This week’s New York Times Magazine has this lengthy article suggesting that the evangelical voters are modertaing their views a bit:
So when Fox announced to his flock one Sunday in August last year that it was his final appearance in the pulpit, the news startled evangelical activists from Atlanta to Grand Rapids. Fox told the congregation that he was quitting so he could work full time on “cultural issues.” Within days, The Wichita Eagle reported that Fox left under pressure. The board of deacons had told him that his activism was getting in the way of the Gospel. “It just wasn’t pertinent,” Associate Pastor Gayle Tenbrook later told me.
Fox, who is 47, said he saw some impatient shuffling in the pews, but he was stunned that the church’s lay leaders had turned on him. “They said they were tired of hearing about abortion 52 weeks a year, hearing about all this political stuff!” he told me on a recent Sunday afternoon. “And these were deacons of the church!”
“Fox” is Kansas preacher Terry Fox, identified as a leading evangelist for the religious right. The article would like us to believe that this sort of impatience for mixing right-wing politics with Sunday morning sermonizing is now typical among evangelical Christians.
The article touts the now-familiar talking points about how evangelicals are trying to move beyond their usual contempt for homosexuality, evolution and abortion and instead get back to a message of helping the poor and protecting the environment. There are even some evangelicals, apparently, who are considering the possibility of maybe voting for a Democrat in 2008!
Alas, I fear the article is not very convincing. The take-home message for me is that evangelicals are as right-wing as ever. It is not that their views have moderated in any significant way, they have merely been chastened by Bush’s catastrophic administration. Bush was their guy, a true evangelical. He was one of them. And he has done nothing on their issues and has gotten us into a disastrous war in Iraq. Two good Supreme Court justices (from their perspective) is not enough to undo that.
To me this looks like an attempt to generate some news out of very slim pickings. The Times’ reporter, David Kirkpatrick, spoke to a handful of prominent pastors, heard vague rumblings about unease among the troops, and wrote his breathless article. I think Jeff Sharlet of The Revealer has a far more sensible take:
Meanwhile, culture war continues quietly in the textbooks of more than a million evangelical homeschoolers, at the new chastity rituals of a movement dedicated to “sexual purity” as a form of spiritual war, and wherever anyone, evangelical or not, accepts the reductionist premise of “Islamofascism” as if it’s a reasonable idea. Evangelical conservatives don’t need to shout; in fact, so long as they don’t, they persuade more people. That’s not to say the movement is more moderate now; rather, that it’s more polite. And much more likely to endure.
That there’s a crack-up in political evangelicalism’s old guard is indisputable, but the movement, the evangelical idea of what America is and should be, is stronger and more widespread now than it ever was in the 20th century.
I fear that take is more accurate than the hopeful, Kirkpatrick version. The proof will be in the pudding. Who will evangelicals vote for in 2008? In 2004 evangelicals supported Bush over Kerry by four to one. Why do I suspect that for all the talk about a crack-up, evangelicals will vote, say, three and a half to one for the Republican nominee in ’08?