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Why the Christian Right Was Noticeably Absent in This Election
Most the votes have been counted and it seems the GOP has made historic gains in Congress. At least 60 Democrats have now been replaced in the House of Representatives and at least six have been sent packing in the Senate. President Obama
called it a “shellacking”
in a press conference today.
These numbers shouldn’t be a complete shock to those who have been watching the election coverage.
Gallup’s generic ballot had been predicting
the shift for some time. But what may surprise you is the noticeable absence of the Christian right during these midterms.
The last time we saw a so-called “Republican revolution” was in 1994 when no Republican incumbent lost and America witnessed a 54-seat swing. In that year, unlike this one, Christian right political advocates were among the most notable and vocal voices. Ralph Reed and Pat Robertson's Christian Coalition, for example, was at its political peak and distributed 40 million copies of the "Family Values Voters Guides" in more than 100,000 churches nationwide. As a result, one national poll showed 27 percent of all voters that year self-identified themselves as born-again Christians, compared with 18 percent in 1988.
By 2008, however, the Christian tide had turned. With the newly formed "Religious left" at the forefront of Obama's campaign, many Christians crossed party lines for the first time. Double the number of young evangelicals voted for Obama than for Kerry in 2004.
This year, Christians mobilized again for Republicans but they did so under a different banner than the religious right. Namely, the Tea Party. No Christian voter guides, no focusing on families, and no touting that we’re either moral or a majority.
Why has this happened?
In large part, it's because the Christian right has failed to enlist sufficient numbers of young recruits in their movement. As noted in the book
, most young Americans have been turned off by the religious right's politics, as well as the judgmentalism and hypocrisy that now marks American Christianity. While faith still informs the way young believers cast votes, it doesn't express itself in such vicious partisanship as years past. In recent polls, more young Christians self-identify as "centrist" than either "conservative" or "liberal."
Additionally, de-enlisted older Christians increasingly share the sentiments of these un-enlisted young Christians. A cross-generational weariness with the culture wars has set in among all Christians, which partially accounts for their absence in current battles. According to a recent LifeWay Research poll, only 28% of evangelicals believe they will see a significant contribution from current Christian leadership in resolving pressing social concerns.
Without new faces or an invigorated contingency, the Christian right has found itself in the middle of a leadership vacuum. Many stalwart Christian conservatives like Jerry Falwell and D. James Kennedy passed away while others, including James Dobson and Pat Robertson, have been able to exert far less influence.
, "Without a charismatic figure carrying the banner, the religious right has been eclipsed by the fiscally focused tea party."
To be fair, an
October 2010 study by the Public Religion Research Institute
shows nearly half of Tea Partiers consider themselves a part of the religious right or conservative Christian movement. And election polls indicate that more evangelicals turned out to vote this year than in the last Presidential election. But these believers aren't following Christian leadership or fighting for a distinctly Christian agenda.
Rather than cheering for Christian pastors on political talk shows, conservatives are now tuning into teary-eyed lectures from Mormon pundit, Glenn Beck. In fact, Beck delivered the commencement address this year at Jerry Falwell's Liberty University. Forthcoming books by conservatives including
No Apology: The Case for American Greatness
by Mitt Romney and
To Save America
by Newt Gingrich are rooted more in historical narrative than religious narrative. Not only has the pilotage turned over, but the storyline from the last GOP resurgence has also been completely replaced.
This new narrative has also stoked emotions on a different set of issues than Christians have championed in the past. Debates over hot buttons such as abortion and illegal drugs that were critical in the 1994 elections have given way to emotional disputes about federal spending, a still-struggling economy, the role of government, and the very essence of what it means to be "American."
They say every revolution needs strong leaders, powerful ideas, and a mobilized constituency. The Christian political movement of late has failed to produce all three. While a few religious political leaders will doubtlessly try to cobble together their old coalitions, it seems we've entered into a new era in the American public square. Historians may look back on the 2010 midterms and call it a “revolution,” but they won’t be crediting it to the Christian right.
Do you consider yourself a part of the "Christian right?" What about the Tea Party? Share your take on the elections with us.
Editor's Note: The political cartoon featured above is
quoted from Vanity Fair, May 2010
. The characters pictured are (clockwise from the top-left): Rush Limbaugh, Ayn Rand, William Kristol, Bill O'Reilly, Glenn Beck, and Sarah Palin.
I think the fundamental narrative is "please government, get out of our lives and leave us be". This doesn't mesh well with abortion and drug issues. The dominant narrative is shared with fiscal conservative and has squeezed out the secondary issues. It hearkens back to the Puritan fleeing government oppression.
I cannot say that I do identify with the Christian right, and neither do I want to be identified with such a group. Too often, this group seems to have placed its mixture of theological and political ideology as the only way to 1) be a Christian and 2) the only way Christians "ought" to think.
It is not right to tell someone who is a Democrat and is more socially reform minded and concerned about the needs of society that they are not a Christian. In contrast, the Republican party has had the ideology of a capitalistic market and each man is responsible for himself, and in that it is deemed more Christian. It is quite possible that two different people can be a Christian and share conflicting political views on how to solve the world's problems. So often the Christian right has communicated the idea that if you are a Christian, then you are obviously a Republican.
The Tea Party is great for those people who want less government control and less taxes. If you support that political view, then that is fine. If you don't and you feel the government can spend your money more wisely than yourself, then that is fine as well.
I think a radical thought for some Republicans who are Christians is that you are a Christian before you are a Republican or even an American. Your Christianity takes priority over your national and political affiliation.
It is interesting to consider that organized Christianity is cycling farther out of the public square; that it no longer has a significant voice or unifying banner to assemble under for political purposes. Perhaps, it is evidence that organized Christianity is even more disconnected from our culture.
It is important for grass roots members of the Tea Party to discover where funding for Tea Party candidates and causes come from. Who benefits from the concerns they express? I suspect this "peoples movement" has been, or always was funded by the people/corporations who benefit most from being unregulated in their civic obligations.
Regardless of where one stands on the political spectrum, my perception of the conflict for Christ followers is Jesus' compassion for everyone versus a mythical view of the independent, me first American.
I'd go farther and say that the Christian right has been replaced with some half-breed product of the last thirty years. Once upon a time (late 70s early 80s) you had Christian leaders influencing Republicans to take up their social causes in exchange for many new registered voters. Republicans learned they could win elections this way, and it worked for a while. Meanwhile, a lot of those voters thought the Republicans were the Christians and the lines got especially blurry when Bush Jr. ran. Many Christians thought they found their political messiah. Somewhere along the lines, christians learned to trust the wrong people.
I’m just not so sure today’s Christians believe the politicians are the prophets they need to follow anymore. I think they’re becoming wise to the fact that it is better for the church to take a hard stance from the street and fight the injustices on their own, in their own areas. With more outlets than ever, they can scream those injustices towards our leaders no matter what party they are with. There was a Pastor that did this pretty well, I think his name was Martin Luther King Jr. – he had a dream or something, apparently Washington listened, and he never ran for office… interesting huh. I think more Christians are apologizing for the way they turned the church into a lobby group.
The interesting thing about Tea Parties, is they have the ability to un-elect whoever they want. They are a group united in fundamental beliefs about economic issues. They research issues, gather together in small groups, and without central leadership, form together and hold rallies and such. I've gotten to know some of these groups because many have requested to screen our last film
- And I think that's something we can do as the church. We can talk together, gather, find research, and figure out what we think about issues from a Biblical lens. And we should really talk about some tough stuff. Immigration is a great one. What does the Bible teach about the care of strangers? Shouldn't that mean we allow them some kind of Healthcare? Okay, now that being said. What's the republican stance. Okay, lets ignore that, and do something instead. I can choose to jump on a band wagon and try to change law, but thats not gonna help anyone tomorrow. The beautiful thing about this country is that I don't need to put all my focus towards putting a guy in washington to do what I want. Instead I can raise funds and help the Christian clinic in our town that helps thousands of uninsured people, mostly they are citizens but many aren't, and they care for those that have no where else to go. That, I can get behind. I’m not so sure Washington is the place to be to get things done. You can commentate and talk about issues and even pass bills, but if there isn’t anyone in the streets or in their local communities getting things done, then nothing is going to change. Campaigning or raising awareness is just pointing at the trash in the street. Governing and Volunteering is what it takes to pick the trash up and recycle it. That’s what makes a real difference in the lives of Americans, and I think it’s where you will find more followers of Jesus in the next few years. As for this new "republican revolution" I'd give the newbies a couple months before they realize campaigning is different than governing, and nothing is simple or easy in that town.
Over the course of the last century, the government has become too intrusive into our lives. The "Christian right," much like the "secular left," sought to use the government to advance its positions. The "tea party" on the other hand seeks to limit the government intrusion.
The more power that is concentrated in a central location, the less freedom people have. Consider that the population of the United States is 300,000,000. That population is spread across an area of 3,500,000 square miles. When you consider the variety between states (New York, Montana, Alaska, Florida, Hawaii) does it make sense to elect 537 people to create laws that affect the minute details of our day to day lives?
Consider the problems in your own house. Neighborhood. Community. City. State. The politicians in DC cannot know, and to be honest, most do not care, what the real issues are affecting individuals. Instead, they must talk in generalities - immigration, homelessness, jobs, etc. To pass any legislation they must make compromises (consider the "health" care debate). The end result is a one size does not fit any legislation that regardless of the effectiveness of the legislation brings more money and control to the centralized government.
Also, as you think about the "health" care legislation, consider that before the 1930's, individuals were responsible for their health care (as well as their retirement). Because of the wage and price freeze in the 30's (government intervention), businesses began offering benefits to attract workers. Seventy years later, and after much more government intervention, government then decides that more government is necessary to fix the problems that government helped create.
Prior to the 1930's, people either paid cash for houses or borrowed money for 3 to 5 years to pay for them. Again, in the 30's government got involved, and ultimately, the 30 year mortgage became common. Ultimately, again after more government intervention, we ended up in our current economic situation.
Certainly in a country of 300 million people, there are more than two sides, opinions, etc. (though the news media typically makes it that simple - liberal/conservative, democrat/republican, etc.) However, for purposes of argument, consider the following two views, "government is responsible" and "government is not responsible."
If we take the view that "government is responsible" (regardless of the issue) at the federal level, then we have limited freedom at the state and local level. The only recourse a citizen has in this case is to try to change things at the federal level (not an easy proposition).
However, if we take the view that "government is not responsible" (again, regardless of the issue), then people are still free to decide at the state and local level how they want to deal with the particular issue. If someone does not what their city or state decides on a particular issue, then they can try to change it or they can choose to move.
Currently, the federal government operates as if "government is responsible." A reading of the Constitution would indicate that is not what the framers intended.
Why do you think that organized Christianity has cycled out of politics?
I work with students at a private Christian university here in Tulsa, OK. They don't seem to be interested in political Christian action, but in social justice. Do you think this is part of the reason why Christians are shying away from the political arena more and more - in that a new generation of voters don't share the same concerns of those 30 years ago?
I agree with Reinhardt. Some of the reason for the lack of presence depends on the dominate issues of the day. When the economy is booming the more political social issues get a corner of the arena. When people are out of work, they care about getting back to work.
Secondly, I think the moral majority might feel used thus damping the activism. For sometime it felt good to make a difference in society and stand up for your issues. However, it became increasing apparent that brilliant political strategy was not necessarily good for the image of the Christian faith. The example is when the moral majority was used to turnout the vote for Bush under the guise of "lets save marriage."
Finally, I do agree that the younger generation is changing how it engages politically and more so culturally. While we are in the shadows, I hope we are able to learn from the past and engage in a more meaningful, thoughtful way in future debates regardless of the platform.
I just thought I would throw this into the mix...it would appear the evangelical right has shifted further towards a more extreme conservative values ;
Haha... Thanks for sharing the link Ron, -
"Reed, though, was having none of this. To my question, he dismissed research by Barna and others predicting evangelical doom. "Lots of people are falling for that," he said. Young people may start out liberal, but once they start getting married, having babies, and paying taxes, "We got 'em," he said."
I laugh at this because there is probably some truth too it. Ol Winston Churchill thought so anyway, "If you're not a liberal at twenty you have no heart, if you're not a conservative at forty you have no brain."
I think when looking at trends in research it would be interesting to see how that shift into work and family for this next generation will change their thinking. Then again, back in Ralphy's day people weren't changing the way people think in 140 characters or less. And the way the world works, there's activism that can happen without even leaving your desk. More families are renting. Communities are changing. So, who knows. But glad someone interviewed that guy. Haha.
I agree with Nathan McGill. As believers we need to put hands and feet to what we believe and know to be true, not ask the government to do it.
As believers we have a much great power within us than is in the world.
Do you consider yourself a part of the "Christian right?"
Yes, I'm quite a bit to the right politically.
What about the Tea Party?
Not active in it, but identify with their cause.
Share your take on the elections with us.
I reject the premise that the "Christian Right Was Noticeably Absent in This Election." I believe the Christian Right, as usual, turned out in droves to vote. The "leadership" and the "hot topics" may change, but it's the votes that count. My take is that the "Christian Left" was far less active this cycle than the right.
There's an old adage that says there are NO foxhole atheists, meaning when you are in the middle of a war experience, being shot at, an enemy is trying to blow you up or kill you, your ideas on ideology or theology suddenly become un-important. What you are focused on is survival, living, making it through the current battle. I would submit that people who historically identified themselves as "religious right" were very present in this last election cycle...mainly because most of those people are probably still alive. But, ideology suddenly became unimportant with the economy and serious intrusion into lives by an activist-laden government leadership. People, RIght, Left, Republican, Democrat, etc. are trying to survive. Hard times causes refocus on reality.
I'm a young guy myself, just turned 23. And in my mind I've spent quite a bit of time trying to put words to the reason that I feel so I politically apathetic. I think that I am beginning to come to a conclusion: Christ-followers are trying to make the American government do what the Church should already be doing. The Church is called to live with integrity (i.e. "moral majority"). The Church is called to love supernaturally and be responsible socially (i.e. left-wing politics). It is important to take the nation's civil duty of voting seriously, but let us not forget the most important issue that is absent on every ballot: in good times or bad, how will the Church respond? In love or in animosity?
Here is a verse that is very good to look at:
Jeremiah 18:7-9 At what instant I shall speak concerning a nation, and concerning a kingdom, to pluck up, and to pull down, and to destroy it; If that nation, against whom I have pronounced, turn from their evil, I will repent of the evil that I thought to do unto them. And at what instant I shall speak concerning a nation, and concerning a kingdom, to build and to plant it;
The Church as well as every Christian should respond with regard to this principle in that there is always hope. We are to relate to government with such a possible end in mind.
The Christian Left
We posted this article on The Christian Left.
If Christians want their values expressed through law, there will not be a limited government. Ralph Reed and Pat Robertson didn't want a "smaller" government, they wanted a "different" government.
If Christians change hearts, laws become inconsequential...if we change laws but not hearts, same lack of consequence.
Craig, the changing of hearts is not the only way to conform world life to the Bible. God's laws are to be enforced since he has commanded them for every transgression receives a just recompense of reward. (Hebrews 2:2) When you go through Romans 13, you see that government should be an area also conquerable by the Word.
I remember back in the 70's, when a Quaker friend and I were talking about the discussions going on at a bar near our apartment at Ohio University. The bar itself was a dive in the purest sense of the word. The roof line was slouching and the plywood siding reflected years of economic hardship. The patrons inside would sit on sticky picnic tables, sip a few brews and talk about the best strategy for replacing the oppressive US government. Some were for the more violent methods espoused by Lenin, while others felt that subtle political infiltration would be the most humane. We laughed back then when we thought about how grandiose their plans were. A great world power like the United States felled by such a motley crew of current and former students!!? It stopped being an amusing recollection two years ago.....Oh to be young and naive again.
It was with great sadness that I saw many young Christians vote for a democrat. The reasons I heard were: There are other issues besides abortion and gay rights - there are the poor. Yes there are the poor. It amazes me that no one seems to see how the democrat policies actually hurt the poor, enslave them, keep them down, take away their sense of personal satisfaction and ability. Scripture never tells us to take from one segment of society and force them to give to another - God loves a "cheerful" giver. Life, on the other hand, is a basic, God given right. I found this very disheartening. While I would not say that the Republicans are all on Gods side - or God is on their side, I would certainly say that those policies are better for our country. I am very concerned about young Christians if Democratic ideology is in line with their ideology. As believers we should exercise the freedom we have in this country - while we still have it - and vote for those most important issues - perhaps more Christians in the political sphere would be helpful - to be salt and light. I could say so much more, but the social gospel has been practiced by many mainline denominations for decades with no change in our society - we must make sure we are voting and living our convictions as believers.
Your headline says that the Christian right was noticeably absent from the midterm elections, but then in your article you site that they gathered under the tea party banner than in previous election. So which is it? Truth be known, most of the candidates were unashamed Christians who voiced opposition to big government and the secularization of every facet of society. Except in California and a few other races where candidates refused to embrace the three-legged stool that put Reagan in the White house--small government, national defense, and conservative religious values (AKA social conservatism). In Cali those candidates who tried to avoid social conservatism got slaughtered! No Sir. Everyone on this blog accepts the premise that we are a post-christian nation because it says so in a book or in the title of this blog, but the last elections show that traditional christian values, not some new packaging, are as en vogue today--in fact more so--than ever. No, if anything the Christian right has found a happy home in the team party, because they have similar values and desires for the nation. If history has shown anything, that wing does not get in bed with anyone and will not turn out for anyone who does not embrace social conservatism--much to the frustration and confusion of many on the Right. There were no christian voting records on how to vote, not because of some post-christian culture that no longer packages their faith that way, but because the choices in most cases, except Cali, were plain and clear to see.
You have an agenda against the conservative right! It is sad that so few see the truth that liberalism not Christ is your real God, and the social agenda of the Left is your sacrament. Wake up people!
Great Article! It has really been interesting to watch the movement of the Christian-American society and the shift in views of Christ Followers. I think with the publication of books like unChristian, Pagan Christianity and the radical revolution brought about by Dave Platt's book "Radical" has struck home to many Christians. With the rising generation becoming the dominant generation in America, and the rising Christian generation who is more likely to buy one of these books, the reality is, is that Christians are beginning to not care as much about political business.
In my personal discussions I have found that many young adult Christians are caring less and less about who is the countries figure head and are beginning to care much more about the direction of the Church. How this body of believers can infect the the U.S. and the world with a kind of love and affection that helps change the falling moral standard of the post-modern society and transition our culture to one of high moral responsibility.
I think with a push towards the growing concept of Love, people are beginning to show Christ through that love. Not just a passive love, but an engaging love. A love that not only causes us to proclaim the news of Christ but also gives non-believers a clear view of what Christ is all about. This love has changed the mindset of Christianity. It's an all inclusive love. This new face of Christianity is beginning to take hold, especially in the college/young adult generation. This new look shifts from trying to create a political force that forces Christian morals upon the nation to a more compassionate example of the great life in which such morals can bring.
Finally it's not about political gain, it's beginning to be about setting the example and SHOWING the world what being a Christian is all about. Setting a "Christ-like" example. An unapologetic definition of our belief in God through our example of a newer, greater and more amazing life than anyone could ever imagine. That's what is going on. The platform is no longer political but it is social and personal. It's love. It's awesome. It's finally a God thing. Render unto Caesar what is Caesars.
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