Demos: “Religious people are more likely to be politically progressive”

It seems appropriate on Easter Day to report the findings of the report entitled Faithful Citizens by the think tank Demos.

I have been embarrassed and saddened by the portrayal of “the church” as bigoted and homophobic recently, and this research helps to counterbalance that impression. Demos’ report implies that people of faith are more likely to share Liberal Democrat values than to hold the conservative fundamentalist views often described in the media.

13% of citizens claim to belong to a church or other religious organisation, so these findings refer to believers across all the faiths in the UK, although Christians are by far the largest group.

The summary of the report states:

People of faith are likely to be a vital base of support for any future election-winning progressive coalition. Our research suggests that religious citizens in the UK are more likely to be civically engaged and politically active than their non-religious counterparts. They are also more likely to hold progressive political values on a number of important political and economic questions at the heart of twenty-first-century policy. Despite the trend of decreasing religiosity in the UK, religion remains important to a broad range of active and engaged citizens – and so it must to politicians.

Their research findings showed that:

  • Religious people in the UK are more likely than non-religious people to volunteer regularly in their local community, to feel a greater sense of belonging to their local community and Britain, and to have higher levels of trust in other people and social institutions. They are also more likely to feel they can influence decisions locally and nationally.
  • Religious people are more likely than non-religious people to engage in volunteering in their local community, and to take decision-making roles in committees and through local leadership forums, such as being a councillor, school governor or magistrate.
  • Religious people who said that their religion was very important to their sense of identity were more likely than those who said it was not important to their identity to be civically engaged and to give to charity via their place of worship.

On specific issues they found that 55% of the members of religious organisations placed  themselves on the political left or centre left. They were also more likely to value equality over liberty and were less likely to hold a negative attitude towards immigrants.

I am a case in point.  I was brought up in a Baptist family, where the theology was liberal and the work ethic was strong. I grew up with the values of liberty (the early Baptists were persecuted for their beliefs, so freedom of belief and freedom of speech are among their founding principles),  equality (because all people are equal in the sight of God) and service to the community (because Jesus told us to love our neighbour) . So I found a natural political home within a party which shared those fundamental values.

So we should not be afraid to acknowledge the fact that many members of the Liberal Democrats, like me, joined the party because of, not in spite of, their faith.

May I wish a blessed Easter to all readers who are celebrating this great Christian festival today, and a happy holiday weekend to everyone.

* Mary Reid is a contributing editor on Lib Dem Voice. She was a councillor in Kingston upon Thames, where she is still very active with the local party, and is the Hon President of Kingston Lib Dems.

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  • Simon McGrath 8th Apr '12 - 8:53pm

    Excellent article

  • David Parkes 8th Apr '12 - 9:43pm

    “Religious citizens in the UK are more likely to be civically engaged and politically active than their non-religious counterparts. They are also more likely to hold progressive political values on a number of important political and economic questions at the heart of twenty-first-century policy. ”

    Then its high time for them to start articulating these progressive political values. To speak out against the prejudice that comes from church leaders and to reclaim Christianity from the bigots who appear to be in charge. Christian’s cannot complain about how they are perceived when senior clerics apparently speaking unchallenged on their behalf articulate deeply homophobic / misogynistic or anti-scientific viewpoints.

    I don’t care how predisposed to civic action such people might be, I can’t trust people who allow a bigot in a frock to be their spokesperson unless they speak up for themselves and say: “No he does not represent me!”

    This is a rare thing amongst people of faith because of the ill-placed deference such people afford their clerics. and I’d like to see more people of faith stand up and say: “The archbishop is talking rubbish!” Or “The pope does not represent me!” But they don’t… why not?

  • David – I think you will find that Anglicans in particular are forever criticising their leaders, at local, national and international level!

  • John Carlisle 9th Apr '12 - 8:18am

    @David Parkes
    Have you researched your opinion – or is it just that, an opinion rather aggressively voiced? Do your read The Church Times, The Tablet or the The Methodist Recorder? If not, where is your evidence from?
    @Mary and a Happy Easter to you. I spent most of Sunday walking on air.

  • @David Parkes
    Please do not assume that what you read in the press is the sum of Christian activity in this country. In the Church of England at Church Council and Synod (at Deanery, Diocese and National level) the leadership of the Church is both criticised and often overruled. It is why we now have female Priests and will shortly have the framework in place for female Bishops. There are bigots in any organisation and those who cannot help their own prejudice affecting their worldview.

  • David Parkes 9th Apr '12 - 9:06am

    @John Carlisle

    Yes I have researched my opinion, Do a quick check of any major news portal or newspaper and see how many times a cleric comes out in favor of gay marriage, gay adoption, abortion rights, the right to die or declares that evidence based scientific research should trump their religious beliefs,

    I’m confidence you’ll find that number at pretty close to zero.

    Do you ever hear that this has provoked a backlash from their congregations? It might make the Church Times but it doesn’t make the guardian. When I hear Archbishop of York, say David Cameron will be acting like a “dictator” if he allows homosexual couples to wed. Then I expect progressive Christian’s to be outraged. I expect to hear progressive Christians screaming for his resignation. Well he’s my problem (and the point of my previous post). I can’t hear you!


  • @David Parkes
    Try Giles Fraser in the Guardian as a good start, also look at the inclusive Church website. It is not the fault of those protesting if the press ignore them. If so please do not moan about the press not covering Liberal issues correctly at the next election. Our press is generally conservative and right wing.

    As for the Archbishop of York, his joint plan with the Archbishop of Canterbury to reduce the authority of women bishops was voted down, as has the Anglican covenant which would have slowed us liberal Christians down in the changes being made in the western Anglican church.

  • Richard Church 9th Apr '12 - 9:31am

    Only 13% of people in this survey claimed to be a member of a church or other religious organisation- yet sadly our government still plan to reserve places for the male leaders of one of these churches in our parliament.

  • John Richardson 9th Apr '12 - 9:41am

    If this is evidence that liberal values are not only displacing, but finally getting the upper hand on, traditional Christian values amongst churchgoers then I think we should see it as a Good Thing. The current conservative hierarchy will find itself out on a limb and ultimately replaced.

  • Mark Inskip 9th Apr '12 - 11:40am

    @Mary Reid
    You quote “On specific issues they found that 55% of the members of religious organisations placed themselves on the political left or centre left” but you omit the figure for those who do not belong to religious organisations which was 62% (buried in table 17a of the report).

    Therefore what the detailed data actually shows is that the majority of all people in the survey data places themselves on the political left or centre left, and that those who are not members of religious organisations are more likely to consider themselves on political left or centre left than those who are members of religious organisations.

    There is a clear and strong correlation between those who are member of religious organisations and those volunteering in some way in their community but volunteers can be from the left or the right politically.

    However I really don’t think its very productive to try to mix religion and politics in this way.

  • David Parkes 9th Apr '12 - 1:35pm

    @Mary Reid – I take you point, but I question whether this research really reveals that religious people really are a good demographic for the party. It just revealed that people belonging to religious organisations generally identify themselves on the ‘political left’. There doesn’t appear to be a clear indication of whether this refers to the ‘economic-left’ or ‘liberal-left’ and doesn’t provide a clear break-down of attitudes to a number of social issues.

  • David Parkes 9th Apr '12 - 1:46pm

    @Steven Way

    I do think its important to get your voice heard and do think its your responsibility to make it heard. I don’t blame the media for not giving fair coverage to the Liberal Democrats, I blame our press team for continuously failing to get our point across. Just look at the debacle over internet snooping and how that played out. It was left to Tim Farron to come out and say “No way José” when the conservative plans were leaked. And that took the best part of a week.

    So no I don’t blame the media for failing to report dissenting Christian viewpoints, I think Christians need to do more to speak up for themselves and to reach out to communities that feel threatened by the church because of the things clerics say. What I’m telling you is you need to try harder.

  • John Carlisle 9th Apr '12 - 2:30pm

    @David Parkes
    Is this your evidence? “Do a quick check of any major news portal or newspaper and see how many times a cleric comes out in favor of gay marriage, gay adoption, abortion rights, the right to die or declares that evidence based scientific research should trump their religious beliefs.”
    Have you ever thought that is because they are not for them? Are these topics the only ones that define liberal values? I am against changing the law for gay marriage, I am utterly opposed to abortion, I am uncertain about the right to die (assisted suicide) and, as an academic, I have yet to be convinced that the so-called scientific research has trumped religious beliefs.
    I am against neo-liberal economics; I fought the privatisation of British Rail and the imposition of the internal market in the Civil Service – at the expense of my earnings. I have been in court in South Africa for illegally protesting against racial discrimination in the 1960’s; I supported black independence in Zambia and worked for three years to replace white miners with black miners on the Copperbelt and suffered abuse as a result, and did the same in Malawi; I worked with Mozambique street kids in Zimbabwe – and I owned and financially supported a Trust that worked with the health, social and spiritual needs of Aids sufferers and their families on my farm. In all my work in Africa I have been led and supported by Christian activists.
    Should I now resign from the LibDems because I do not support the issues you think qualify as LibDem values? Or should you perhaps think about broadening your perceptions?

  • @David Parkes
    The message is out there just not in the right wing press. Try a google search along the lines of “Church Split homosexuality” and you will probably find thousands of examples where liberals within the church have made their voices heard and led to others leaving, or have left themselves and established new congregations. The fact is that ‘Christianity’ is not a single grouping and those who blame every Christian for the attitude of some, however well placed in their particular denomination, have not taken the trouble to properly ascertain these facts.

    In fact as a parallel example, Lord Carlisle was pro detention without charge as per the Labour plans. He was a senior member of the Lib Dems yet we all know he does not speak for all…..

    Also in your example you blame the Lib Dem Press team for not getting the correct message out and yet expect those of us without such resources to do better. We all know the press in this country does not always view objectivity as high on their agenda, which is why those of us who want to be more aware resort to sites such as this to ascertain a broader understanding of the issues.

  • My own view is that some religious people do have a great deal in common (politically) with ‘active atheists’ – those who are active in say the BHA or the NSS. Both want to change the world. Yet sadly there is also a growing subset of religious people who cannot be considered ‘progressive’ in any way – e.g. members of ‘charismatic’ churches who cannot see that strict adherence to so-called divine ‘values’ is a cover for the promotion of populist bigotry designed to persuade the gullible to vote against their own economic interests.

  • Kirsten de Keyser 9th Apr '12 - 5:21pm

    Why are we discussing religion on a political forum?
    If someone wants to belong to a religious “club” be my guest, just don’t foist any club rules onto us non-members.

  • @Kirsten de Keyser
    Isn’t the point of Mary’s piece that the two are not mutually exclusive and that membership or support of the party should be a natural home for many progressive Christians. There should absolutely be no attempt by religion to control political parties (or vice versa) and I can’t see anyone calling for that…

  • John Carlisle 9th Apr '12 - 5:34pm

    Because we are discussing politics . . . .

  • Kirsten de Keyser 9th Apr '12 - 6:44pm

    Of course the two are not mutually exclusive, just as I can be a member of FitnessFirst and the Liberal Democrats at the same time.

    I’d hazard a guess that a number of Liberal Democrat colleagues would be a tad put out at the suggestion of starting each bout of canvassing with a Zumba session

  • @David Parkes

    “I do think its important to get your voice heard and do think its your responsibility to make it heard. I don’t blame the media for not giving fair coverage to the Liberal Democrats, I blame our press team for continuously failing to get our point across. ”

    I suggest you try putting yourself in their shoes before you assign blame so liberally. As a starter, I suggest you try getting a real liberal article into your local newspaper and see how far you get. If you are successful, great and carry on with others – Local radio station etc. If you fail, consider how you can improve your influencing skills so that you can.

    When you have succeeded fully, put an article on LDV to tell us how you did it. Otherwise we will all be left just moaning on websites.

  • I’m a committed Anglican and this bears out what I think as well: Jesus did call upon us to care for the poor, the infirm, and the helpless. This isn’t what one would precisely call a “laissez faire” philosophy: it is a philosophy that demands that we put aside covetousness in favour of community.

  • Paul Pettinger 12th Apr '12 - 3:31pm

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