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Keywords:

  • culture wars;
  • clergy;
  • social attitudes;
  • political attitudes;
  • polarization;
  • elites

Examinations of culture wars typically assess the attitudes of the American public. This study instead focuses on culture wars among religious elites—clergy—and tests three aspects of the culture wars thesis: (1) whether religious elites are engaged in culture wars, (2) whether clergy attitudes are polarized on these issues, and (3) whether religious authority or religious affiliation is more salient in creating culture wars cleavages. Using data from a large random sample of Protestant clergy, we find a substantial amount of engagement in culture wars by all types of Protestant clergy. The amount of polarization is more attributable to views of religious authority (i.e., biblical inerrancy) than to religious tradition. Moreover, polarization among clergy is somewhat more evident on culture wars issues than on other social and political issues. These findings are generally supportive of the culture wars thesis and should help return examinations of culture wars back to where they were originally theorized to be waged: among elites.