April 25, 2007
The 'evangelical view of economics'
Are theological conservatives also economic conservatives? A study answers the question.
Of all the lines in the widely circulated letter against Richard Cizik's work on global warming, I found one section particularly surprising:
Cizik's disturbing views seem to be contributing to growing confusion about the very term, "evangelical." ... We believe some of [the] misunderstanding about evangelicalism and its "conservative views on politics, economics and biblical morality" can be laid at Richard Cizik's door.
As I've said before, I found that surprising because most evangelical activists I know of have been eager to define evangelical theologically or sociologically and oppose use of the word as a political descriptor. But while you can talk about trends in evangelical political behavior (which is quite a bit different than talking about "evangelical politics"), I was stumped on what the letter's signatories thought evangelical views on economics are. Granted, 50 years ago there was a strong anti-Communist streak in evangelical Protestantism. But today?
Well, I just found an answer, at least in part, in the journal Social Science Research. (More after the jump)
In the June 2007 issue, Pennsylvania State University sociologists Jacob Felson and Heather Kindell write about "The elusive link between conservative Protestantism and conservative economics." For the full article, you'll have to pay $30. But here's the abstract (emphasis mine):
Research on the political attitudes of conservative Protestants has yielded inconsistent results. We know that conservative Protestants (CPs) tend to be more socially conservative than members of other religious groups and have tended to vote Republican in recent years, but we are less certain of their attitudes toward the size and role of government in matters unrelated to religion. Despite theoretical expectations and qualitative research supporting a link between conservative Protestantism and conservative attitudes about the size and role of government, quantitative work has failed to find a consistent relationship. The present study interprets conservative Protestant issue preferences in the context of research on non-attitudes, arguing that we should not expect ideological constraint among the less educated segment of the population. However, among better educated members of the population, we should expect to find ideologically consistent attitudes. Results from the General Social Survey suggest that better-educated evangelical Protestants are consistently more economically conservative than other Protestants. Among Protestants with lower levels of education, there is no consistent relationship between conservative Protestantism and economic policy preferences. Since the better educated are disproportionately politically active, politicians may be especially likely to pay attention to their interests. This may help to explain why the Republican coalition between social and economic conservatives has endured for several decades and shows no signs of abating.
Since I didn't pay the $30, I can't tell if the study took into account that the better-educated evangelical Protestants are likely to have higher incomes--something that would no doubt also influence their economic views. But the bottom line here is that talking about the "evangelical view on economics" is even more problematic than talking about evangelical politics. There is a group that is both evangelical and economically conservative. And certainly it would be interesting to find out more about that group, and whether its influence is proportional to its size. But please don't confuse the part with the whole.