An Evangelical Crack-Up?

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?

Comments

  1. #1 Ex-drone
    October 29, 2007

    Yikes, Terry Fox is the name of a heroic, Canadian, cancer treatment fundraiser, so don’t be alarmed if you hear that we have Terry Fox statues up here.

  2. #2 Scott Belyea
    October 29, 2007

    The proof will be in the pudding.

    Arrrrggggghh!! Sorry to pick on you, but I’ve seen this same stupid misstatement all too often lately.

    What could this possibly mean? Answer – nothing. The statement is of course, “The proof of the pudding is in the eating”.

    There now – that makes sense, right?

    I feel better now …

  3. #3 RBH
    October 29, 2007

    The statement is of course, “The proof of the pudding is in the eating”.

    Where “proof” in that bromide means “test.”

  4. #4 Jason Rosenhouse
    October 29, 2007

    Scott, dear, surely you have heard of tasty election pudding? I’m certain I saw a recipe for it on the Food Network…

  5. #5 gary
    October 29, 2007

    I actually think there is a bit of moderating happening, but not for the reasons stated in the article. To me, it is more of a generational thing. Falwell is dead, D. james Kennedy is dead. Adrean Peterson is dead. I think the older Christians are more interested in the cultural wars than the younger ones are. The younger ones seem more interested in the personal side of religion, not the political side. Im sure there will always be some who are into the cultural wars thing, but I really do think they are being marginalized.

    I see it as somewhat similar to the racial situation in the South years ago. It was George Wallace and his generation who were so angry about ‘race mixing’. The people of the South today are much more comfortable with it.

  6. #6 Joe Shelby
    October 29, 2007

    I think gary is being too optimistic. It may be that the younger generation isn’t nearly so vocal as the predecessors who have been passing on in recent months, but that doesn’t mean they’re any less close-minded nor bigoted. In fact, one could say that without fresh “leadership”, they simply will continue on exactly repeating the last thing taught them.

    They may not be insanely vocal in the papers or on the pulpit, but the votes will remain the same.

    The only thing collectively in the favor of reason is that their big rallying cry to the ballot box, “(no) gay marriage amendments” has been all but spent. Here in VA they held onto it through the 2004 election where it had made a difference in battleground states like Ohio (VA wasn’t a threat to Bush), where they could use it as a weapon to protect that pig George Allen, and even though Allen lost, the right of the people to be religious bigots, provided they could do so anonymously, was obviously upheld.

    Such votes will continue. As long as a bigot thinks he can get away with his prejudice without being noticed, they will do so, especially as long as he is convinced God has willed it so. Archie Bunker is quite alive and well throughout the south.

  7. #7 Blake Stacey
    October 30, 2007

    OK, I gotta say that I find “the proof is in the pudding” to be an entirely reasonable, albeit rather brominated, statement. Pudding is the outcome of following a recipe; one tests the effectiveness of a recipe or demonstrates its validity by performing the instructions and making the pudding. Therefore, the “proof” (in either the antiquated or the modern sense) of the procedure is in the result.

  8. #8 Traces
    October 30, 2007

    I myself find find prescriptivists who rail again improper idiomatic usage as close to pedantic as you could want: It’s idiomatic. It’s not supposed to make direct literal sense. The manner in which an idiomatic expression is actually used by real people AND UNDERSTOOD BY OTHERS is the correct usage.

  9. #9 Callandor
    October 31, 2007

    I’m unsure of what to think, but I’d favor the conclusion Pew gave regarding young evangelicals:

    “Younger white evangelicals express a similarly conservative opinion when it comes to capital punishment, with the vast majority (72%) favoring the death penalty for convicted murderers, compared with 75% of older white evangelicals but only 56% of all Americans ages 18-29.

    And when it comes to abortion, younger white evangelicals are even more conservative than their older counterparts. For example, 70% of younger white evangelicals favor “making it more difficult for a woman to get an abortion,” compared with 55% of older white evangelicals and 39% of young Americans overall who share this view.

    This strong allegiance to conservatism and conservative positions suggests that young white evangelicals’ turn away from the president and his party may be the product of dissatisfaction with this particular administration rather than the result of an underlying shift in this group’s political values and policy views.”

    But a hopefully politically weaker movement, I’m all for that.

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