Public sees Christianity, capitalism at odds

April 21, 2011

Are Christianity and capitalism a marriage made in heaven, as some
conservatives believe, or more of a strained relationship in need of
some serious counseling?

A recent poll found that more Amer­icans
(44 percent) see the free market system at odds with Christian values
than those who don't (36 percent), whether they are white evangelicals,
mainline Protestants, Catholics or minority Chris­tians.

But in
other demographic breakdowns, several categories lean the other way:
Republicans and Tea Party members, college graduates and members of
high-income households view the systems as more compatible than not.

The
telephone poll of 1,010 adults, conducted by Public Religion Research
Institute in partnership with Religion News Service, found that although
conservative Christians and evangelicals tend to want their clergy to
speak out on issues like abortion and homosexuality, they also tend to
hold left-of-center views on some economic issues.

"Throughout the
Bible, we see numerous passages about being our brother's keeper,
welcoming the stranger, feeding the hungry, clothing the naked and
healing the sick," said Andrew Walsh, author of Religion, Economics and Public Policy and a religion professor at Culver-Stockton College.

"The
idea that we are autonomous individuals competing for limited
re­sources without concern for the welfare of others is a philosophy
that is totally alien to the Bible, and in my view, antithetical to
genuine Christianity."

The findings, released April 21, add a new
wrinkle to national debates over the size and role of government. They
also raise questions about the impact of the Tea Party's cut-the-budget
pressure on the GOP and its traditional base of religious conservatives.

The
poll found stronger religious distinctions over the question of
businesses acting ethically without government regulation, and whether
faith leaders should speak out about economic concerns such as the
budget deficit and the minimum wage.

White evangelicals (44
percent) are more likely than other Christians or the general population
to believe that unregulated businesses would still behave ethically,
and they place a higher priority on religious leaders speaking out about
social issues over economic concerns.

Minority Christians, in
contrast, be­lieve clergy should be vocal about both areas—particularly
on the economic issue of home foreclosures, which 76 percent considered
important, compared to 46 percent of the general population.

"Minority
Christians have a deep theological tradition of connecting faith and
economic justice, and we see that link in the survey," said Robert P.
Jones, CEO of Public Religion Research Institute. "Because minorities in
the U.S. generally continue to have lower incomes than whites, economic
issues are also more salient in these congregations."

In other findings:

  • Half of women believe that capitalism and Christian values are at odds, compared to 37 percent of men.
  • A majority (53 percent) of Demo­crats believe capitalism and Christian
    values are at odds, compared to 37 percent of Republicans and 41 percent
    of independents. A majority (56 percent) of Tea Party members say
    capitalism is consistent with Christian values.
  • Nearly half (46
    percent) of Amer­icans with household incomes of $100,000 a year or
    more believe that capitalism is consistent with Christian values,
    compared to just 23 percent of those with household incomes of $30,000 a
    year or less.
  • Most Americans (61 percent) disagree that
    businesses would act ethically on their own without regulation from the
    government. White evangelicals (44 percent) are more likely than
    Catholics (36 percent), white mainline (33 percent) or minority
    Christians (34 percent) to say unregulated businesses would act
    ethically.

"The most idolatrous claim of the Christian right
is that the invisible hand of the free market . . . is none other than
the hand of God," Walsh said, "and any attempt to regulate the free
market, according to this theology, belies a lack of faith in God." 
—RNS