Brad Wilcox: Evangelicals, Iowa, and the Future

Posted by Kendall Harmon

Tomorrow, as Republicans from around the Hawkeye State gather to vote in the Iowa Straw Poll, one group will undoubtedly exercise an outsize influence on the poll's outcome: evangelical Protestants. Motivated in large part by their concern with the state of American families, evangelicals have played an important role in Republican presidential politics in Iowa since 1987, when they helped Pat Robertson win the poll in an upset.

In 2004, an unprecedented 78% of evangelicals voted for President Bush. The close relationship between Mr. Bush and evangelicals has fueled an intense backlash. In books like Kevin Phillips's "American Theocracy" and James Rudin's "The Baptizing of America," moderate Republicans and liberal Democrats have charged that the president and the Republican Party are now in the thrall of religious radicals intent on imposing their conservative social values on the rest of the nation.

But does their "pro-family" agenda really stem from evangelicals' desire to change the behavior of others? There are at least three reasons that evangelicals are concerned about issues like abortion, sexual promiscuity and marriage. First, most obviously, evangelicals subscribe to a traditional form of the Christian faith that views the Bible as a literal and authoritative guide to family life.

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Filed under: * Culture-WatchReligion & Culture* Economics, PoliticsUS Presidential Election 2008* Religion News & CommentaryOther ChurchesEvangelicals

3 Comments
Posted August 10, 2007 at 11:36 am [Printer Friendly] [Print w/ comments]



1. The_Archer_of_the_Forest wrote:

Say what you want about the New Right voters. You may not agree with their stances on issues, but at least they as a whole are responsible citizens who vote.

August 10, 12:28 pm | [comment link]
2. Jim the Puritan wrote:

This story makes a good point:  when the media use the word “evangelical,” what do they mean?  It’s an easy catch-all phrase in which to lump all sorts of people.  I consider myself an evangelical, but I have yet to see any evidence in my church of the “Religious Right” that is supposed to be controlling us like puppets and dictating all our behavior.  To the extent we are influenced by the “Religious Right” organizations, you know, the ones that hang out in Colorado Springs to use a stereotype, it’s to do things like missions in Africa and Asia, support homeless children throughout the world or adopt orphans at home, help the homeless, and strengthen families.  There’s nothing political about it.

In fact, I think a lot of secular people would be amazed about what we try to do in our church life to achieve goals by private volunteerism that they might think can only be addressed by government intervention.  You know, the sorts of things that get talked about abstractly in the “millenium development goals.”  But we base our response on the Bible and because Jesus wants us to do it, not because some bureacrats at the United Nations came up with a plan.

You know what some evangelical churches have started to do in the past several months?  They are working on projects to try to get needed farm animals to poor families in Asia, where church members are actually buying the animals directly through contacts in China and other countries and making arrangements to get them delivered to familiies in need.  It all came from this short inspiring 8 minute video that showed up early in the year on YouTube (you should really watch it if you haven’t seen it already) called “4 Generations:  the Water Buffalo Movie”:  http://youtube.com/watch?v=-_am82KhI-c

The media also miss that a major portion of the growing “evangelical” movement is comprised of middle income families, professionals and young people, especially college students.  (Reference the story just posted yesterday about Redeemer Presbyterian Church in New York City.)  A lot of us are where we are because we have become disillusioned with the mainstream denominations and with what we see as social religion, without any real-world consequences or responsibilities.  And a lot of us are recovering from major crashes in our lives, whether it be a breakup of our families, divorce, problems with kids in today’s society, or being downsized out of a mid-level management job in the “new economy.”  The last thing we want in our lives is some sort of feel-good superficial religion; we know that just spending 50 minutes in church on Sunday with some pastoral platitudes doesn’t cut it in what is going on in the real world.

And to use an overworked phrase, we know that churches are not supposed to be country clubs for saints, they are hospitals for sinners.  A lot of us are struggling with real problems and issues, whether external, or internal like trying to overcome addictions.

And if you sat down and talked with us you would find we are not some bunch of wacky cultists.  Essentially, what goes on in my church is probably what you would have found in many “mainstream” Protestant churches up until the 1960s, when the push to adapt to the world’s values began in earnest and many churches lost their way.

August 10, 2:34 pm | [comment link]
3. Bob from Boone wrote:

I believe it’s “Scots-Irish.” Having lived in Appalachia almost all of my adult life, I can attest to much non-mainstream behavior among the common folk. Whether to blame that on their Scots-Irish heritage is another matter. The hollows of Appalachia were isolated for nearly two-hundred years, long enough for early settlers to lay down deep patterns of attitude and behavior that may not be easily changed among those with a poor education and a family history of welfare despite the advent of modern civiliation. But I don’t think there’s a simple explanation for the behavior of rural Southerners.

Before moving to NC from KY, where I taught at Berea College (and educated many fine Appalachians I admired for their decency and integrity), I also volunteered with the Christian Appalachian Project’s Family Life Service. I got to know mothers with young children who were escaping battered relationships with husbands and boyfriends. Almost none of them had encountered a truly mature male, and were surprised to find us male volunteers to be so different from the men they grew up with. Sometimes it is ignorant preachers who enable and thus perpetuate disfunctional behavior among some men in the territory. The family dynamics among many poor, rural Appalachians is disturbing, but there are also many fine families, so one must be careful in generalizing.

August 10, 3:34 pm | [comment link]
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