November 7, 2006
Newsweek on the Evangelical Divide
Newsweek reports on the backlash among some evangelicals to the Religious Right. It opens with Dobson: "Dobson told his flock in a taped broadcast, they could not afford to stay home on Election Day. If they did, 'we could ... begin to have same-sex marriage in places all over the country.'"
Then to Adam Hamilton's church in Leawood, Kansas. "The religious right has 'gone too far,' says Hamilton. 'They've lost their focus on the spirit of Jesus and have separated the world into black and white, when the world is much more gray.' He adds: 'I can't see Jesus standing with signs at an anti-gay rally. It's hard to picture that.'"
Much more after the jump...
The story's thesis is: "From Dobson to Hamilton and through the geographical heart of the country runs a fault line that is increasingly dividing evangelical Christians in America in the first years of the 21st century, revealing the movement to be more complex, and more interesting, than the usual caricatures suggest. "
As if that sentence alone didn't sum up Newsweeks ignorance of evangelicals, there's more: "Can they [evangelicals] move beyond the apparent confines of the religious right as popularly understood, or are they destined to seem harsh and intolerant - the opposite of what their own faith would have them be?"
The story's premise is already off. The fault it describes has existed for a long time. The caricature of evangelicals is just that. Then come the usual suspects: Rick Warren, Randall Balmer, Richard Land and now David Kuo. Also fundamentalism and the Scopes trial and, somewhat surprisingly (to me at least), William F. Buckley Jr. make an appearance. Then follows a sweeping history of modern evangelicalism and the Moral Majority.
Is there any surprise that Bono makes an entrance?
Newsweek makes some vast assumptions. "To a large degree, the evolution is generational; evangelicals who voted Republican over the past 30 years had parents who were Democrats." So the generation of evangelicals younger than the baby boomers will return to their grandparents' voting habits?
Newsweek then reveals it's ignorance. "Evangelical" is no longer equivalent to "fundamentalist." It was only ever equivalent to those who didn't know evangelicals.
It's good that the magazine is paying attention and trying to understand the movement. But the "evangelicals are learning their lesson after failing in politics" thesis doesn't quite hold. There have always been evangelicals who disagreed with Dobson's politics. And those who did have never had the million-member mailing list that Dobson has. And they still don't.
Over the past few years, evangelicals have leaned more heavily toward a president they trusted, one who claims to be one them. Now, evangelicals tilting back. But abortion will prevent any flip flop toward Democrats. Gay marriage has the potential to do the same.
Still, the movement has always been "more complex, and more interesting, than the usual caricatures suggest."