Think all evangelicals or mainline Protestants are the same? What about African-American Protestants or Catholics? A study released earlier this week begs to differ.
Published on Wednesday, the study is called Beyond the God Gap: A New Roadmap for Reaching Religious Americans on Public Policy Issues and was conducted to challenge lawmakers to think twice before stereotyping the nation's religious constituencies.
"The polarization of society, from the media we watch to the political debates we hear, has contributed to a sense that there are yawning chasms between religious and non-religious Americans, and even between different groups of religious Americans. But that sense of polarization often has more to do with stereotypes than with profound, unbridgeable differences," the study's authors say. "We hope this report contributes to civil conversations on important policy issues."
Conducted by think tanks Third Way and Public Religion Research, the study examines the social and theological undercurrents of evangelicals, mainline Protestants, African American Protestants and Catholics and also looks at their opinions on pressing public policy issues such as immigration reform, abortion, and gay rights.
One of the study's most surprising findings is about young evangelicals, who are more politically centered than their Christian Right predecessors, especially on the issue of homosexuality.
The study showed that a majority of evangelicals under the age of 35 support either civil unions or marriage for gay and lesbian couples – a statistic that the study's authors say is "met with disbelief among many."
And while views on same-sex marriage are still scattered among the four groups as a collective, the statistics show that each group favors laws protecting gay and lesbian people from job discrimination, and allowing them to serve openly in the military.
A united front among the groups was also discovered on issues of immigration and abortion.
On immigration, the study showed that each faith group supports a comprehensive approach to policy reform over enforcement alone by a margin of 2 to 1. On abortion, the group's majorities expressed a desire to reduce the need for abortion by addressing unintended pregnancies, supporting pregnant women, and increasing support for adoption.
"The evidence clearly indicates that it's time to retire our old stereotypes and evaluate with fresh eyes the new terrain in the American religious landscape," say the study's authors. "At a minimum, there are compelling reasons for policy makers to think twice before writing off particular religious groups because of old assumptions about 'evangelicals' or 'Catholic voters.'"
"And religious groups themselves can expect that they will need to set extra spaces at the conversation tables that reflect the surprising, evolving coalitions as we move beyond the era of the old God gap.
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