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Does religion drive attitudes towards police and the use of force?

Does religion drive attitudes towards police and the use of force?

A year after the events of Ferguson, Mo., the public is still grappling with questions about race, inequality and use of excessive force by the police. Religious groups differ in how they view the use of force by police, with the most supportive being mainline Protestants and Jews. Catholics and those in historically black churches are the least supportive.

Tobin Grant writes at RNS:

But these percentages don’t show the true effect of religion on attitudes toward the police. The high support among Jews shows the impact of the main drivers for support for the police: status, education and race. Whites with higher education, regardless of religion, are the most supportive of police use of force.

We can control for these differences through statistical models that allow us to estimate support for the use of force while adjusting for differences in education and other factors among the different faiths.

The adjusted percentages  show the real effect of religion. Support for the police is highest among those who attend historically white Protestant churches. Controlling for education differences, evangelicals aren’t any different than their mainline Protestant cousins.

Catholics, black Protestants and those of minority religions are the least supportive of the police’s use of force. This may be due to differences in belief, but it may also be because these groups are historically the “out groups” in American society.


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Philip B. Spivey

It appears to me that the connection between established religious traditions and attitudes towards the police have little to do with religion per se and much more to do with the attitudes and world view of the people inhabiting the religion. I think it’s useless to equate an entire religious group with a single political orientation; we continue to make this mistake today with regards to Islam.

Within every religious tradition lies a political spectrum from far left to far right; it’s only the adherents of a particular viewpoint who grab the microphones that claim to speak for everyone.

The police are the protectors and guarantors of the status quo, so that it does not surprise me that: “Whites with higher education , regardless of religion, are the most supportive of police use of force.” And herein lies the crux of the matter: religion matters a lot less; class matters much more. It’s not the intersection of religion and attitudes towards police force that are operational here. It’s the intersection between the privileged classes and the protectors of the status quo—so-called law enforcement.

Law enforcement, like life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness, is a oxymoron for many native born people of color in the United States. Law enforcement has a long and bitter history in our communities: During anti-bellum, law enforcement was about catching enslaved runaways and protecting the rights of property owners; after the Civil War, law enforcement was about limiting freeman to menial labor, inferior housing and denying voting rights; when Jim Crow arrived, law enforcement meant enforcing Jim Crow laws. After the Civil Rights era and up to now, law enforcement means breaking spirits and communities on the wings of a War Against Drugs. In the American past, law enforcement ensured the orderly transfer of Black families from the Middle Passage to plantations all over the world. Today, law enforcement—and our judicial system— ensures the orderly transfer of Black men on a school to prison pipeline. Law enforcement kills us and destroys families with regularity.

And so, I seek a Christian gathering that abhors violence and murder in the name of “law enforcement”. I seek Christians who believe that the status quo ensures security and order for some, while ensuring death and oppression for others. As Christians, which side are we on?

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