Young, Cosmopolitan Evangelicals

Jim Wallis and Richard Land were preaching to the same flock, but their sermons at the recent "Values Voters Summit" reached very different conclusions.

"I am an evangelical Christian who tries to live under biblical authority.

A fundamental is the dignity of human life. We are all created in the image of God," said Wallis, editor of Sojourners magazine and author of God's Politics.

But it's time for new strategies, he said. Evangelicals should try to "dramatically reduce the number of abortions in America" through adoption and education, while striving to find "common ground to actually save unborn lives."

The message between the lines: Think about voting for Democrats.

But Land insisted that evangelicals must continue to demand legal protections for the unborn.

"I want to put together a coalition that will work and do what we can to save individual babies one at a time," said Land, leader of the Southern Baptist Convention's Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission. "But the fact is, if we didn't have laws against segregation, we would still have it. If we didn't have laws against slavery, we would still have it."

The message between the lines: Stay the course with the GOP.

Both of these preachers knew that evangelical Christians — especially young ones — have yet to embrace a 2008 presidential candidate. That's why Republicans are sweating and Democrats are praying, even in public.

 Wallis and Land were arguing for a reason. Young evangelicals are losing faith in the current occupant of the White House, according to new numbers from the Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life. Many would be willing to listen to a Democrat who risked blending progressive politics with traditional moral values. But is that heresy?

Here's the big news. Five years ago, President Bush's approval rating with white evangelicals between the ages of 18 and 30 was 87 percent — a number that has fallen to 45 percent. Meanwhile, 52 percent of older evangelicals continue to back the president.

Back in 2001, 55 percent of the young who called themselves "evangelicals"

or "born-again" said they were Republicans, as opposed to 16 percent who were Democrats and 26 percent independents. This time around, it was 40 percent Republican, 19 percent Democrat and 32 percent independent.

"It isn't 100 percent clear why this has occurred," said John C. Green of the University of Akron, a senior fellow at the Pew Forum. "The young evangelicals remain quite conservative on moral and social issues. That just isn't changing or it isn't changing very much. …

"There is a real sense that they are afraid of being seen as being judgmental, but if you push further you find out that they are still not backing away from traditional Christian beliefs."

On abortion, 70 percent of young evangelicals said it should be "more difficult for a woman to get an abortion" — a stance claimed by 55 percent of older evangelicals and 39 percent of young Americans in general.

Nevertheless, it's possible that subtle changes are happening behind the political headlines, according to sociologist Michael Lindsay, author of Faith in the Halls of Power. The "populist evangelicalism" of the past is evolving into a "cosmopolitan evangelicalism" that seeks success in Hollywood, on Wall Street and in the Ivy League, as well as on Capitol Hill.

Some of these young evangelicals don't want to hang Thomas Kinkade paintings on their walls, fill their bookshelves with "Left Behind" novels or sing pseudo-romantic praise choruses in sprawling megachurches. And when it comes to politics, they also care about the environment, health care and social justice.

Eventually, these changes will affect their politics. The young evangelicals want to keep their conservative approach to faith, but apply it to a wider spectrum of issues, while using a different style of activism.

"The edges have been softened," said Lindsay, at a forum dissecting the Pew Forum research. Thus, while "populist evangelicals want to take back America" or contribute to the "Christianization of this country, cosmopolitan evangelicals have a more modest goal.

"They simply want their faith to be seen as legitimate, authentic, and — they hope in the end — attractive and winsome. In the same way, they do want their faith to draw others, but they use different forms of mobilization that are far more subtle, more nuanced, and because of that, more significant."

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  • Guest

    And when it comes to politics, they also care about the environment, health care and social justice.

    One thing we definitely need is a politician who honestly poses a Natural Law position for, let's call it conservationism just to avoid the negatives associated with environmentalism.

    Why are we planting trees and gardens? Because they reflect the beauty of God, certainly in a lesser way than you or I or your brothers and sisters, but they nevertheless reflect the beauty of God. And we participate in that beauty in the here and now, even as we strive for heaven. God marks all of His creation with His permanent sign, and the trees and gardens bear that sign to some degree. By working with created nature, we can better understand the permanent sign with which God marks us as well.

    Why does our family have four (or six or eight or ten or some other number of) children? Because if we only had one or two, then first of all, your brothers and sisters wouldn't exist, and our family would be greatly impoverished for lacking them. But we also have a large family so that each of you learns to make use of smaller amounts of the gifts that God gives to the world. Many families with just a child or two struggle with how to teach proper stewardship to their children. With smaller families, it can be too easy for parents to simply yield to the expressed desires of their children. The result is that their children have many things but greatly lack in what is truly important – family, brothers, sisters, the creative imagination that is inspired when fewer things abound, and so forth. Now many smaller families struggle successfully with this temptation, but many also do not. The result is self-centeredness in the children, and sometimes in the adults, simply because each can have all, or almost all, of the things that he or she desires. Now, in our family, that is not possible. We cannot lavish because there are so many of you children. And we thank God each day that we are spared that temptation, even as we pray for those who face it regularly. But in the end, you children must either learn to make do with less, and so teach your own children, or else you will learn to be selfish. Selfishness is the root of the destruction of God's creation, and so proper stewardship and conservation of the natural world requires the discipline and witness that only large families can bring into the world.

    And so forth. Thanks Mr. Mattingly.

  • Guest

    Although I have been very disatisfied with George W on many fronts,  he has held firm on the life issues of appointing ostensibly pro life Supreme Court justices, not providing federal funding for abortions, not funding the UN programs associated with abortion, and rejecting a good bit of the embryonic stem cell research agenda.

    Perhaps the young evangelicals feel the way I do about the Republican front runners.  None of them represent my conservative social values.  That said they have the force of the Republican platform to keep them in line regarding social issues.  The Democrats' platform clearly supports Roe v Wade and a multitude of other ungodly social ills.  Party politics is still extremely important in this country even for keeping the president in check.  Maybe young evangelicals could use a dose of civics! 

  • Guest

    Elkabrikir, I'm happy you found your keyboard. I was missing your posts. What's your biggest problem with Dubba U? Foreign policy? You have to admit, and you do, that he's been most catholic on the home front. On balance we wouldn't do better with anyone else. Our reps are a bigger problem, George is not the king.

    We have a year for the candidates to clean up their game, and it's a game.

    The Evangelicals as usual are all over the field. As I said in my morning post which didn't get through because I was too soft on the post tab; Americans vote wallet and bread and butter, all the other issues are of secondary importance.

    Glad you two are back.

  • Guest

    I haven't felt well…….

    Brain isn't working right…………

    Finding the delightful squeal of the innocents a tad irritating………. 

    Blah,Blah, Blah……….Smile

    The Brothers are keeping me company….. 

    Yep!  Goral, I agree with your assessment.

    I'm looking for a George ala Washington, that's all.