The stereotype of the “religious right” has been around for decades, but does it always hold true?
In modern American culture, although politicians of all stripes routinely profess their faith, there seems to be a pervasive link between Christianity and the beliefs of the right wing. The idea goes, ‘all Christians are conservative and all conservatives are Christians.’
However, as with any stereotype, this assessment may not be accurate to the degree people think.
In 2016, the Pew Research Center published a study analyzing the religious traditions of American voters. According to the study, only 44 percent of those who identified themselves as mainline Protestant said that they were or leaned Republican. In comparison, 40 percent of mainline Protestants identified more with the Democratic Party.
Even among the rising demographic of evangelical Protestants, 56 percent identify with the Republican Party, a far cry from the assumed overwhelming tilt toward the right wing. Among Catholics, Republicans do not even make up a majority of those polled; 37 percent describe themselves as Republican or leaning Republican, compared with 44 percent who identify as Democratic or leaning Democratic.
While it’s certainly true that conservatives seem to be more dependent on religion than liberals, the idea that liberalism and Christianity (or conservatism and non-Christianity) are mutually exclusive is clearly unfounded.
This, then, begs the question: Why does society assume that religion automatically equals a conservative set of beliefs?
It’s entirely likely that the current concept of the “religious right” began several decades ago as a response to the cultural unrest of the 1960s and ’70s. Events such as Roe v. Wade and Vietnam war protests caused a more progressive shift in society. In response, pro-Christian groups aligned with one another to promote an alternative message, citing the importance of traditional values and beliefs, in contrast to the constant change endemic in contemporary society.
The influence of the “religious right” intensified under the presidency of Ronald Reagan, who regularly made reference to his own faith and Christian concepts in his addresses. Most notably, his speech just prior to his election in 1980 referred to his perception of the United States as a “shining city on a hill,” in reference to Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount in the book of Matthew. Although the phrase had been used before in American politics, and would be used again multiple times, the concept of the U.S. being a “city on a hill” is commonly associated with Reagan and his beliefs, as well as those of his most devoted followers.
Although Christians by and large appear to lean right, by no means should they be assumed to do so. Many left-wing Christians and Christian groups exist, just as many right-wing non-Christians and non-Christian groups exist. As with any stereotype, society has proven that it refuses to be broken down into such a sharp dichotomy. Although it certainly has a basis in reality, the idea that all people who think A must also believe B, and vice versa, can only hinder societal progress toward greater understanding and acceptance by people from all walks of life.