European churches inoculating Christians to resist far-right surge?

European churches are having an unexpected impact on turning back the influence of far-right populist parties, especially in Germany, writes Tobias Cremer in Religion and Global Society (December 20), a blog of the London School of Economics. Surveys have found that Western Christians have been more “immune” to voting for far-right parties in Europe than less religious people, but there has not been much exploration of why this is the case. Cremer focuses on the recent elections in Bavaria, Germany, where the Christian Social Union (CSU) party won its lowest share of the vote since 1950 (37 percent), with 54 percent of the deserting voters saying they had done so because the party had “given up on its Christian convictions.” Yet these voters did not switch to the far-right AfD (Alternative fur Deutschland) but instead voted for the left-wing Green party. The AfD had made many statements about Germany’s Christian heritage and “Judeo-Christian identity,” but it consistently scored lower among Catholic and Protestant voters than among the unaffiliated. In light of this, it is not surprising that the CSU’s recent attempt to copy the AfD’s politicization of Christian symbols by ordering the display of crucifixes in public buildings as an assertion of Bavaria’s cultural identity ended up receiving little support from voters.

Cremer argues that one overlooked factor behind the religion gap when it comes to the far right is that “Germany’s mainstream churches have been able to erect a powerful social taboo around voting AfD. Thus, by positioning themselves clearly in the pro-immigration camp, demonstrating at AfD party conferences…or by excluding AfD politicians from speaking at the national church days…affection for the new right is associated with significant social costs among church members. And since Germany’s church-friendly constitutional system endows the churches with a comparatively high social status throughout society, such measures also matter beyond the practicing flock.” He adds that similar dynamics can be seen in countries such as France, Austria, and Italy. “By contrast, in countries where churches are less outspoken, such as the US or Poland, or in regions where the churches are institutionally less powerful, the ‘religion gap’ appears to be much weaker or is limited to frequent church-goers.”

(Religion and Global Society,