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December 5, 2011

The Political Landscape Sees Three Decades of Growth for Evangelical Interest Groups

In 1976, a Time cover story on evangelicals focused on the rise of a “New Empire of Faith,” And despite the name, the evangelical “empire” was apolitical. There were few organized political efforts led by evangelicals. This is no longer the case. According to a new study by the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life, the number of evangelical interest groups has grown steadily from just a few three decades ago to over 40 today. Pew found over 200 faith-based interest groups representing both large and small religious groups. Of these, almost one in five are groups that represent evangelicals and their churches.

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Before the 1980s, the few evangelical interest groups that existed were those who represented institutions. The National Association of Evangelicals, the Baptist World Alliance, the Council for Christian Colleges and Universities, and others represented churches, colleges, and other religious organizations in the nation's capital. The National Religious Broadcasters Association, American Association of Christian Schools, and others have since formed to advocate for religious institutions. Beginning in the late 1970s, however, evangelicals formed grassroots organizations to represent voters.  Today, most evangelical interest groups represent individuals, not institutions.

The first wave of grassroots organizing began in the late 1970s when the Christian Right came onto the political scene. Groups like the Moral Majority, Traditional Values Coalition, Concerned Women for American, and the Family Research Council focused on social issues like abortion, pornography, and sexuality. There were also other groups such as Focus on the Family and the American Family Association that provided the media presence needed for these early Christian Right groups to organize.


A second wave of Christian Right groups formed in the late 1980s and early 1990s. More likely to include charismatic and Pentecostal Christians, this wave was typified by the Christian Coalition. The Christian Coalition was formed using the network of activists who supported Pat Robertson's failed presidential bid in 1988.


The growth of evangelical groups has not been limited to grassroots groups, however. One area of growth has been legal advocacy groups. The American Center for Law and Justice, the Alliance Defense Fund, and Liberty Council are some of the groups who have focused on shaping the law through their legal advocacy. In the 1990s, these groups were successful in shaping case-law on religious liberty and other constitutional issues.


Evangelical groups have also been formed to address social justice issues. World Vision, World Relief, and the Salvation Army have lobbying arms to advance government programs aimed to help the poor and other marginalized groups. The Evangelical Environmental Network is a coalition that promotes environmental causes, most recently the harmful effects of mercury.


The report by Pew provides the most comprehensive list of religious groups available. Still, there have been some questions about the content of the list of groups. Some Christian groups are listed as "interreligious" if they are not limited to a specific Christian tradition. Family Research Council, Sojourners, and Bread for the World are listed in the same category as broader ecumenical organizations like Faith in Public Life and the Interfaith Alliance. Like previous scholarship on religious interest groups, Pew includes secular groups that advocate for religious freedom, even though the groups do not claim to be religious. 


The trajectory for the growth of evangelical interest groups is unlikely to change in the coming years, but it might accelerate. Political parties in the U.S. are weak, and new campaign finance rules have given interest groups more, not less power. As with other parts of society, evangelical churches and their members will likely find more reasons to enter into politics and expand more and more into public policy.

Comments

The rise of interest groups is a sad phenomenom because it eventually births powermongering. The present Presidential race is a clear example of this at its worst. Pandering to these groups takes the Pied Piper followers down a very treacherous path. The path that leads to delusional kingdom thinking. This outlines that if we could get rid of the black liberal President the road to sanity could be found again.We are in this trouble because of liberalism. This message takes on a messianic tone and encourages christians to fight vigorously against the "bad" president. I have friends who delight in damning Pres Obama as a pagan infidel.No system has a stranglehold on virtue or economic redmption. Only Christ can redeem a lost nation that has dumped God for the Almighty Dollar. God save us from ourselves.

Really!

And by any chance; have anyone noticed the LOSS in the membership in churches all across the land? Thousands of young people are leaving the church. Have anyone noticed the increase in deceptions, false doctrines and teachers, aposthasy and the money lovers? Have anyone notice the growth and increase in Biblical illiteracy among church goers?

Have anyone noticed the number of churches, that have either close the doors of their meeting places, or have sold them to other religious groups?

How can it escape that it all happened, while we were all entertained by the "interests" groups [read money lovers]?

In other words, the only thing that grew in the last 3 decades were, the groups of interest, the interests of the groups and theirs Bank accounts.

Now go Figure that out if you can!


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You forgot to mention Samaritan's Purse alongside World Vision, which is a major player in supporting the poor and needy of all nations in the name of Jesus Christ. This is a major omission.

As far as voting, though, who do you vote for? 30 years of Democratic leadership increasing spending and beefing up entitlement programs have broken the bank, and 30 years of Republican leadership keeping us involved in international wars around the world in support of our military-industrial complex (which JFK got shot for trying to dismantle, as brought out in Jim Garrison's three volumes on the subject) haven't helped us either.

I have said for the last few years that we should put the Democratic and Republican Parties out of business using the Anti Trust and Anti Monopoly laws. I don't know how to do that! Is there anybody out there that has any Ideas on how to do this?

The chart above speaks to significant, explosive growth in these "interest groups" over the last 30 years. But after all that effort and billions of dollars in expenditures in an effort to control law and policy, evangelicals have little to show for it. And according to the Barna Group, they are viewed more negatively now by the general public than ever before.

Evangelicals pursued power and earned resentment. Hopefully, the next 30 years will see Christians lead by humble example rather than through lobbying, litigating and, as is suggested by CT, PAC-funded political campaigns.

Yes your right. thanks for you graph and article.