Foreign policy views of churches & religions in one graph

Print More
Globe in hands

JL via Flickr

A child holds a globe which was rendered from Lightwave, mapping image from NASA

This graphic is not available for republication.

This graphic is not available for republication.

What are the foreign policy views held by members of religions and churches in America? This new graph maps the ideologies of 44 different religious groups using data comes from Pew’s Religious Landscape survey. This survey included 32,000 respondents. It asked very specific questions on religion that allow us to find out the precise denomination, church, or religion of each person.

Click here for chart featuring how eight types of Catholics differ on foreign policy

Observations from the graph

  • Religious traditions differ from each other in how they view the relative efficacy of military strength or diplomacy. In general, evangelicals are the most in favor of using the military, followed by mainline Protestants and then Catholics. Black churches, those with no religion, and minority/non-Christian religions are most in favor of diplomatic solutions.
  • The question of how engaged the U.S. should be in the world divides churches within the same religious tradition. For example, evangelicals hold similar positions on military-vs-diplomacy, but nondenominational evangelicals are more interventionist than Baptists. Among the mainline churches, Episcopalians (Anglicans) and Presbyterians are more in favor of being involved in global affairs; Lutherans are less so; and American Baptists are isolationist.
  • There’s an interesting pattern among American Jews. Overall, Jews are in favor of involvement with world affairs, but there is disagreement on how this should be done. Conservative and Orthodox Jews are strongly in favor of using the military to bring peace. Reform and other streams of Judaism lean much more toward the use of diplomacy.
  • Quakers (Society of Friends) live up to their reputation as peace-seeking activists. They are the most in favor of involvement in world affairs and the use of diplomacy.
  • Black Protestants are opposed to military solutions, but they also want to focus more on domestic problems than international issues.
  • Catholics are in the middle on both dimensions (but see this post on camps within Catholicism)
  • Among the “nones,” self-identified atheists and agnostics are more in favor of involvement with world affairs than are those whose religion is “nothing in particular”.

How to read the graph

  • Each circle represents a denomination, church, or religion. There are several circles for types of Americans with no religion: self-identified “atheist”, self-identified “agnostic”, and those who say that have “no religion in particular”.
  • The size of the circle represents the relative size of the religion in the United States. For very small groups, I put them in groups with other similar churches. In these cases, the circle represents collections of similar churches, e.g., nondenominational evangelicals, all Baptists who aren’t in one of the larger denominations, or all Hindus. The decision for how specific to make the circle was based on the size of the group in the survey.
  • The color of the circle indicates the religious tradition of the group: evangelical Protestant (historically white), Mainline Protestant (historically white), historically black Protestant, Catholic, a catch-all category for other Christian groups, all other religions, and those with no religion. (yes, there are some disagreements about whether some groups should be coded as evangelical (e.g., Seventh Day Adventist) or even Christian or not (e.g., Jehovah’s Witness). We can debate these decisions in a future post.
  • The location of the circle represents where a group’s members stand on the two major ideological divides in American politics. The numbers represent the percentile location of each group (details below). The political ideologies of religious groups are placed along two dimensions:
    • Diplomacy vs Military (x-axis). Which is more effective at ensuring peace: a strong military or good diplomacy? At one end are those churches that favor a strong military. At the other are those who believe that diplomacy is more effective. In the Pew survey, this is measured by a question asking which statement each person agreed with more:

      The best way to ensure peace is through military strength.

      Good diplomacy is the best way to ensure peace.

    • Isolationist vs Interventionist (y-axis). Which is more effective at ensuring peace: a strong military or good diplomacy? At one end are those churches that favor a strong military. At the other are those who believe that diplomacy is more effective. In the Pew survey, this is measured by a question asking which statement each person agreed with more:

      It’s best for the future of our country to be active in world affairs.

      We should pay less attention to problems overseas and concentrate on problems here at home.

Geek note on measurement

The range of each dimension ranges from zero to 100. These scores were calculated by calculating the percentage of each religion giving each answer. The percentages were then subtracted (e.g., percent saying “military” minus percent saying “diplomacy”). The scores were then standardized using the mean and standard deviation for all of the scores. Finally, I converted the standardized scores into percentiles by mapping the standardized scores onto the standard normal distribution. The result is a score that represents the group’s average graded on the curve, literally.

Don’t miss any more posts from the Corner of Church & State. Click the red subscribe button in the right hand column. Follow @TobinGrant on Twitter and on the Corner of Church & State Facebook page.


  • I’m operating under the assumption that the *center* of each circle indicates the precise coordinates on the x-y axes for that religion, such that, for instance, Catholics overall lean more towards diplomacy and isolationism than the Lutherans (ECLA), because of the precise coordinates of the center of the Catholic circle and the center of the Lutherans (ELCA) circle are in the lower left corner and upper right corner, respectively. Would that be the right way to read it?

  • Fourth Valley

    “Does members of your faith favor swords or plowshares? The answer is in this graph.”

    Is not, lol. There is no Baha’i category. 😛

  • Pretty much shows that the least aggressive, most exclusive and most in favor of using diplomacy rather than bombs, planes, drones or M-16’s, group belongs to the American Atheist. You bloodthirsty Christians need to stop reading the Old Testament! But seriously, reason and cooperation are the key elements in solving problems anywhere, and atheists favor both, especially using our brains instead of our guns, reason instead of violence.

  • Fourth Valley

    Did you… even look at the graph?? Friends, Unitarians, Buddhists, Muslims, Hindus, and Progressive Baptists scored higher than Atheists in terms of diplomacy over warfare. Additionally, Atheists scored rather high in the “Interventionist” or “meddle in foreigners affairs”. It’s good that they largely chose to meddle with diplomacy rather than war, but in my own opinion it is better not to meddle at all in often delicate and complex problems that Americans don’t have the best understanding of.

    From the chart, looks like Progressive Baptists are the least likely to go to war, not Atheists.

  • Pingback: Lastest Faith Information | Posts()

  • Pingback: THe Weekly Upchuck September 15, 2014 | Being Christian()

  • Pingback: Your Weekly Upchucks: Shocking Religion News by Author @KCBoyd3 - The Political Carnival()