The New Evangelicals

Marcia Pally, author of the book The New Evangelicals: Expanding the Vision of the Common Good, has published today in The New York Times an article on the ‘new evangelicals’. Here is the beginning of it:

Though public support for both major political parties is very low, one group of voters is usually exempted from this malaise: evangelicals. It’s assumed that at least these “values voters” are getting what they want. But we should look more carefully.

A sizable portion of evangelicals have left the right, so to speak, in what the theologian Scot McKnight called “the biggest change in the evangelical movement,” nothing less than the emergence of “a new kind of Christian social conscience.” These new evangelicals focus on economic justice, environmental protection and immigration reform — not exactly Republican strong points. The religious right remains a potent political force, but where once there was the appearance of an evangelical movement that sang out in one voice, there is now a robust polyphony.

In numbers, that means Christians who don’t think of themselves as part of the religious right come to roughly 24 percent of the population, according to the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life. Subtract the Catholic left and you’ve got some 19 percent of the population distributed among the ‘60s evangelical left; younger, emergent progressive churches; and red-letter Christians, who focus on Jesus’ words in scripture (printed in red) and who lean towards progressive activism. Others have quietly broadened the activism associated with the religious right.

These “new evangelicals” are quick to say (correctly) that all this is not new but consistent with tradition. Evangelical emphasis on individual moral responsibility made them, from the colonial era to World War I, politically anti-authoritarian and economically populist — anti-banker and anti-landlord. Before the Civil War, they created many of the associations that helped build the country and, in the North, were crucially important to the abolitionist movement. After the war, they fought for labor against robber-baron capitalism and supported William Jennings Bryan three times for president on a pro-worker, pro-farmer platform. Even the Fundamentals pamphlets, circulated between 1910 and 1915 as a conservative call to evangelicals, included a section on the benefits of socialism.

In the 20th century, evangelicals became associated with the right, especially after World War II. So why another shift in the 21st? One reason is generational, with idealistic youth rejecting the politics of their parents. Another is that views about sex, the environment and global connectedness have shifted nationwide, including among evangelicals. In their self-critique, “Unchristian,” evangelicals David Kinnaman and Gabe Lyons title their chapters: Hypocritical, Sheltered, Too Political, Judgmental and Antihomosexual. Ouch.

Read HERE the rest of this article.

You may find a (not very favourable) review of Marcia’s book in Books & Culture.

Author: DanutM

Anglican theologian. Former Director for Faith and Development Middle East and Eastern Europe Region of World Vision International

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