protestants are far more likely than those in other faith traditions to support the use of torture against suspected terrorists.
It showed that just over six in 10 white evangelical Protestants say that the use of torture against suspected terrorists in order to gain important information can be "often" or "sometimes" justified. That is much higher than the number of white Catholics, 51 percent; mainline Protestants, 46 percent; and religiously unaffiliated, 40 percent, who say the technique should be an option in interrogations.
The blogosphere blew up, with representatives of various faiths -- and even some evangelicals -- accusing evangelicals of forsaking the love-thine-enemy doctrine of Christianity, and evangelicals protesting that they were being unfairly tarred as un-Christian.
But the original analysis overlooked a centrally important piece of information: the big dividing line on public support for torture as a tool in terrorism investigations is along partisan lines, not religious ones.
Not controlling for political orientation can make views appear to be based on sectarian differences when comparing across religious groups. After all, the GOP bent among white evangelical Protestants is pronounced, while white Catholics split about evenly between identifying with Democrats and Republicans. Those with no stated affiliation tilt clearly Democratic, by better than 2 to 1 among voters, according to the 2008 exit poll.
And Thursday, Pew released its own re-analysis of the numbers, digging below the religious differences. It suggested that other social and political differences may be causing the differences in support for torture -- not religious distinctions.
"Religion is only one of many factors correlated with views on the justifiability of torture," said the analysis. "Party and ideology are much better predictors of view on torture than are religion and most other demographic factors."
Similarly, in the latest Washington Post-ABC News poll, Americans split about evenly on the question of whether torture is justifiable in investigations of terrorism suspects, just as they did in the Pew poll. And also in that poll, white evangelicals are much more inclined to see torture as an option than are white Catholics and the unaffiliated.
But among white Democrats, there's no significant difference between Protestants and Catholics, nor is there a big divergence along religious lines among Republicans. In a basic statistical model estimating public support for torture, party is a clear predictor, not whether one is Catholic, Protestant or unaffiliated.
A New Network Takes On Global Warming
The American Values Network, the new progressive faith organization launched by Democratic faith outreach adviser Burns Strider and his partners, launched an ad blitz this week on global warming. The ads, narrated by megachurch pastor Joel Hunter, will air on Christian radio stations in districts in the South and Midwest represented by moderate and conservative congressional Democrats who are undecided on the climate bill.
The ad campaign "demonstrates that the faith and military communities will stand behind and encourage undecided members to support a climate bill that protects the most vulnerable and makes America more secure," said Katie Paris, spokeswoman for Faith in Public Life, which co-sponsored an accompanying poll.
It is the first of several ambitious undertakings by the American Values Network and it is a further sign that Democrats are becoming more sophisticated about speaking the language of faith in politics.