Steve Ralls

The Changing Face of Evangelicals?

Filed By Steve Ralls | October 18, 2007 7:06 PM | comments

Filed in: Fundie Watch, Media, Politics
Tags: evangelical Christian, Republicans, sojourners, southern baptist convention

Tonight's CBS Evening News included a fascinating new look at the evangelical movement, its priorities and its influence in the 2008 election. CBS found that, as young evangelicals focus on issues such as the crisis in Darfur, healthcare and, yes, even the environment, the movement's focus on social issues such as abortion and gay rights has dwindled significantly. In fact, according to a CBS poll of Americans who identify as evangelical, gay rights issues ranked a whopping 0% among issues they considered important to address. That's right: Zero.

That doesn't mean, of course, that all evangelical voters are abandoning the right-wing's 'bread and butter' tactics of attacking women and gays. Instead, a rift appears to be forming, as evidenced by stark contrasts in priorities as identified by the leader of the Southern Baptist Convention and Sojourners, a more progressive evangelical organization that is now gaining prominence in the movement.

That rift, however, may mean that, for the first time, evangelical voters do not line up behind Republican candidates, which could, in turn, mean a very significant shift in the 2008 election.

Katie Couric asked evangelical Christian writer and activist Jim Wallis: "Do you believe that evangelical Christians are still the domain of the GOP?"

"No, I think things are changing dramatically. They are up for grabs," he said. "Their votes are in play."

"Why were the followers of the prince of peace, the easiest ones to convince to go to war in Iraq?" Wallis said.

That's right . . . and he's an evangelical movement leader. And check out this quote:

"God is not a Republican or Democrat and people of faith should not be in any party's political pocket," Wallis said.

And that new attitude, according to CBS, could mean that evangelical voters are more open to supporting Democratic candidates for the White House. And among more conservative, traditional evangelical voters, a GOP ticket that includes social moderates like Rudy Guiliani could encourage a third party candidate for the Oval Office, further siphoning votes away from the Republican party.

Is anyone else having visions of the Ross Perot-George Bush-Bill Clinton 3-way of 1992? A similar dynamic in 2008 could considerably help the Democratic nominee again.

And that, in the end, could also mean good news for LGBT issues and voters, too.

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Steve, in addition to the poll you mention and similar polls, I have seen other evidence that the evangelical movement is "fracturing" --- generally, I think the young evangelicals are not willing to be as dogmatic as their parents are or were.

I think the lesson for the GLBT community in this is that we should guard ourselves carefully against "de-humanizing" the evangelicals, even though some of their leaders have demonized us. I know that I have struggled on this point personally, yet I know that demonizing any human being is wrong, and works toward the spiritual detriment of the demonizer.

As another example of evangelicals taking a fresh view on an issue, Rick Warren, pastor of Saddleback Church in Orange County, California and author of the evangelical best-seller The Purpose-Driven Life, has stepped forward to lead his own aggressive effort to fight against HIV/AIDS in Africa and in the African-American communities. I think that in future decades, as the GLBT movement works side-by-side with evangelicals on issues such as global warming, genocide situations such as Darfur, and natural disaster recovery efforts such as Katrina in New Orleans, our relations have the potential to improve dramatically.

Perhaps the GOP will learn that simply picking on one group of people or another won't do it? They'll have to come up with some winning strategies for how to make America better for once...

Thanks for sharing this fascinating data. I concur with A.J. about dehumanizing people, even when it feels that to you have to fight fire with fire (or in this case, anti-gay hatred with anti-evangelical hatred, in turn).

I grew up in the Deep South and know how hard it is to pigeonhole people for their political views. Many of my family members could be considered part of the anti-gay, anti-woman, racist hardline evangelicals we often speak of, but I know in many cases their views stand on a heap of ignorance, lack of exposure, and slightly skewed visions of what a just world is.

I think the most interesting thing about religiously motivated conservatives, at least in terms of the rank-and-file, who aren't floating a lavish lifestyle on hate speech (a la Jerry Falwell), is that they, like us, are motivated by a just view of the world. It's just a much differently conceived "just view" of the world.

Don Sherfick Don Sherfick | October 19, 2007 5:28 PM

Let me add my second to the sentiments above that we should resist the temptation to stereotype and demonize all evangelicals, as SOME of them tend to do to us.

Both of my grandmothers (who since I'm nearing 70 were both born in the late 1800's) were evangelicals. Although the subject of homosexuality, let alone same-sex marriage, obviously never came up in our conversations in the 40's and 50's, I'm pretty sure they would have not had comfortable words for who I turned out to be long after they died. So by all accounts, they were both "homobigots".

They were also my loving grandmothers. They were not satanic...they were my flesh and blood....human beings.

I like to think they would have listened. There are times I think we ought to listen a bit, too.