A new Gallup poll shows how much confidence Americans have in their institutions. The big news from the poll is the very low confidence rating Americans have in Congress - only a shocking 11% of those polled have great confidence in Congress as an institution. But among the major institutions in American life, Americans ranked their confidence in the "church or organized religion" as fourth behind only the military, small business, and the police. The poll shows that 48% of Americans have a "great deal of confidence" in the church. That number was at 52% a year ago.
Yet despite the decline in percentage from a year ago, the poll shows encouraging results that nearly half of all Americans have "a great deal" of confidence in the church. This is good news because it is the church that is the wellspring of religious freedom, and religious freedom necessarily restrains government and promotes liberty. As Alexis DeTocQueville, a french political scientist who observed America from 1831-1832, stated about the role of religion in public life:
When the religion of a people is destroyed, doubt gets hold of the higher powers of the intellect, and half paralyzes all the others. Every man accustoms himself to have only confused and changing notions on the subjects most interesting to his fellow creatures and himself. His opinions are ill-defended and easily abandoned; and, in despair of ever resolving by himself the hard problems respecting the destiny of man, he ignobly submits to think no more about them. Such a condition cannot but enervate the soul, relax the springs of the will, and prepare a people for servitude. Not only does it happen, in such a case, that they allow their freedom to be taken away from them; they frequently themselves surrender it.
These are sobering words that remind us of the power and importance of the church in American life. As DeTocqueville pointed out, as the church suffers and declines in American life, freedom declines correspondingly. Archbishop Charles Chaput recently stated in his book Render Unto Caesar, that, "In America, people understood that to be free themselves, their churches must be free; but those churches must also be active in shaping virtuous citizens."
Archbishop Chaput and DeTocqueville are right. The church must be free for freedom to flourish, but the church also has responsibilities to shape the virtue of the citizens for freedom to continue to flourish. The Gallup poll is good news for the church in America, but it should also serve as a sobering reminder of the Church's responsiblity in American life.
Imagine if you had escaped government oppression in search of freedom and safety for your family in a new country—only to be greeted yet again with the government treading on Constitutional rights.
As pandemic restrictions have begun to ease over the last few months, churches and religious organizations have started to ask: If this happens again, how can we ensure that religious freedom is protected?
Cedar Park Church outside of Seattle, Washington is well-known for its commitment to the belief that all human life is precious and worth protecting.