Faith over fear? No, it’s political ideology that keeps Pe …… | News and reports


The biggest debate on social media this weekend has been over the appropriate level of concern for a significant and long-term disruption of daily activities due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The disagreement skews partisan, with new surveys showing Republicans are much less likely than Democrats to fear the coronavirus outbreak in the United States.

In recent years, Americans of all faith traditions have become more concerned about the potential for a major epidemic, the kind of hypothetical question that has become all too real in recent weeks.

But past data shows fears about the spread of the disease tend to be lower among Protestant Christians who identify as politically conservative and attend church every week. This may explain why some conservative leaders, including a few evangelical advisers to President Donald Trump, have been reluctant to cancel the worship in person or courses on campus amid current coronavirus precautions.

Beginning in 2014, the Chapman Survey of American Fears asked respondents to its annual survey, “How concerned are you that a pandemic or major epidemic will occur in the United States in the next 25 years?” ? To gauge public sentiment around common phobias, spiritual forces, and natural disasters. From 2014 to 2018, concerns about potential pandemics increased. Fewer people in all faith groups said they were “not afraid” of the possibility that a new disease could spread in our country.

When the investigation started in 2014, most were not that worried. Two-thirds of Protestants and 60 percent of Catholics were unafraid or just a little afraid of a major epidemic, and those who had no religious tradition were much less concerned, with three-quarters saying they did were not afraid or a little afraid.

Four years later, the concern had grown considerably. Only half of the “no’s” and even fewer Catholics (43.6%) landed in the least frightened categories. By some measure the Protestants, however, have become somewhat more moderate. They were much less likely to say they were “very afraid” of a pandemic: 15% Protestants against about twice as many Catholics (27.8%).

How Does Religious Devotion Affect Americans’ Fear Levels? It would seem likely that the more people attend church services, the more exposed they would be to biblical warnings to flee fear, to be “strong and courageous” and to “not be afraid or terrified … for the Lord your God goes with it. you ”(Deut. 31: 6).

The statistical evidence is mixed, however. Protestants and Catholics who never go to church are only slightly more likely to say they are afraid of a major epidemic than those who go more than once a week.

Additionally, there does not appear to be a significant difference between Protestants and Catholics, except that Protestants who attend church weekly have a much lower level of fear of epidemics (24.9%) than Catholics. who attend weekly mass (42.6%). Their fear level is also lower than that of other Protestants who attend more or less than them.

Concern over the severity of COVID-19 may depend on political orientation. For example, a recent Quinnipiac University poll, conducted the first week of March, found 63% of Republicans were not particularly concerned about the virus, compared to 31% of Democrats.

In the Chapman survey, looking only at regular devotees who described their political ideology as conservative, a clear outlier emerges. Politically conservative Protestants who frequently attend church are far less concerned about a major epidemic than conservative and devout Catholics.

Only one in four Protestants (27.2%) said they were afraid or very afraid of the possibility of an epidemic. That’s 17 points less than conservative Catholics. But, it is clear that the overall level of fear is lower among conservatives in general. The data indicates that politically liberal Christians espouse higher levels of fear regardless of church tradition.

Josh King, pastor of a church in Arkansas, gave a fitting example when he told the Washington post: “In your most politically conservative regions, the closure is not interpreted as taking charge of you. It’s interpreted as liberalism, or as an endorsement of the hype. And data released Sunday from an NBC News / Wall Street Journal poll shows Democrats are twice as likely to avoid large gatherings because of COVID-19 as Republicans.

According to data from the Chapman Inquiry, this low level of fear expressed by politically conservative Protestants is not only limited to fear of a major epidemic, but extends to other natural disasters as well. Less than one in five conservative Protestants worries about an earthquake or a flood, that’s 10 points less than conservative Catholics. For liberal Protestants, fear of natural disasters is generally 10 to 15 percentage points higher.

It’s not that conservative Protestants are particularly indifferent to the possibility of an epidemic; they usually seem out of step with many things that are beyond their control.

Projecting the appropriate level of concern for the general public about a possible health emergency is an ongoing struggle for public health officials. When people panic, they often behave in irrational ways, such as causing a nationwide toilet paper shortage. However, healthcare professionals need the public to engage in practices such as rigorous hand washing and social distancing to prevent the spread of COVID-19.

These results indicate that some segments of the American population would be more prone to panic, while other groups might be more reluctant to change their behavior based on a lower concern basis.

In some Evangelical Protestant traditions, fear can also be seen as a betrayal of faith. A Bethel Church group – including aspiring politician Sean Feucht, who led Trump’s White House worship last year – is posting messages online in response to the spread of the coronavirus, aimed at “silencing voices of fear ”. Head of Bethel Bill Johnson told his subscribers: “This whole fearful maneuver is crazy. I have never seen the spirit of fear spread so quickly. Internationally, things were good, good, good, much worse. “

But while many politically conservative Protestants were historically less likely to worry about an epidemic, daily updates in the United States are quickly changing their approach. More conservatives and evangelical leaders are taking a hard line position on the coronavirus response, especially as many gathered on Sunday for the President’s National Day of Prayer.

Trump said he logged into a live worship service run by one of his evangelical advisers, Georgia pastor Jetezen Franklin, who canceled in-person gatherings at his church.

Trump wrote in his prayer statement on March 14:

On Friday, I declared a national emergency and took other bold steps to help deploy all the powers of the federal government to support efforts to fight the coronavirus pandemic. I now encourage all Americans to pray for those who are on the front lines of the response …

We are confident that it will provide them with the wisdom they need to make tough decisions and take decisive action to protect Americans across the country. As we come to our Father in prayer, we remember the words of Psalm 91: “He is my refuge and my fortress: my God; in him I will have confidence.

Ryan P. Burge is professor of political science at Eastern Illinois University. His research appears on the Religion in Public site, and he tweets at @ryanburge.


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