When can I be happy again? It feels like never. There was a period of time where I was truly happy. I feel like I will never encounter anything like that again. I feel like I wasted all of it. I feel like I invested it in something and got no return. I made a bad investment and now I’m paying for it.
For the larger portion of evangelical history, evangelicals have been largely silent in the political realm. The credit to the beginning of the “New Christian Right” can probably be given to Jerry Falwell and the creation of the Moral Majority in 1979, a political organization that registered thousands of evangelicals to vote and lobbied against abortion and the porn industry (Liebman 2). Through the Moral Majority and a vast number of single issue political groups (such as Pro-Life Political Action Committee, etc), the New Right was born (Liebman 14). In order to define the New Christian Right more clearly, one must look at a number of factors. What do they believe in regards to both religion and politics? How do their religious beliefs affect their politics? What kind of influence does the New Christian Right have on American politics?
Evangelicalism is a sect within Christianity that teaches biblical literalism and inerrancy, the need for individual salvation and conversion (normally known as being born again), and encourages an extremely personal relationship with God. Taking the Bible literally and finding no errors within inherently makes biblicalism a core component of evangelicalism. This means that the Bible has authority over all others. If something doesn’t match with scripture, it is wrong (Hankins 2). Evangelicals also see conversion as necessary for salvation. While most Protestants won’t agree that becoming a “believer” happens in a singular life-changing moment, evangelicals do (Hankins 3). Estimates show that about thirty percent of Americans (one hundred million people) adhere to evangelicalism (ISAE).
It goes without being said that time after time, evangelicals find themselves on the right of the political spectrum. The New Christian Right adheres to two main (possibly contradictory) philosophies: economic libertarianism and social traditionalism (Liebman 15-16). Economic libertarianism is an idea that entails complete freedom in regards to the market. As Liebman puts it, “interaction between rationally self-interested individuals will….yield broad prosperity, social harmony and….public and private good” (Liebman 15). In essence, a typical evangelical would believe in the principles of laissez-faire capitalism. Any economic decline is either a result of unneeded government interference, or a natural phenomenon that will work itself out. These beliefs are based upon the ideas of individualism and freedom (Liebman 16), core values that define American culture.
Social traditionalism deals with what is seen as moral decay in America. Progressive values, such as the pro-choice movement, government recognition of homosexual relationships, and eliminating prayer in public schools are what this traditionalism combats (Liebman 16). Evangelicals see the government as the main force fighting against traditional values, with the liberals who run the government at the front of the battle field (Liebman 16). Growing up, I was always told that America was engaged in “spiritual warfare” with these forces that advocate for progressive values. Social traditionalism is based on the concepts of community and restraint (Liebman 17); opposite ideas compared to those of economic libertarianism.
The paradox between the aforementioned economic libertarianism and social traditionalism may seem like one that would severely limit the appeal of these beliefs. However, that is not nearly the case. This paradoxical combination makes for the best of both worlds. It affirms both God and capitalism. In theory, it promises economic boom while maintaing social stability (Liebman 23). From looking at the history of Christianity in general, we see a pattern of individualism beginning with Martin Luther’s break from Rome. The whole idea of the Reformation was the priesthood of the believer. The individual is able to communicate with the Creator through himself; there was no need for an intermediary.
We see an individual pattern within Protestantism, however it is limited individualism. In present day American Evangelicalism, the individual relationship with God is foremost. However, this individualism seems to be somewhat of a group phenomenon. While every Evangelical has an individual relationship with the Creator, they are generally all under the same terms. The inerrant scripture is interpreted in the same way by each member of the group; if someone takes the story of David and Jonathan in the Bible and interprets it as God’s affirmation of homosexuality, that interpretation is rejected and seen as unbiblical.
The evangelical population has wielding influence on American politics. Any group of likeminded individuals that makes up nearly one-third of a nation’s population can be said to be more than influential. In 2004, white evangelicals made up twenty-three percent of the national electorate. President Bush won seventy-eight percent of the white evangelical vote that election year (Pew Research); enough to guarantee him a victory over his opponent in a very tight race. In 2008, Barack Obama targeted evangelicals by visiting ten Christian colleges, and had volunteers host “American values house parties,” which were meant for people of faith to come together to talk politics (New York Times). The Tea Party played a major role in the 2010 midterm elections. In 2010, Republicans took control of the House and the majority of governorships, while slimming the Democratic majority in the Senate (ABC). This is interesting to note because 44% of Tea Partiers call themselves “born-again Christians” (Bloomberg).
Barry Hankins takes a comparative approach when analyzing American evangelicalism with an idea he calls “The Democratization of American Christianity” (Hankins 16). In evangelicalism, we see preachers that have little to no theological education leading some of the nation’s largest churches; in other words, we see a common man leading common people; a populist approach (Hankins 16). Americans identify with religious institutions like evangelicalism because of their populism. Religion is seen as a refuge against other institutions seeking to dominate individuals, such as the state or corporations. In Europe, we see the same cycle with actors in different roles. In Europe, most countries have churches that are supported by the state. The church is just seen as another aspect of the state trying to dominate the lives of the individual; this is why Europeans turn to secular institutions such as political parties or even anti-religion groups. While Europe turns to secular agents, Americans turn to the church because the church is independent of the state. Evangelicalism is a prime choice for Americans because of its populist attitude (Hankins 16). In the words of Abraham Lincoln, it is a religion “of the people, by the people, and for the people.”
In present day evangelicalism, we see a great deal of functionalism. Though it may offer an individualistic approach, evangelicalism brings people together. It unites them through their shared beliefs; religious and political. From another angle, one could take the approach of a conflict theorist. Evangelicals do not see themselves receiving fair treatment from the government; they are engaged in a constant battle with the liberals who are out to demolish traditional family values.
I’m not looking for an abortion debate, nor even planning on spelling out my own views on the matter, but seeing the strong anti pro-life (I say anti pro-life because these people attack pro-lifers instead of defending pro-choice ideals) sentiment on tumblr lately, I wonder if these people who post all this “fetuses are not humans” stuff would feel the same way if they went in for an abortion. It’s more difficult of a topic than “an egg is not a chicken.”