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Shifting politics and boosted technology were taking hold in some congregations pre-pandemic (Faith & Leadership at Duke)

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While the country’s politically conservative congregations far outnumber other faith communities, left-leaning houses of worship are on the rise in the U.S., according to a recently published National Congregations Study. If tax laws permitted, liberal congregations would be more likely to publicly endorse or oppose a political candidate than those who identify as conservative or middle-of-the-road, the study found.

More than half of congregations (57%) reported engaging in at least one of 12 political activities surveyed in the study, including organizing get-out-the-vote efforts, distributing voter guides, and marching or demonstrating. Those who march are most likely to do so concerning poverty and economic inequality or in support of immigrants, the data suggests.

Most American congregations, 46%, still identify as politically conservative, but that’s down from 62% in 1998. While only 15% of the newest study’s participants declared themselves politically liberal, that’s basically doubled since the original study 20 years ago.

Gospel perspective

The Rev. William Lamar IV, the senior pastor at Metropolitan AME Church in Washington, D.C., said he suspects that those numbers represent the response of Black congregations to the resurgence of racist ideals cloaked in public policy.

Lamar said he personally does not favor faith communities’ endorsing or opposing individual candidates. He described the Johnson Amendment as “a creaky dam holding back the waters of oppression.” If that dam breaks, Lamar predicted, political conservatives — given their numbers — have a greater ability to mobilize and raise funds than politically liberal congregations do. He said he worries that they also have a greater willingness to foment violence in behalf of their cause.

But congregations do have an obligation to speak out on issues that affect their communities, Lamar said. For Black congregations, those issues include living wages, affordable housing and health care, voting rights, and police violence against civilians, which politicians on both sides of the aisle have failed to address adequately, he said.

“You don’t find in either political party a true commitment to those. Party politics on the left and the right sacrifice justice when politically expedient,” Lamar said. “We are derelict if we don’t speak about the issues from a gospel perspective. And if we are faithful to our tradition, neither party would be comfortable with our policies.”

Less-formal worship

One-third of congregations in the latest NCS also reported encouraging people to use their smartphones during worship, to access Scripture (57%), record part of the service (29%) or donate money (15%), among other uses. While technology that requires expensive equipment or special expertise tends to be limited to larger congregations, cellphones, with their ready availability, are incorporated in smaller faith communities at the same rates as in larger ones, according to the study.

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