Dr. Melissa Deckman is a Professor of Political Science at Washington College and a PRRI Affiliated Scholar. Her research interests center on the intersection of religion, women, and politics. She has written in the past about the Christian Right’s participation in school board politics. Her most recent work is as co-editor and contributor to Curriculum and the Culture Wars: Debating the Bible’s Place in Public Schools. PRRI sat down with Dr. Deckman to discuss the significance of the book.
Last week in The Atlantic, PRRI’s Robert P. Jones explored the challenges faced by Pope Francis who appears open to wooing white evangelical Protestants aligned with his views on cultural issues such as same-sex marriage and abortion. That said, the Holy See’s call for economic justice complicates this relationship.
In the U.S., Catholic support for traditional Church social teachings advocated by the Pope is much more tepid than that found among white evangelical Protestants, but Pope Francis’s emphasis on economic equality closely aligns with his American Catholic flock. Fewer than half (49 percent) of American Catholics agree with the traditional Catholic teaching that sex between two adults of the same gender is sinful, while nearly 8-in-10 (78 percent) of white evangelicals agree. In a similar vein, less than 4-in-10 (37 percent) of Catholics oppose same-sex marriage, in contrast to nearly 7-in-10 (69 percent) of white evangelicals.
On contraceptive and reproductive issues, white evangelicals again remain more aligned with the traditional teachings of the Church than Catholics themselves. Sixty-five percent of white evangelicals believe abortion should be illegal in all or most cases, compared to fewer than half (47%) of Catholics. White evangelical Protestants are also more likely than Catholics to oppose requiring all employers to provide free contraception coverage (58% vs. 37%).
On economic issues, however, Catholics in the U.S. generally share Pope Francis’s vision of a more equal society. Nearly 8-in10 Catholics (78 percent) favor raising the minimum wage to $10.00 an hour, compared to just 6-in-10 (61 percent) of white evangelicals, while 68 percent of Catholics agree the government should do more to reduce the gap between rich and poor, compared to less than half (47 percent) of white evangelicals.
A majority (62 percent) Catholics likewise believe that the government should guarantee access to health insurance, even if it means raising taxes. Only about a third (34 percent) of white evangelicals favor this approach. In general, Catholics seem to favor increased taxes and government spending as means to promote growth and equality, with more than half (52 percent) agreeing that raising taxes and spending more on infrastructure is the best way to promote U.S. economic growth, and only 44 percent preferring to cut taxes and reduce government spending. In contrast to this, a majority (63 percent) of white evangelicals prefer cutting taxes and spending to raising them (32 percent).
The Pope’s advocacy of traditional Church teachings on cultural questions has strong support from white evangelical Protestants, but his call to economic justice likely resonates more strongly with his Catholic flock.