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Political Strategy for a Permanent Democratic Majority

Centrist Gains in Evangelical Movement May Help Dems

Is the evangelical movement evolving into more of a bipartisan force? Frances Fitzgerald thinks so and presents a persuasive case for this viewpoint in her New York Review of Books article “The Evangelical Surprise.” This trend has been noted before, but Fitzgerald does a particularly good job of bringing it all together and up to date. Fitzgerald explains:

Statistically, the extreme conservatism of the traditionalists skews the picture of the community as a whole. In fact, “modernist” evangelicals—defined as those who go to church infrequently and don’t hold to a literal interpretation of the Bible—have more liberal views on all issues, including abortion and gay rights, than the American population as a whole, but there are relatively very few of them. “Centrists,” or those who fall somewhere in the theological middle and make up almost half of all evangelicals, are no more conservative than Americans generally except on abortion and gay rights, and even on these issues they are far more moderate than the traditionalists.[9] In other words, half of the evangelical population doesn’t see eye to eye with the other half. In the future the division may become more acute because while the Christian right leaders have become more ambitious and more aggressive as a result of their victories, centrist leaders have, for the first time, begun to assert themselves.

Fitzgerald discusses a number of surprisingly liberal initiatives launched by moderate evangelical leaders, including some that should make Republicans a little nervous about their base. One example:

In October 2004, the National Association of Evangelicals, an umbrella organization of denominations and churches that claims thirty million members, issued a position paper laying out ten principles for Christian political engagement. The document, “For the Health of the Nation,” called upon evangelicals to seek justice for the poor, to protect human rights, to seek peace, and to protect God’s creation—as well as to protect the sanctity of human life and nurture families. Carefully drawn up so as not to provoke right-wing opposition, the document gave official sanction to the efforts of the more progressive leaders to move, at a national level, beyond both the religious right agenda and the traditional evangelical approach to good works.

Fitzgerald quotes John Giles, president of Christian Action Alabama, in defining key wedge issues that can break the GOP’s leverage with evangelicals:

We can all unite around a few core issues, such as abortion, pornography and gambling,” he said. “But when you start talking about global warming, the minimum wage or the death penalty, the consensus breaks down.”…Dobson and Perkins have said much the same thing.

If Fitzgerald is right, the widening political fissures in the evangelical movement are an invitation to Democratic strategists looking to mine potential sources of new support.

One comment on “Centrist Gains in Evangelical Movement May Help Dems

  1. Rich Hall on

    While the research seems correct to my experience as an evangelical Christian and a Democrat I strongly caution any in the party that seek to “mine potential sources of new support” from taking any but a sincere course of action. Few things ring false more quickly than a false statement of faith used to gather favor.
    Listening to the convocation from Virginia Tech today I heard Tim Kaine, governor of Virginia speak and was once again pleased with his open claim of faith. Within the Democratic Party that is becoming more the norm, but only recently so. When he was on national television with the Democratic rebuttal to W’s state of the nation address in 2006 most of us Christians dropped our jaws in shock, and many Democrats screamed in pain thinking the fundamentalists had taken over.
    In truth, many centrist or even left-leaning Christians have finally gotten outraged by the takeover of faith by the political right. Count me among them, that is a primary reason I started the blog at http://www.ChristianDemocrat.us
    As an evangelical Christian it is darned hard to spread the good news when those that need to hear it have the strongest association of anything I mention with the liars, hypocrites and thieves that claim moral superiority in the Lord’s name.
    To all candidates of faith – please openly and freely express that faith. If your faith is simple and not greatly studied, acknowledge that and stand proud. If you attend church regularly and study the Bible regularly, then quote from your heart. In both cases, it is a part of your person.
    Even more strongly to those candidates that haven’t a place in their hearts for a faith that is true to themselves – don’t even try to speak it falsely, it will be heard as such.
    One more item – I don’t doubt the faith of those liars I mentioned earlier and I don’t think them any less Christian. I just think them bad people.


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