Monday, February 11, 2008

Will Evangelicals Leave the GOP?

Brett Grainger hits on a significant challenge facing the modern conservative movement in this Christian Science Monitor article. Evangelical Christians have been an important part of the conservative coalition that makes up the Republican Party for the past four decades, although enough of them broke with the party in 1976 to help elect Jimmy Carter.

The various factions of the modern conservative coalition include fiscal conservatives, business people, military/foreign policy conservatives, conservo-libertarians (small government advocates), and members of the religious right, among others. The factions are not always mutually exclusive in the minds of many voters, but each has a significant core that works to promote the interests they find most important.

It is no secret that there has been a competitive relationship between the various factions of the coalition since the beginning. Social/religious conservatives have often felt that their issues have been given short shrift by the other interests.

The real reason for this, Grainger points out, hearkens back to the inception of the evangelical movement. During the 19th Century, the U.S. underwent a religious revival. Many of the newly formed Christian groups held views that included both progressive and conservative elements; both “social justice” and “moral values.”

That has not really changed. But fundamentalists and progressives eventually split, with that split becoming more pronounced during the 20th Century. During the culture wars of the 60s, evangelicals felt driven from the Democratic Party by its strong embrace of the counter culture movement. Evangelicals’ new home in the GOP has been anything but comfortable.

A generation has now passed since harsh lines were drawn in the 20th Century culture wars. Grainger says that Mike Huckabee’s primary wins in states with large concentrations of Evangelicals has “demonstrated the viability of a Republican candidate who represents Evangelicals but who also believes that the state has a positive and necessary role to play in the lives of citizens, especially those whom Jesus called "the least of these."”

The Savior admonished his followers and listeners to reach out and help others through voluntary acts of charity and service. But I must admit that it is a mystery to me how Bible-believing Christians can assume that anything in scripture means that people should be compelled to such acts by the heavy hand of government. A clear doctrine is that charitable actions done involuntarily rather than by free will are in no way virtuous. Still, Grainger says that many Christians are willing to support such policies.

With the generation passing that has fought on the front lines against the abortion culture and the homosexual agenda, the GOP has less of a lock hold on many of the newer generation of evangelicals. More of them are willing to consider voting Democratic than at any time in the past four decades. It is possible that this has been helped along by Huckabee “transcending the false division between "moral values" and "social justice."”

Of this, Grainger says, “By helping to close another gap in American political discourse – one that long separated social-justice issues and "moral values" – Huckabee may inadvertently be ushering many "new Evangelicals" out of his party.” We really won’t know until we see the outcome of the November general election how close to the mark Grainger is. Even that won’t be definitive. It will take a few elections before a clear trend is apparent.

For the time being, it seems that at least some Republican leaders are concerned enough to be lashing out at these apostates from party orthodoxy. Let me just say to those leaders, that such behavior is no way to win people to your cause.

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