US evangelicals question Republican ties
Published: 12th Dec 2012 02:05:43
After an election where conservative social causes failed to convince voters, evangelical Christians are pondering their relationship with the Republican party.
Christian conservatives used to be referred to as the "base of the base" of the Republican Party - voters whose strong religious ideologies meant the party could count on them to support "family values" candidates and initiatives.
George W. Bush, after all, won re-election in 2004 thanks to strong turnout from evangelical voters in the crucial swing state of Ohio.
After the 2012 election, evangelical leaders are contemplating what it means that conservative Republicans lost so badly, and that social issues championed by the religious right also suffered defeat. They are also questioning whether they still have a place in the world of politics.
There was a time when leading evangelicals had a very powerful position inside the Washington DC inner circle. The rise of the religious right in the late 1970s and early 1980s heralded an era in American politics in which social conservatives very much shaped the Republican agenda.
"[Evangelical leaders] Pat Robertson, Jerry Falwell, and James Dobson … found open arms in the Reagan administration as well as in both Bush administrations and were critical in helping the Republican party succeed in the Republican revolution of 1994," says Jonathan Merritt, author of A Faith of Our Own: Following Jesus Beyond the Culture Wars.
As Republicans cast around for ways to reach out to a changing America, one group in particular has caught the eye of Republican strategists: Latino Catholics. "[Hispanics are] a natural Republican constituency: striving immigrant community, religious, Catholic, family-oriented and socially conservative (on abortion, for example)," wrote party stalwart Charles Krauthammer after the election.
But it's not that simple, says John Echeveste, founder of the oldest Latino marketing firm in Southern California: "What Republicans mean by 'family values' and what Hispanics mean are two completely different things… We are a very compassionate people, we care about other people and understand that government has a role to play in helping people."
In return for an outpouring of support, politicians pushed agendas dear to the evangelicals, such as opposing gay rights and abortion and promoting the teaching of "intelligent design" in schools along with evolution.
Evangelicals still vote overwhelmingly Republican. White evangelicals voted overwhelmingly for Mitt Romney (79%), a similar level of support to that received by President George W Bush in 2004. And evangelical voter turnout was higher in 2012 than in 2004 - despite concerns they would stay away, put off by Romney's Mormon faith.
But around them, the world is changing. Taking a hard stance against gay marriage and abortion once rallied the evangelical base without alienating moderates in the party. But now those positions can be politically damaging - just ask failed Missouri Senate candidate Todd Akin (of "legitimate rape" infamy).
At Barack Obama's first term comes to an end, there has been a sizeable demographic shift in the US when it comes to voters and faith.
According to a recent survey, an increasing number of Americans are giving up on religion. The Pew Research Center's Forum on Religion & Public Life found that one-third of Americans under 30 have no religious affiliation, and, with few exceptions, are not seeking religion.
Dr Albert Mohler, president of the Southern Baptist Convention's Theological Seminary, says this "acceleration of secularisation" is what made social conservatives, and their agenda, lose so badly in November.
He acknowledged the religious right is losing its political power.
"When evangelicals look at this kind of election pattern, their first thought is, we need to get more evangelicals out to vote. I don't think that's going to be a winning strategy simply because there aren't enough evangelicals who didn't vote. There just aren't enough evangelicals."
But he thinks it's important to stay the course, even as Republicans may move towards more centrist positions.
"The last thing evangelicals can do is run from conviction," he said.
"Evangelicals, precisely because we are evangelicals, hold to a very high view of scripture and that leaves anyone who genuinely wishes to identify as an evangelical with little room to negotiate these issues in light of prevailing cultural norms.
"Evangelicals may well have to learn how to live into a minority position against the larger society moving in a different direction."
Some influential evangelicals, however, are questioning the value of politics at all.
"In the 2000 decade, the term "evangelical Christian" in America became associated with a political position rather than a theological position," says Pastor Rick Warren, founder of the Saddleback megachurch, in an interview with BBC World Service's World Update programme.
"At that time, George Bush was president, he was a well-known evangelical. People assumed if you're an evangelical, then you support everything that George Bush supports whether it's war in Iraq, or anything else. That's nonsense."
To Warren, associating with politics risks alienating potential members of the church.
"Evangelical is a religious term, but it got co-opted by politics. A lot of people said if that's what it means to be a Christian, or if that's what it means to be an evangelical, no thank you."
At the same time, some younger evangelicals have come to embrace progressive politics.
"We've grown up knowing people who are gay. In the older generation it was out there and seemed scary and different. For younger people, these people are our friends, our family members," says Tim King, communications director for Sojourners, a Washington-based Christian organisation that promotes social justice.
Writer Jonathan Merritt, himself an evangelical Christian, agrees: "Today's Christians don't want the test of their faith to be a fight over one particular political issue or another.
"Rather, they believe our faith calls on us to speak out on a range of issues, from caring for the environment to protecting the poor, looking out for immigrants and waging peace."
In other words, just as the country has grown more diverse, so too have the values and politics of the evangelical voter.
At 21:55:16 in EnglandPlans for new flats close to a music venue in Bristol have been given the go-ahead.
At 21:48:53 in HeadlinesA 23-year-old man has been bailed after being arrested on suspicion of raising money for terrorism in Syria.
At 21:41:31 in SportEngland's Louisa Porogovska and Alex Gladkov of Scotland added to the home medal tally as both won wrestling bronze in the Commonwealth Games.
At 21:40:40 in EnglandThe future of a Nottingham-based studio where the Homefront games are made is in doubt after the rights to the title were sold.
At 21:40:17 in SportIf you are a fan of Irish music, then get yourself over to Glasgow's Scottish Exhibition and Conference Centre for Saturday's Commonwealth Games boxing finals. Although, I should warn you, it might get a bit repetitive.
At 21:39:35 in SportIf you don't become a bad side overnight, how long does it take?
At 21:34:17 in WorldUS Attorney General Eric Holder has urged federal law enforcement agencies to equip some of their officers with the heroin overdose antidote naloxone.
At 21:17:34 in SportNigeria's Blessing Okagbare completed a Glasgow 2014 sprint double by winning the women's 200m ahead of English duo Jodie Williams and Bianca Williams.
At 21:15:36 in SportWelsh weightlifter Darius Jokarzadeh missed out on a medal when he finished fourth in the +105kg class in Glasgow.
At 21:09:46 in BusinessElectric carmaker Tesla is to team up with Japanese electronics firm Panasonic to build a "gigafactory" battery manufacturing plant in the US.
Harvard CitationBBC News, 2012. US evangelicals question Republican ties [Online] (Updated 12th Dec 2012)
Available at: http://www.ukwirednews.com/news/1469351/US-evangelicals-question-Republican-ties [Accessed 31st Jul 2014]
News In Other Categories
The Metropolitan Opera in New York says it hopes last minute negotiations with unions will avoid a staff lockout.
With the doors to its brand new £1million training centre officially open, one of the UK's leading apprentice training providers, Bristol based S&B Automotive Academy, is showcasing its world-class facilities by launching a series of foreign student exchanges for the first time in its 41-year history. To get a flavour of what life is like as an apprentice in the UK, the Academy hosted 16 apprentice engineers and bus drivers from the G9 Automotive College in Hamburg, Germany, as part of a Europe-wide vocational training initiative called the ‘Leonardo Programme’ with support from the European Social Fund. In a reciprocal arrangement, S&B will be sending nine apprentices to Germany during February 2012 so that they can get an appreciation of life in the automotive industry on the Continent. A further three German exchange groups are being planned for next year. Designed to assist the development of vocational skills and training across Europe, including work placements for trainees, the Leonardo Programme has a budget of €1.75bn, which is helping to encourage UK organisations to work with their counterparts abroad. In what is expected to be another challenging year for employers in the UK automotive sector, S&B’s Chief Executive, Jon Winter, claims that the exchange initiative will bring many benefits to the Academy and its apprentices: “In a world of global automotive brands, it’s important for our learners to understand the international context of the industry they have chosen to make their career. This new exchange programme will enable apprentices and Academy staff alike to achieve a better understanding of the challenges and opportunities within the automotive arena in Europe. With the Academy’s influence also extending to the USA and Asia, there’s every possibility that this initiative could move further afield in the future.” Continued Winter: “The need for skilled technicians across the world is on the increase and we actively encourage our apprentices to look at broader horizons during their training. Many of them have already learned the phrase ‘Vorsprung durch Gelehrtheit’, quite simply, ‘Advancement through learning.” In the 2010/11 academic year, S&B doubled the number of successful Apprenticeships over the previous year with some 350 apprentices graduating from the Academy. At the same time, achievement levels reached an all-time high with an overall success rate of 85%. For those learners on the Advanced Apprenticeship three-year programme, success rates were even higher, at over 98%. PHOTO CAPTION: As part of their exchange visit, S&B Automotive Academy arranged for the German apprentices to visit Hampshire bus operator, Bluestar, at its Barton Park depot. The students are pictured with S&B’s Andy West (3rd right) and Steve Prewett, Bluestar’s Area Engineering Manager (2nd right). Ends http://www.sandbaa.com
England's Louisa Porogovska and Alex Gladkov of Scotland added to the home medal tally as both won wrestling bronze in the Commonwealth Games.
Plans have been unveiled for five more local TV stations in Scotland.
Plans for new flats close to a music venue in Bristol have been given the go-ahead.
US Attorney General Eric Holder has urged federal law enforcement agencies to equip some of their officers with the heroin overdose antidote naloxone.