Jesus Creed

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Evangelicalism’s Radical Diversity 7

posted by Scot McKnight

Choir.jpgHere’s one of the most important observations that Steve Wilkens and Don Thorsen make in their new book, Everything You Know about Evangelicals Is Wrong (Well, Almost Everything): An Insider’s Look at Myths and Realities .


Not all Evangelicals are Republicans.
But it is one of the most common assumptions made in the media and in pulpits.
I begin with a simple experience that illustrates the issue: As a student at a well-known evangelical seminary in the late 70s and early 80s I sensed (no one did polls that I knew of) many students were political radicals, and part of this owed to the emergence out of Viet Nam protests. Then Kris and I went to England for two years and when we came back in 1983 there had been a notable shift toward … well, what to call it … Reaganology. The shift was not sudden but it was dramatic. Jim Wallis and his buddies were at that seminary in the early 70s, on the first day of my Synoptic Gospels class a student stood to filibuster the syllabus for not having enough social justice practice … and then here we were, back again, and Oh how things had changed. 
The reigning assumption in the media and among many evangelicals is that All.Evangelicals.Are.Republican. 
Question: How has evangelicalism been co-opted by the Republican party? Or, slightly different, how has the Republican party accommodated itself to evangelicalism?
Hence, the chp by Wilkens and Thorsen.


Steve Wilkens writes this chp and he is a registered Republican. Not only that, he fits the whole bill: Midwest Bible belt nurture, drives a big beefy pickup, a hound dog that rides in the truck, went to school at evangelical schools, and he and his family attend an evangelical church. And he votes Republican. (Don doesn’t.)

The majority of evangelicals do vote Republican, but the numbers are not as high as some think — and the numbers are shifting among the younger evangelicals. First of all, evangelicalism is not simply American so we have to say this (I’m summarizing their points): American evangelicals tend toward the Republican ticket. The issue is about being co-opted by a political party. And many fear that the Republican party controls the American evangelical. And millions — their number — perceive no difference between Republican and evangelical.
25% of electorate is evangelical.
66% of evangelicals voted for Bush. McCain got 74%.
But what happens when we factor in the word “white”? 20% of the electorate is non-white and they are often not identified as evangelicals and vote overwhelmingly for Democrats.
Pollsters exclude non-whites because they don’t vote Republican! An increasing number of evangelicals have bought this way of thinking, leading many to think nearly all evangelicals vote Republican. This is what it means to be co-opted.
Next Wilkens examines the God-gap: those who attend church/religious service once per week or even more (Christian, Jew, etc) voted Republican (64%) while those who didn’t voted Democrat (62%). Wilkens suggests the common factor here is “tradition.”
Wilkens thinks the Republican party is a threat to evangelicalism because it has has accommodated itself to evangelicalism.


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Rick

posted August 18, 2010 at 6:37 am


There does not seem to be a middle ground. They mention either R or D, but what about independents?
Just because one voted for a certain person for president (or even a majority of candidates from a certain party) does not mean they are tied to that party.



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Jodi

posted August 18, 2010 at 10:52 am


I think it’s important to note that this conversation is specifically related to American Christianity. This trend does not live itself globally. I think that is worth pondering. One of the troubling aspects of this conversation is that so many Republican Evangelicals vilify as heretic anyone who differs with their viewpoints. Americans must learn to consider their views in light of a global conversation, in terms of what constitutes a Christian way of thinking or world view. In my, limited but likely broader experience than most Americans since I’ve lived overseas and ministered in a church with over 50 nations represented for the past 12 years, most Christians from other countries do not understand how Republican politics have become so aligned with Christianity in the USA. Americans have to figure out a way to feel passionately about something without coming across as judgmental to those who differ, like me, who is a Democrat and an Evangelical under Scot’s definition.



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Roger

posted August 18, 2010 at 11:35 am


This is one of the things that drove me from the evangelical church. There seems to be, among many American evangelicals, an assumption that evangelical = Republican/politically conservative/suburban/flag-waving. That assumption often then translates into an “anti-” agenda — anti-abortion, anti-gay, anti-evolution, anti-Hollywood. In my case, having attended the same seminary as Scot and been a pastor for a while, I found that for many, adherence to the GOP “gospel” seemed more important than radical devotion to Christ. It all seemed to be baked together as in a pie — a red, white and blue Christian pie.



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Don

posted August 18, 2010 at 12:19 pm


Standing in the center of a congregation during these polarizing days, especially with the emerging and strident voice of the Tea Party is a distinct privilege and challenge. For me it requires the discipline of saying less rather than more and having a more clearly focussed Christology that informs my Ecclesiology. In my reading of history, the church is constantly under the assault of being co-opted. It’s not unique to either Democrats of Republicans and not just in the USA. My friends in Kenya, Egypt and France all have variations on the same theme. Thanks for raising this!



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Jonathanblake

posted August 18, 2010 at 3:00 pm


In my experience coming from the South I became quite the black sheep because of my “heretical” political views. The biggest problem is that it went further than just politics and many times I was told that I need to ‘get saved’ and by more mature adults that one simply can not be Christian and vote for a Democrat. I say this to show what just one person experienced and experiences still to a degree in contrast to the broad polls and examples. Also this gives a story to the warnings against polarization among the Christian family.



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Timothy Dalrymple

posted August 18, 2010 at 4:04 pm


I wish people had a more historical understanding of the way in which American evangelicalism and the Republican party made common cause. For a good nutshell explanation, see this interview with Michael Lindsay: http://www.patheos.com/Resources/Additional-Resources/New-Ways-of-Shaping-Society.html
Even though I tend to side more often with the Republican party, I believe both parties present a danger to the church. If one doesn’t think the Democratic Party right now is accommodating itself to the “religious vote” or “values voters,” well, one is missing a lot. It is one thing to make limited alliances for specific purposes, but it is another when our ‘religious leaders’ become political operatives, and when political figures become figures of religious adoration. I see this happening on both sides, and I wish some of those who decried this on the Right would do the same as it’s happening even now on the Left.



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