On the End of Evangelicals
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Wed Oct 18, 2006 at 11:54:09 AM EST
Alan Wolfe, who teaches political science at Boston College, has an interesting essay on AlterNet about "Are Evangelicals Over?"  Here is Wolfe's best insight:
What you need to understand," a Robertson supporter told me, "is that Pat opposed the war in Iraq from the start." I responded that according to the Lancet, some 600,000 Iraqis have died since the war began. If Robertson had publicly opposed the war, I told them, his influential voice might have spared those lives. "But," one of them answered back, "Pat is a Republican who would not openly oppose the president."

And there, I submit, is why the religious right is in trouble. Since the emergence of a politically active version of conservative Protestantism in the 1980s, it has never been clear whether America's shift to the right took place because deeply religious people became political or because deeply conservative people became religious. I learned at Regent what I have long suspected: For some of the most visible leaders in the religious right, politics trumps religion every time.


I think Wolfe prematurely concludes that the role of evangelicals in politics has peaked.  

Many evangelicals may sit out this election, but they'll be back in 2008.  

There are waves of activists with a taste for power who have learned to organize politically and they are determined to force this nation to accept their idea of Christian values.

Here's a quote that appeared in a report at Ethics Daily  from a recent conference at a Southern Baptist Church in Nashville:

"Our goal is to motivate every single believer, everyone who names the name of Jesus, to be involved in the political process," said Jerry Sutton, pastor of Two Rivers Baptist Church, site of Monday night's rally.

"We have every intention of out-praying, out-thinking, out-working, out-serving and out-loving our opponents," Sutton said. "  And we will by the grace of God make this a Christian nation."

Jerry Sutton was one of the first people I met when I went to Southwestern Seminary in Fort Worth.  We graded each other's daily quizzes in introductory Greek classes.  At that time Sutton was preparing to become a humble preacher.  There was no sign then that he was ambitious to become a political boss.  Today, he aspires to become President of the SBC and lead Southern Baptists to "make" America a Christian nation --not by the "foolishness of preaching" but by the force of law and politics.

There are literally thousands more preachers like Jerry Sutton in Southern Baptist churches across this country.  They network with each other and their parishoners on a daily basis.  They are not going to crawl in a hole and hide.  They are going to continue organizing and influencing politics.

I suspect (barring an October surprise like war with Iran or widespread voting fraud), that the House will turn Democratic in 2006, that moderate and progressive Christians will conclude that the threat of Christian Nationalism is over and will go back to their old routine, that the economy will tank and taxes will necessarily rise, and that the Religious Right will return with a vengeance in 2008.

Sutton needs to go back and read his Bible.  

Nations can't become Christians.  Only people can become Christians.  And, it always happens the old fashioned way -- by faith and not by force of law or politics.

Jesus said, "It is written, 'You shall worship the Lord your God and serve him only'" when he was tempted by the sin to which it appears that Sutton has succumbed (Luke 4:5-8).

by Mainstream Baptist on Wed Oct 18, 2006 at 11:56:15 AM EST

about the likely resurgence of the religious right going into the next election cycle.  There is a certain amoung of media buzz around more moderate and even liberal evangelicals, however there is zero indication that any of these are politically organized, or that they are likely to become so.  

by Frederick Clarkson on Wed Oct 18, 2006 at 04:35:19 PM EST
there is not yet any serious sign (and probably no serious potential for the future) of political organizing in moderate to liberal evangelical circles, but, I think there is still some room for a little cautious optimism. What is lacking in political organization may be compensated by a certain cultural dynamic that seems be motivating some evangelicals to re-think their political commitments. Perhaps I'm just giving too much credence to the media buzz, but I am hoping something more substantial is taking place.

by Carlos on Wed Oct 18, 2006 at 05:04:47 PM EST
I don't see moderate or progressive Christians creating any organizations that will sustain political action long term.

I do see some evangelicals maturing politically and broadening their allegiances.

by Mainstream Baptist on Wed Oct 18, 2006 at 05:12:42 PM EST

and the most signficant consequence as I see it, is a recasting of the public discussion somewhat.  The media is under some pressure to widen the range of people who speak for Christianity and for "people of faith."  The evangelical opening to more moderate conservatism and even the center left is one encouraging part of the trend.

by Frederick Clarkson on Wed Oct 18, 2006 at 05:22:20 PM EST

but it seems this election cycle might just be able to serve as a bit of reality orientation for some of the true believers. A functional authoritarian system demands leaders who are seen as all powerful, virtually infallible, and protective - and followers who are willing to cede control to them and obey in exchange for protection and security. There seems to have been a perfect storm of events lately that casts leaders (both political and religious) in a less than favorable light: Republican sex scandals, Kuo's book, failure of leaders to implement promised goals, resurgance of progressive candidates in spite of attempts to defeat them by religious right leaders and attempts by politicians to distance themselves from the religious right. Leaders such as Dobson have lost their megaphone and some prestige and appear to be running around trying to defend themselves rather than being on the offensive.

Can't remember, but it might have been Bruce or Max that noted that the most recent "Liberty Sunday" was supposed to be held in an arena with paid entry but ended up in a church (with free entrance). Blackwell and his "Patriot Pastors" are getting clobbered here in Ohio by an almost 2:1 margin and a recent Pew Poll indicates significant evangelical disenchantment with the Republican party and Bush. Younger evangelical leaders are also paying more attention to things like poverty and global warming which may give the followers a chance to redirect their energies to less devisive and destructive pursuits.

Don't expect the religious right to disappear (they never have) but perhaps some disruption of the "Christian/Republican" symbiosis will have a salutory effect on their hegemony.  

by Psyche on Thu Oct 19, 2006 at 03:22:13 AM EST

What grieves me the most is this: despite the Religious Right's waxing or waning in American society, we Christians lose either way.  Pro-Nazi enthusiasts in the German church in 1933 (The Deutsche Cristen) are blamed for the emptiness of churches in Europe today.  Whenever a sector of the church falls all over a political party, whether they succeed or whether they fail, we all lose in the end.

by Steven D. Martin on Thu Oct 19, 2006 at 06:28:14 AM EST
The religious right usually argues that Europe is too secular and socialist and that accounts for the drop in Christianity and church attendance.

Others say that the still established state churches are a factor in keeping the churches unegaged and unegaging so that participation stays low, at least in some countries.

But you are saying that Christian enthusiasm for the Nazi party in Germany was a major factor in the decline of Christianity in Europe?

by Frederick Clarkson on Thu Oct 19, 2006 at 03:56:13 PM EST

The visibility and volume of the religious right in this country tends to obscure an underlying US trend (which possibly contributes to the aggressiveness of the RR).

A CUNY study, American Religious Identification Survey, for example, reports the following findings:

In 1990, ninety percent of the adult population identified with one or another religion group. In 2001, such identification has dropped to eighty-one percent.
the proportion of the population that can be classified as Christian has declined from eighty-six in 1990 to seventy-seven percent in 2001;
at least ten percent of the population clearly and unambiguously considers itself "secular" rather than "religious." Another six percent regard themselves as "somewhat secular."
The top three "gainers" in America's vast religious market place appear to be Evangelical Christians, those describing themselves as Non-Denominational Christians and those who profess no religion.

Is it possible that with more moderate, less divisive, and less capitalistic US leadership, people would migrate to more moderate religion and secularism? Religiosity is obviously multiply determined but it's important to note that Europe is also older and more socialistic. Government there may provide a more adequate social safety net.

by Psyche on Thu Oct 19, 2006 at 09:07:21 PM EST

Psychologically, if you aren't volunteering and you aren't deciding how much money to dig out of your pocket and give to your local church, you aren't as engaged and committed. I suspect that a lot of people who go to state supported churches regard those churches as utilities not too different from the water and lights. People end up showing up "when expected" or for rites of passage (baptism, marriage, burial). The Church of England abbreviation CE is sometimes referred to by priests as "Christmas and Easter", the only times when they see most "regular churchgoers".

Re: Blackwell. As an Ohio native with family still back there, I can assure you that getting the majority of ordinary Republicans to actually turn out and "pull the lever" (push the touchscreen) for a black man for a top office is a formidable and probably impossible. The fact that Party activists  voted for him in a lower-level state office doesn't mean squat to John. Q. Votes-only-for-top

by NancyP on Fri Oct 20, 2006 at 10:47:08 AM EST

Psychologically, if you aren't volunteering and you aren't deciding how much money to dig out of your pocket and give to your local church, you aren't as engaged and committed.

I would agree that volunteering and donating are related to real engagement but would disagree that churches are the only way to be engaged. Europeans, as well as many Americans, may have simply found other ways to be engaged.

Re: Blackwell. As an Ohio native with family still back there, I can assure you that getting the majority of ordinary Republicans to actually turn out and "pull the lever" (push the touchscreen) for a black man for a top office is a formidable and probably impossible. The fact that Party activists  voted for him in a lower-level state office doesn't mean squat to John. Q. Votes-only-for-top-of-the-ticket-in-the-general-election.

Have lived in Ohio for 20 years. Although that doesn't quite qualify me as a native, I am politically very active and think I have a reasonable take on the dynamics here. While I agree that race is certainly a factor (especially in southern Ohio), a lot of true-blue Republicans would have held their noses and voted for Blackwell if he'd been a reasonable candidate. He isn't. His ever-worsening lag in the polls reflects the fact that people are getting to know him. Blackwell is dishonest and vicious (as has become increasing clear), he has extreme economic views as well as religious views (which alienate moderate Republicans), and his unethical use of his office as Secretary of State to disrupt election integrity in '04 and currently is much more widely recognized. One of the interesting things to me in reading responses to newspaper articles about this man who billed himself as the "Christian" candidate is that people who had planned to vote for him are now saying that he isn't "Christian."

Suspect Blackwell will contribute to the unlinking of the Religious Right and Christianity, as have many of his party in Congress.


by Psyche on Fri Oct 20, 2006 at 03:42:07 PM EST

by Mainstream Baptist on Fri Oct 20, 2006 at 04:26:50 PM EST
One indication of the shift in perception here is that the conservative Republican Findlay Courier has unendorsed Ken Blackwell:

We've been following Ken Blackwell's career for years. Our file on him is more than an inch thick. We've talked with him personally and come away impressed with his intelligence and commitment to change -- both of which are much needed in this state. But while Blackwell may still get some of our individual votes, he's lost our endorsement, for whatever it's worth. His total nastiness at the Monday debate with his opponent, Democrat Ted Strickland, has proven that he's really not the kind of man we need as our next governor. Personal attacks of dubious accuracy should have no place in a political campaign. As Strickland said, "Mr. Blackwell, you should be ashamed of yourself."

Both Blackwell and Strickland have campaigned as religious people. Blackwell is an evangelical Christian and Strickland an ordained Methodist minister. The Monday debate showed which one has a greater understanding of Christian conduct.

The final debate was on C-SPAN last night so for those interested (and who have a strong stomach) the podcast should be up soon.

by Psyche on Sat Oct 21, 2006 at 03:27:28 PM EST

pleads for a "Wise Up, Voters" motivation. You may find my review-article of his theme at
www.faithfulprogressive.blogspot.com for Sept. 15, 2006 in the September 2006 archives clickon. My title is "The 'Mushy' Middle and the Future of the American State."

Wolfe parses the "politics trumps religion every time" motif as a matter of ignorance but a matter of ignorance that endangers our democracy's future. While the RR has emboldened itself since the days of Reagan, the result overall is that "Americans ... grow increasingly cynical about politics" but rarely face up to "their lack of political knowledge."  Beyond that, it is that "Americans are...united in ignorance" that bothers him for the future of democracy. Ignorance is part & parcel of the centrism that has united us in the past, but while the populace remains centrist, the political actors of the present have a decided rightist agenda that conflicts with that centrism. Narrow one-or-two litmus test issues  conflict with "a candicate's broader policy positions" with "a coherent overall policy." He has hope that centrism will reassert itself, the result of a democracy for which we "work harder" and expect it to "perform better." We must be an informed citizenry, and we must be ready to vote! I find Alan Wolfe as a milepost along the way to rediscovering our centrism, but I also find the road bumpy! That said, we need calls like his, even if he writes for a reading, educated public. How do we recreate that public which is needed for citizenry, when the high school dropout rate is once again at crisis preportions [The Philadelphia Inquirer has had a front page initiation of a series on this just 3 days ago]? It is also  true that the RR uses newfound ignorance for a new beachead & assault on these denizens.

Nevertheless, Alan Wolfe is on my reading list for his insights into this area of problems.
Arden C. Hander

by achbird65 on Sun Oct 22, 2006 at 05:44:43 PM EST

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