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An Obsolete Political Faith

By November 9, 2012 3 Comments

The most common theme running through postmortems on Tuesday’s presidential election has been demographic: the Republican Party’s mortal dependency on an eroding white male power base, mirrored by its pitiful share among the rising Latino sector in American society. Some 60% of whites voted GOP, and fully two-thirds of white males—the most lopsided outcome in that demographic in all American history. Yet these figures shrink next to the one adding religion to the mix: 79% of whites who self-identify as evangelicals went for Romney. That is, only 21% of white evangelicals picked the winner, sided with what Republican and Democratic talking-heads agree is the emerging future of American society. The presidential election now makes full-throated the question that has been gaining volume over the last decade or so: does evangelicalism have a future in a genuinely pluralistic America?

Well of course it does, if we untie the term from the shackles that political analysts have put upon it—and that the Christian Right has done much to clamp tight. The strongest segment of the Democratic coalition is also the most fervently Bible-believing, conversionist, supernaturalist cohort on the American religious scene. That would be African Americans, who voted Democratic 93 to 7. Repeat: 93 to 7. Super-evangelical, yet somehow they don’t get counted in. Nor do Latinos lack (to put it mildly) Pentecostal numbers. But they don’t count in the camp of this faith either. Could it be their body count in the voting results (71% Democratic) has put them outside the pale? Could that be why Mormons get evangelical hugs when it comes to political chumming up?

The public leaders and a whole lot of the rank and file of evangelicalism have chosen a racial image that belies their official theology, and that has come round to bite them on a very sensitive part of their anatomy. Their operational church has become the Right edge of the Republican Party, and their real litmus test of orthodoxy gives not a hoot for the Trinity, the two natures of Christ, sola fides, or the man in the moon, but the sex agenda at politics: anti-abortion and legal disregard for same-sex relationships. These would seem more likely to be the markers of a fertility cult than of biblical religion—another plus for Mormonism—but never mind. As Christian Right pope R. Albert Mohler declared the morning after: the 2012 elections amount to a “catastrophe on moral issues” “Morality” here being defined by sexual association.

A way forward for white evangelicalism would embrace holistic biblical morality instead—a concern for all of life, not just before birth, and for justice and equity in economic matters. It would seem the way of prudence too. Ross Douthat, one of the New York Times’ house conservatives, marked out the path already after the first Obama triumph, in Grand New Party: How Republicans Can Win the Working Class and Save the American Dream (2009). “Family values” must include sustainability and hope for the family as an economic unit, its oldest function, and that requires a break from bondage to big capital and free-market orthodoxies. Former George W. Bush advisor David Frum made a similar point about abortion in a CNN column just a week before the election ( “As a general rule, societies that do the most to support mothers and child-bearing have the fewest abortions. Societies that do the least to support mothers and child-bearing have more abortions.” Such support begins with health care and economic viability.

A “catastrophe” the 2012 elections might have been for evangelicalism—a smashing of the idols of the tribe together with a chance for repentance and a new creative contribution to American politics. We’ll see if new leaders can arise and seize the chance. That would serve better than a centenarian Billy Graham taking down Mormonism from his hit list.



James Bratt

James Bratt is professor of history emeritus at Calvin College, specializing in American religious history and especially the connections between religion and politics. Starting in Fall 2016 he took a break from blogging on The Twelve to teach in China and on the Semester at Sea, which venues afforded him some welcome distance from the USA’s descent into its current mortal illness. But now he’s back in the States, looking for hope. His most recent book (which he edited and completed for the late John Woolverton) is  “A Christian and a Democrat”: Religion in the Life and Leadership of Franklin Delano Roosevelt.


  • Daniel Meeter says:

    Hear, hear.

  • John Haas says:

    Excellent piece!

  • Philip Blosser says:

    Hey Jimbo,

    While Catholics have reason for opposing the HHS Mandate, which undercuts religious rights that the rest of the world doesn't give a damn about, we don't necessarily have truck with post-Bush Republicanism, especially of the variety that is heavily influenced by post-Trotskyite neo-conservatism (the Krystols, etc.).

    What traditional Republicans might have done for us is stem Obama's inebriated adolescent spending on the national credit card. And here is where I think those who voted for the re-election of President Black Jesus have something for which to answer. It cannot be his sterling economic record that has moved a tad over half the country to re-elect him. So it is social issues. Which ones? For many, it's doubtless the pelvic issues — gov't funded contraceptives, abortions, sterilizations, same-sex marriage, and the like. But my hunch is that it's much more related to RACE.

    On one hand, there is the knee-jerk trendy-lefty reaction to having an African-American president. It salves the guilty liberal conscience. And the prospect of NOT re-electing him would have been simply too much for that conscience to handle. Imagine: nationally rejecting a black president! It simply could not be done. So we have the phenomenon of Hollywood and urban blue-state liberal establishment types falling over themselves to re-elect a man president, whose record, if he were white and Republican (like Bush), would have killed any chance of his re-election.

    On the other hand, President Black Jesus has been feeding the class warfare and victimization mentality during his last four years of campaigning for re-election (does he ever call a cabinet meeting?) and exploiting his "blackness" among African-American voters with an egregious disregard for their economic plight. More blacks are jobless and on welfare today than when President 'O' took office.

    But let's consider something else. First, the credit being amassed on our National Credit Card is being shoved on to the next couple of generations. I recently read that if this debt were allocated among all Americans under the age of 18, each of our children or grandchildren under that age would now owe $218,676. That's more than some of us have in our retirement accounts. Imagine our grandkids coming into the world already owing that much. Furthermore, your dollar today is worth one quarter less than it was when President Black Jesus took office.

    Which leads to the second point. The Fed and its Wall Street and international banking lackeys. The Fed is not a Federal institution, as you know, but a private one empowered with printing money. So far we've had QE1-QE3, "quantitative easing," another word for devaluing our currency by printing more money as a means of supposedly stimulating the economy.

    But here's the kicker. We know how much time President Black Jesus spends on the golf course. We know how much he and Queen Michelle spend on their vacations, as well as at home with her 40 some ladies in waiting at court (in contrast to Calvin Cooledge who kept a milk cow on the White House lawn to have fresh milk for his oatmeal). We also know how much Mr. O dislikes meeting with his advisors and cabinet officers. It's the stuff of editorials. But who is it that is regularly on his appointment calendar? Who is it that he unfailingly meets with? Is it blacks? Minorities? Women? GLBT folk? No. It's Wall Street executives. Obama is no less in bed with Wall Street and big money than Bush ever was. He's little more than a puppet, whose black appeal happens to give the moneyed class' agenda a badly-needed face lift.

    So who are the dupes here? Aren't we all?

    Give my love to Tinakins and the gang.

    Love and hugs,

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