The other day, we shared President Obama’s demand that pastors spend more time talking about ending poverty and less time on “divisive” issues such as same-sex ‘marriage’ and abortion. The president was repeating a claim made by other liberal commentators who believe that pastors are “obsessed” with social issues. An op-ed in the Washington Post takes on this claim, and finds that studies show that pastors speak far more often about hunger and poverty than they do abortion or homosexuality.
Putnam’s comments were blasted by several commentators, including the New York Times’s Ross Douthat, who noted religious groups spend far more on charity, schools and hospitals than pro-life causes or to oppose same-sex marriage.
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Just before the 2012 presidential election, a Pew Research Center survey asked regular worship attendees what issues they have heard their clergy talk about recently. Roughly 3 in 4 said their clergy spoke about hunger and poverty (74 percent), while fewer than 4 in 10 heard about abortion (37 percent) or homosexuality (33 percent).
A breakdown of the data by religious groups shows that poverty dominates discussion even at churches with strong stances on abortion and homosexuality. Abortion comes close to rivaling poverty among Catholics: 62 percent of Catholics reported hearing about abortion in the weeks before the presidential election, though a still larger 82 percent said they heard about poverty. Among white evangelical Protestants who largely oppose same-sex marriage, far more said clergy spoke about hunger and poverty than homosexuality.
The evidence seems insurmountable: religious groups are discussing the need to provide for the poor, as well as taking a stance on social issues. Public figures should take note of these findings, and stop discouraging religious groups from standing firm in their beliefs.