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What the GOP just doesn't get about Christian voters
Many Christians in the U.S. aren't all that into wealth creation, a recent study finds
 
Minnery's view isn't shared by the majority of his fellow Christians.
Minnery's view isn't shared by the majority of his fellow Christians. (Pete Marovich/Corbis)

Christian leaders at the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) this year had an interesting message for religious voters: Don't take your values too seriously at the voting booth.

Tom Minnery, president of Focus on the Family's political branch, CitizenLink, told Christian voters that they should "put up with presidential candidates who may not be as pure as you are in your moral principles." According to John Andrews, another Christian conservative recruited to address voters at the conference, the media are party to a nefarious mission to create squabbles between conservatives and libertarians, all of whom, he said, believe in "liberty, limited government, free enterprise, and traditional Judeo-Christian values."

It should come as no surprise that, for Andrews, "Judeo-Christian values" come in last in his list of important political guideposts. After all, that's more or less the case he and Minnery are making: That other issues, like free market capitalism and small government, should supersede Christian "purity" to win elections.

But do Christians in the United States really share Minnery and Andrews' vision?

According to a recent study, evidently not. Last revised in July 2013 by its authors Travis Wiseman and Andrew Young, the study — funded in part by Koch brothers' money — is entitled "Religion: Productive or Unproductive?" If it was intended to establish that Christianity and free market capitalism are natural allies, then it squarely failed.

The study authors used strong data sets measuring religious affiliation, involvement, and practice from sources like the U.S. Census Bureau and the Pew Forum to establish levels of religiosity in the 48 contiguous U.S. states. Then they established diverse criteria for measuring "profit-seeking and innovative activity," which they included under the umbrella of "entrepreneurship."

While some might have predicted that states with more confessed Christians would be more productive, the study authors found just the opposite. "Productive entrepreneurship scores," the study's authors write, "are negatively correlated with worship service attendance." Even for those who did not attend worship services regularly, the authors still found that "productive entrepreneurship scores correlate negatively with belief in God."

This data also turns out to be Christian specific, with the authors noting that higher percentages of state populations reporting themselves to be Christian adherents correlate negatively with productive entrepreneurship, which the authors chalk up to opportunity costs and the psychic toll imposed by Christianity for seeking "worldly gains." The same data showed that higher concentrations of atheists and agnostics are positively associated with productive entrepreneurship.

The study's authors proposed the possibility that "productive entrepreneurial activities are largely substitutes for religious ones," an idea which unsurprisingly finds a correlate in the Bible: Jesus himself notes that no person can loyally serve two masters, and that they will ultimately choose between serving God or money. That the data suggests many have on some level chosen God should be heartening — but it seriously draws into question the moral message of leaders like Minnery and Andrews.

It would seem that the alliance between free market capitalists and Christians is not, at the end of the day, as bone-deep as neocons may have hoped. It could also be that, after the economic crisis of the last decade, that cozy friendship is beginning to fray at the edges, with figures like Pope Francis potentially symbolizing a new political schism.

After all, if Christians in the United States are doing the right thing and leading faithful lives with a political witness to Christ that includes a deeply considered Christian position on social legislation — and yes, even laws pertaining to the distribution of wealth — then why should Minnery, Andrews, and their ilk be so intent on leading them astray? It's true that in politics compromises often have to be made, and any member of the Christian Left is undoubtedly often dismayed by the moral and social positions of politicians whose policies offer the most promise to the poor and oppressed.

But what appears to be at hand with Andrews and Minnery is an attempt to rearrange the matrix of Christian ethics wherein the money-seeking value has a traditionally low spot, beneath values pertaining to justice, life, and order. For Minnery and Andrews, all of those values — ones related to justice for the poor and vulnerable, and increasingly to moral order in society at large — should take a backseat to promoting policies that would allow for the pursuit of wealth. That they're in a position to campaign for such an upending of values demonstrates, along with Wiseman and Young's study, that Christians aren't buying it. And well they shouldn't — we can only hope their resolve holds in the face of such well-masked temptation.

 
Elizabeth Stoker Bruenig writes about Christianity, ethics, and policy for Salon, The Atlantic, and The Week. She is a graduate of Brandeis University and received her MPhil in Christian theology from the University of Cambridge as a Marshall Scholar. She is currently working towards her PhD at Brown University. In her spare time, Elizabeth enjoys working in the garden.

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