Hi everyone. I’ve spoken to most of you but I’m thrilled to have a chance for this slightly more organized discussion. Something is changing out there in evangelical land – politically, sociologically, culturally. Jerry Falwell’s death sort of made it official. The old stereotypes no longer fit and we have to come up with some new ones. In gay circles they called this moment: “we’re here, we’re queer, get over it.” Christianity Today put it this way in a 2005 editorial: “We’re no longer overlooked, persecuted, discriminated against, and misquoted in the mainstream media. So we’ve been mainstreamed, now what?”
Now what? There are evangelicals on this virtual panel, and I’ll let them say what it means for them. I’ll answer from the outside.
I’m going to start with an easy one for me: Hollywood. Much has been written about the post-Passion era, in which studio executives try to woo the same audience that turned out to see the Mel Gibson movie, and the Christians flirt back (“Didn’t you know,” a producer told me a couple of years ago, “Christian is the new gay.”) When I saw the network fall lineup last year, this new relationship had me worried. The networks were putting out different permutations of Touched by an Angel, that treacly series about the angel rescue squad that ran for decades. There was a series starring Christian rocker Amy Grant and The Book of Daniel, about a pastor who talks to a live Jesus.
But both these were quickly canceled. Evan Almighty and The Nativity Story flopped. As Michael documents in his book, Christian forays into Hollywood have often been unsuccessful, as one Christian businessman after another barrels into Hollywood vowing to “change the culture” and then runs into David Geffen.
As anyone who’s ever worked there knows, Hollywood lives by a brutal bottom line; when no one watches, the studios will ditch the God talk. This is not to say Christians have had no lasting influence. I just finished a long story for the Atlantic Monthly’s December issue about how the studio that made the “Golden Compass,” the first in Philip Pullman’s subversive series of children’s novels, washed out the anti-Christian elements. And Paris Hilton does feel compelled to be photographed with her Bible in hand. But we are unlikely to be overwhelmed by cheesy Sunday school dramas. An audience can smell a poll-tested plot line. The evangelical characters that survive tend to be authentic and surprising, like the boys on Friday Night Lights.
Politics is a different story. The Bush administration has served as a training ground for the rising generation of young evangelical elites, who work at every level of the administration. At the same time, the number of congressmen calling themselves “evangelical” has soared in the last thirty years. It’s pretty clear that evangelicals have become just another part of the Washington establishment, accustomed to political power.
I disagree with evangelicals on most political issues, so it’s hard for me to welcome this development. But what makes me uneasy is not so much the issues as the effect on the political culture. Political disagreements are great – healthy for a democracy, fun for a journalist. But not when those disagreements are loaded with the weight of sin and evil. This generation grew up thinking of Republicans and Christians as twins, and in my experience it’s hard for them to separate between those two. Supply side economics is a staple of the Republican party platform, not something dictated by the Bible. Ditto on tort reform, and even gay rights. I would bet that some part of Bush’s brain confuses his commitment to the war with his commitment to God.
I don’t say this about evangelicals alone. There are also elements of this in Hillary Clinton, who has talked freely about her enemies as people who do “evil.” It’s an appropriate term for, say, terrorists who blow up buildings. But not for a Senate Majority Leader of the opposing party.