October 27, 2007

Change in the Evangelical Movement?

A very interesting piece on evangelical politics in the NYT. Evidently, some of the firebreathers from the right have found resistance from within the evangelical movement. Several hardliner political activist pastors have been pushed out by their congregations.
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!”

Very interesting trend. And the piece takes us back to that dark place when these same evangelicals believed that Bush was God's own President, or some similar nonsense.
Every time I visited an evangelical church in 2004, it seemed that a member’s brother or cousin had just returned from Iraq with reports that much greater progress was being made than the news media let on. The admiration for President Bush as a man of faith was nearly universal, and some talked of his contest with John Kerry as a spiritual battle. It would have been hard to overstate the Christian conservative leadership’s sense of the presidential race’s historical significance. In the days before the election, Dobson told me he believed the culture war was “rapidly approaching the climax, with everything that we are about on the line” and the election might be “the pivot point.”

But things are shifting beneath the feet of people like Dobson and his little attack dog--Tony Perkins. The younger generation is moving away from them politically and in just a three year time.
White evangelicals under 30 — the future of the church — were once Bush’s biggest fans; now they are less supportive than their elders. And the dissatisfaction extends beyond Bush. For the first time in many years, white evangelical identification with the Republican Party has dipped below 50 percent, with the sharpest falloff again among the young, according to John C. Green, a senior fellow at Pew and an expert on religion and politics. (The defectors by and large say they’ve become independents, not Democrats, according to the polls.)

Some claim the falloff in support for Bush reflects the unrealistic expectations pumped up by conservative Christian leaders. But no one denies the war is a factor. Christianity Today, the evangelical journal, has even posed the question of whether evangelicals should “repent” for their swift support of invading Iraq.

“Even in evangelical circles, we are tired of the war, tired of the body bags,” the Rev. David Welsh, who took over late last year as senior pastor of Wichita’s large Central Christian Church, told me. “I think it is to the point where they are saying: ‘O.K., we have done as much good as we can. Now let’s just get out of there.’ ”
Yes, what "good" they have done. I hope they keep that in mind if Bush opens up another war with Iran. Well done, church.
“There was a time when evangelical churches were becoming largely and almost exclusively the Republican Party at prayer,” said Marvin Olasky, the editor of the evangelical magazine World and an informal adviser to George W. Bush when he was governor. “To some extent — we have to see how much — the Republicans have blown it. That opportunity to lock up that constituency has vanished. The ball now really is in the Democrats’ court.”
At least Olasky is honest about it. But the reality is that the evangelical movement blew it too. They signed on with Bush and now we all reap the consequences.
But at least there are some shifts happening. Frank Page, new SBC President has pledged to make that body less political. He was asked about a Bush-Cheney reception at the 2004 SBC convention for pastors
He sounded appalled. “That will not be happening with me,” he said, repeating it for emphasis. “I have cautioned our denomination to be very careful not to be seen as in lock step with any political party.”
Well, no time like after the disaster to say, "hey, we shouldn't have done that."

But at least there is a shift. Evangelicals are now talking about some social justice issues including poverty and the environment. They still owe me a constitutional government complete with checks and balances, and I would like a damn apology for this war. But this is better than where we were even a year and a half ago.


Tony said...

I thought the article was well-put together. I appreciated the disconnect he emphasized between conservatives and liberals and the failure of us to work together for the common good.

I had never really thought about the disconnect in terms of the way liberals and conservatives view the Gospel, with the conservatives' view focused more on a personal Jesus and how that narrow view has tremendously impacted policy. The liberals' view is of course, attuned more so to the social aspect of the Gospel. It is encouraging to see some of the younger generation attempting to overcome these boundaries.

Tony said...

Oh, and one other thing. Sorry for the double comment. One shortcoming I saw was the emphasis on bush's failure as a "man of faith" which faith was the focus of the article, but I think something could have been included about Bush's shredding the Constitution and torture. It has been his "faith", after all, that his informed many of his decisions.