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The "new breed" of evangelicals

Almost a week after Jerry Falwell's death, the New York Times runs a piece this morning on the changing nature of the modern evangelical. Whereas Falwell, Pat Robertson, James Dobson and those like them are all about fire and brimestone, and pushing their extreme agenda loudly in the public sphere, the modern evangelical is... less so. They play their extremism closer to the chest. Rabid opposition to a woman's right to choose is still the ultimate litmus test for an evangelical, but today's younger evangelical doesn't hate gay America as much as he or she would have 10 to 20 years ago. And, some of them are recognizing that we need to take care of our environment - a notion Falwell, Robertson, and Dobson scoff at - and the poor.

So, they're becoming less extreme and hateful. But still, extreme and hateful. With some exceptions, of course, like David Kuo, former deputy director of the office of faith-based community initiatives in the Bush administration. In a piece on NPR, Kuo reflected on Falwell's legacy, and it's not an entirely rosy picture.

At 26 million strong, almost 10 percent of the country's population considers itself evangelical. How did such a small block of Americans become so powerful as to hijack an entire political party?



Great question, Mike. Perhaps we should ask Newt Gingrich, as he seems to think we all need to be converted to christian fundamentalism. Per Think Progress: http://thinkprogress.org/2007/05/21/gingrich-convert-america/

Well, it's not like it's a a mystery, guys.

That only 10% identify themselves by the label "evangelical" is not really significant; Falwell's views are shared (to varying extents) by a significant portion of the population. And the reason he was able to motivate as many voters as he did (a damn significant accomplishment, it must be admitted) is because of the social changes in the 60s and 70s. Prior to this time, hewing to a certain religious belief was not a predictor of your vote.

Probably the most significant single issue, among several that coalesced to make Falwell a political force to be reckoned with, was taking abortion out of the hands of the voters and making it law by judicial fiat.

Ba-ba-barabajagal (I can't help it, that's how it comes out in my head, like the song...), you're absolutely right on the abortion question - it was (and is) the flame that keeps the evangelical political movement burning. But I disagree that the 10% number isn't significant. While the perception in America is that "traditional values" Christians dominate the landscape, I don't think most Americans share Falwell's views. But a significant voting block do - that 10% - so they've pummeled the Democrats election after election. Whatever the numbers actually are, though, I see a disproportionate influence by evangelicals on American public policy.

Then again, if polling data is accurate, less 15% of Americans believe in evolution, with no hand played by a higher intelligence. So perhaps most of America really is full of anti-science, faith-driven evangelicals.

That is a good point Mike.
10% is significant in any election, period. I think I meant the label "evangelical" was insignificant.

For me, the death of Falwell seemed to bring out the worst in some liberals. And I understand the frustration. But we have to understand Falwell was part of a tradition that goes back to the founding of the country, albeit one that was marginal and non-partisan--until the 60s-70s.

And I think it's a good thing that what is considered "evangelical" is stretching a bit, while more liberal people return to churches, temples, etc.

Falwell's often graceless fire and brimstone brought out the same gracelessness in his opponents. By the same token he seemed to soften in later years to a disposition more fitting to a preacher.

I am fundamentally at odds with his version of the intersection of politics and religious belief. I think he created a division where there didn't need to be one before. But I have to admire the way he stood up for his beliefs and left a legacy, and wish there was someone similar on "our side."

Hey B, I'm definitely with you on the "I wish we had more like that on our side" part. Falwell and the politicial people like him on the right helped build a right wing propaganda machine over the past 30 to 40 years that is tremendously effective. The left lacks that.

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