The Common Good

Millennials' Reflections on the New American Values Survey

Sojourners' 2012-2013 interns.
Sojourners' 2012-2013 interns.

On Tuesday, the religion, policy, and politics project at Brookings and the Public Religion Research Institute (PRRI) hosted a forum to release PRRI's fourth American Values Survey (AVS), a large national, multi-issue survey on religion, values, and public policy.

We sent some of our interns to listen in on the findings. Here's what they thought about some of the issues raised by the report:

Keeping Politics Out of Faith

by Janelle Tupper

According to the new American Values Survey, black Protestants and the unaffiliated predominantly view Gov. Mitt Romney’s beliefs as different than their own, while white evangelical Protestants predominantly view Pres. Barack Obama’s views as different (see page 31).

Interesting; an actual comparison of the candidates’ theology to the theologies of these voting groups on paper might give you a different result.

Even more interestingly, black Protestants and the unaffiliated are the two largest voting blocs for Obama, and white evangelical Protestants are the largest voting bloc for Romney (page 19).

That implies that voters are judging a candidate’s faith based on how closely it aligns with their own policy preferences.

... which implies we find our identity as Christians (on both sides of the spectrum, mind you) in our political, rather than theological, viewpoints.

... which implies that we need to seriously re-think what it means to be “in the world but not of it.”

A Cry to the Catholic Church Hierarchy

by Martín Witchger

As a Catholic, one of the most interesting findings of the 2012 American Values Survey is that when asked what kind of public engagement the Church should play, Catholics by a margin of 2-1 responded that the church should be focusing more on social justice and the obligation to help the poor, even if it means less emphasis on right-to-life issues like abortion.

Even among the Catholic subgroups that most strongly identify with their faith, Hispanic Catholics and those who attend weekly or more, by a margin of 12 percent and 15 percent, respectively, believe the Church should focus more on social justice issues.

As a Catholic who would put myself among the 60 percent who would like to hear more from the hierarchy on social justice issues and our obligation to the poor, I wonder if the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops is aware of this. Would they be better shepherds of God’s people if they at least balanced thier public engagement by focusing more on issues of social justice and our obligation to the poor? I sure think so, and this survey says I’m in the majority. 

Opportunity for White Evangelicals and Black Protestants to Start New Conversations

by Jessica Turner

Black Protestants and white evangelicals have more in common than one might think.

Majorities of black Protestants and white evangelicals agree sex between two same-gender adults is morally wrong and marijuana should be illegal. The majority of both groups believe moral decline and an unequal economic system are the causes of America’s problems.

The group begins to split over the role of government in society: 62 percent of black Protestants see government policies to help the poor as necessary compared with 32 percent of white evangelicals.

I see these findings as an opening to invite white evangelicals into conversations about social and economic justice. The common beliefs around the unequal economic system are stepping stones to begin asking hard questions. Where does faith fit into public life? What does the gospel say about the poor, needy, and oppressed? And does my faith demand I do more?

With the many commonalities between black Protestants and white evangelicals, now is the time to bridge other gaps that separate the two groups.

The “W” Word

by Krystal Brewer

With more than 2,000 references in the Bible to poverty and justice, it still sometimes surprises me just how polarized our country has become on the issue of poverty, and how easy it can be to vilify those in need of government assistance as soon as words like “welfare” are brought into the equation.

According to the 2012 American Values Survey, Americans agree almost 2-to-1 with a statement that “government policies aimed at helping the poor serve as a critical safety net, which help people in hard times get on their feet,” (63 percent) as opposed to a statement that they, “create a culture of dependency where people are provided with too many handouts” (32 percent).

However, those percentages change significantly once the word “welfare” is introduced. Only 44 percent of Americans agree that people on welfare are genuinely in need of help, while 46 percent say they are “taking advantage of the system.” This belief that welfare recipients are abusing the system is even higher among white evangelicals at 56 percent.

When did we become so cynical about those in need of assistance? How does this affect our calling as Christians and as fellow human beings to help people in poverty?

 “The King said, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.’” -Matthew 25:40.

The Times They Are a-Changin’

by Brandon Hook

Bob Dylan’s words characterized the 60s, an era of tumultuous change, and they’re just as true today. The American Values Survey brought to light the fact that — whether some of us like it or not — change is inevitable.

Consider the fact that 50 years ago interracial marriage and legalizing contraception were highly controversial issues. Today, no one thinks twice about them.

The question for us is where will change occur and in what capacity?

William Galston, Senior Fellow at The Brookings Institution, pointed out a rather obvious but important truth: When it comes to social issues, if young people generally disagree with old people, eventually young people will win the debate — until we’re old, that is.

The flip side of that truth is that if opinions between generations are relatively the same, you can predict that the debates in question will be interminable.

With this principle in mind, let’s look at a couple of the hottest social debates today: same-sex marriage and abortion. It looks like same-sex marriage will eventually be legalized, as 68 percent of young people are in favor of legalizing it and 31 percent of retirees are opposed to doing so. Assuming some sort of biological weapon or contagion whose only immunity is old age doesn’t wipe out American youth, young people have momentum and time on their side.

But the abortion issue is different. Among the oldest Americans, 40 percent believe abortion is acceptable, and 42 percent of 18-29 year olds think the same. Because those numbers are so similar, we can assume that abortion will be debated for a while. Whether or not the debate evolves with technological advancements is a question that will be answered only with time.

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