Former Maryland Lt. Gov. Michael Steele, a Catholic African-American, was elected Friday as the new chairman of the Republican National Committee.

According to Steele’s RNC campaign website, he spent three years as a young man at a Catholic seminary studying to become an Augustinian priest before discerning he had a different vocation. Currently, Steele serves on the the administrative board of the Maryland Catholic Conference.

Steele’s election is a very interesting one for many reasons, not least because it highlights the wide discrepancy between President Barack Obama’s views and those of many other black Americans on hot-button cultural issues like homosexual rights.

Few political observers dispute that the GOP’s selection of Steele was motivated substantially by a desire to signal that the party is sympathetic to the aspirations of the black community, and other ethnic Americans.

But blacks generally vote overwhelmingly in favor of Democratic candidates over their Republican opponents. And that disparity only became more glaring in the 2008 election cycle dominated by Obama’s candidacy and his election as the nation’s first African-American president.

However, this African-American attachment to Democratic candidates in general, and Obama in particular, obscures the reality that Obama’s extremely liberal stances on social issues and his relative disinterest in religion (a recent Washington Post article reported Obama has not attended church regularly for at least five years) are unrepresentative of the black community.

Black Americans are markedly more inclined toward religion than are white Americans, as this new in-depth analysis by the Pew Research Center’s Forum on Religion & Public Life noted.

A Jan. 30 Pew Forum press release, released on the same day as Steele’s election last week, summarized the findings of the analysis this way:

“The analysis finds that African-Americans are markedly more religious than the U.S. population as a whole on a variety of measures, including reporting a religious affiliation, attendance at religious services, frequency of prayer and the importance of religion in people’s lives.

“Compared with other racial and ethnic groups, African-Americans are among the most likely to report a formal religious affiliation, with fully 87% of African-Americans describing themselves as belonging to one religious group or another. The analysis also finds that nearly eight-in-ten African-Americans (79%) say religion is very important in their lives, compared with 56% among all U.S. adults.”

And the outcome of California’s Proposition 8 ballot measure that amended the state constitution to define marriage as a one-man, one woman institution provided clear evidence that the collective religiosity of black Americans has important political consequences. According to CNN’s exit polling data, African-Americans voted in favor of the measure affirming traditional marriage by an overwhelming 70%-30% margin.

Of course, electing a charismatic, religiously motivated black politician as the Republican National Committee’s new chairman can’t be expected to do much by itself to tug the black community away from its close political embrace of the Democratic Party.

But Steele’s election is a reminder that the Democratic Party’s anti-family stands on some social issues may provide opportunities for the Republicans to make significant inroads among the African-American community’s many faith-based voters.