Church-Goers Less Likely To Back Compromise, New Poll Indicates

Americans who attend church regularly are less likely than others to accept the need for compromise in political matters, a new poll shows.

The poll, conducted by the non-partisan research group Public Agenda, found 63 percent of weekly church-goers agreeing with the statement that “Even elected officials who are deeply religious sometimes have to make compromises and set their convictions aside to get results in government.” That figure was down from 2000, when 82 percent of regular church-goers agreed with it.

Public Agenda found that support for political compromise had dropped among all Americans as well. In 2000, 84 percent of Americans overall agreed with the need to compromise. In 2004, the figure had dropped to 74 percent.

On specific issues, regular church-goers see even less need for compromise. In 2000, 51 percent of weekly church attendees cited the need to compromise on abortion. That number is now down to 32 percent. The figure for gay rights was 57 percent in 2000; it now stands at 39 percent.

Support for political compromise dropped 7 percent among Catholics, 12 percent among non-evangelical Protes­tants and 16 percent among evangelicals.

“Compromise has a long and important history in American politics,” said Ruth A. Wooden, president of Public Agenda, in a statement. “But in 2004, there were more Americans who wanted elected officials to keep their religious principles in mind when they vote on issues like abortion and gay rights. We found double-digit decreases in support for compromise on these issues among those who attend services weekly and among Catholics. The changes are really quite dramatic.”

Church Property Bill Derailed In Va.Legislature After AU, Clergy Protests

Legislation that would have made it easier for dissenting congregations to keep their property after splitting from their denominations was derailed in Virginia after protests by Americans United and religious groups.

The bill, introduced by Sen. William C. Mims, a Loudoun County Republican, would have allowed a dissenting church to leave its denomination and keep church property, unless a deed or other binding document specifically prohibited it.

SB 1305 was widely seen as an under-the-radar attempt to give support to Episcopal churches that are unhappy with a decision by the national leadership of that denomination to consecrate an openly gay bishop.

Religious leaders from different faith groups were quick to protest after word of the bill got out. Many labeled it an unwelcome state intrusion into internal church matters.

“It seems as though the bill’s patrons are trying to trump church law,” Doug Smith, executive director of the Virginia Interfaith Center for Public Policy, told the Associated Press.

Critics also said Mims may have been moved to act because his own congregation, the Church of the Holy Spirit in Ashburn, Va., has joined a network of conservative Episcopalians who oppose the gay bishop, Gene Robinson.

Americans United also spoke out against SB 1305.

“I can’t remember a more blatant attempt by a state government to meddle in the internal affairs of a church,” said the Rev. Barry W. Lynn, executive director of Americans United. “The lawmakers behind this ill-conceived bill apparently have little understanding of the First Amendment’s religious liberty clauses. The First Amendment clearly protects churches from this type of intrusion by the government.”

In a Feb. 1 letter to Virginia senators, Lynn urged them to oppose the bill. “Virginia,” he wrote, “has a proud history of respecting and preserving religious freedom.... It is against this backdrop that the Senate should consider the profound negative implications of SB1305. This bill would have the Virginia legislature intrude into the internal governing affairs of the church itself, which is prohibited by both the Free Exercise and Establishment Clauses of the First Amendment to the U. S. Constitution.”

The bill passed a Senate committee on a unanimous vote, but once religious groups learned of it and began mobilizing, lawmakers backed off. In early February, clergy from around the state descended on the General Assembly Building in Richmond to express their opposition. Many wore clerical garb.

One opponent, Sen. R. Edward Houck, a Spotsylvania County Demo­crat, remarked, “If there’s one thing that we’ve learned from [this bill], it should be this: There are some things we should just stay away from.”

With opposition growing, Mims requested that the bill be sent back to a committee for further study, a move that effectively killed the measure. He said he may reintroduce the measure next year.