Americans care less about personal immorality in politicians


Americans today are more likely to say elected officials can act ethically in office even if they have behaved immorally in their personal lives, according to a PRRI/Brookings survey Oct. 19. And white evangelical Protestants are even more likely to hold this view.

Sixty-one percent of Americans say “immoral personal behavior does not preclude public officials from carrying out their public or professional duties with honesty and integrity.” Only 29 percent disagree. This compares to a 2011 survey that recorded a 44 percent-44 percent split on the question.

The biggest change came among white evangelical Protestants (WEPs), with 72 percent of them now saying personal immorality would not affect public service -- a 42-point jump. In 2011, 30 percent of WEPs held that view.

Politically, people from both parties are more tolerant of personal immorality in their politicians, but Republicans (70 percent) are more so than Democrats (61 percent) and independents (63 percent). In 2011, the percentages were Republicans (36 percent), Democrats (49 percent), and independents (46 percent).

As to the “why” for this change in public perceptions, we are all left to surmise. The change among white evangelical Protestants concerns me most. Since the ethical teachings of Scripture have not changed, I think this new survey tells us politics and culture are shaping WEP views of right and wrong more so than Scripture.

We live whole lives. One should not try to separate one aspect of life from another. This means all of life is sacred and important, not just what one does at church, at home, or at work. It is all of whole.

We also are sinners; none of us is perfect. This means, of course, that none of our politicians are perfect. They are flawed human beings. As a result, we do not look for perfection, we look for the pursuit of values that honor God and God’s creation. That is revealed in both public and personal morality.

No matter who a Christian plans to vote for in November, I wish we still recognized that candidates for public office are whole people; they cannot be divided. Public ethics and personal morality are connected.