No 'evangelical vote' for 2012?

Campaign 2012
by Anthony Bradley
Posted on Wednesday, May 18, 2011, at 5:04 pm

What would happen if we disbanded evangelicalism for the 2012 presidential election? That is, what if evangelicals suspended affiliations with each other through any organizations or networks and simply embedded themselves as voters among non-religious constituencies? This would mean no voter guides published by any Christian non-profit or para-church organizations; no indirect endorsements of candidates on Christian talk radio, or on television, or by pastors; and no giving political candidates, or their emissaries, access to any churches, Christian colleges, or any group of gathered believers for any reason. What would happen?

I was prompted to think about this after watching a documentary produced in England titled God Bless America, which reveals how evangelical Christians, and their organizations, were nothing more than mere pawns in a political game of chess during the 2008 presidential race. I don't get nauseated often, but the ways in which this film shows how easily manipulated evangelicals were by candidates who would opportunistically say whatever itching church-going ears wanted to hear literally turned my stomach.

For example, "progressive" Christians on the left played right into the hands of the Obama team. The emergence of a "new kind of evangelical," one that doesn't care about so much about the politics of abortion or same-sex marriage, was nothing less than high-octane gasoline for the Barack Obama machine. These "social justice" evangelicals threw out the window economic thinking and facts about human nature in order to do all they could to disassociate themselves with "conservatives" and the "religious right"-the kind of evangelicals who would rather "end poverty" than create conditions for economic empowerment and liberation for poor. I nearly jumped out of my chair watching the Obama team parade Donald Miller around like a puppet to Christian colleges as its poster boy for this new kind of Obama-loving evangelical-that is, one who holds on to evangelical convictions while embracing the mantra "You can love Jesus and not to be like your old crusty abortion-as-politics-obsessed parents and grandparents."

I later reached for a bottle of Rolaids when the film pieced together how the McCain campaign reconstructed its platform to appear more evangelical in its rhetoric to garner the "evangelical vote." John McCain's reticence to speak publicly about his faith left evangelical pawns unmoved on the chessboard. The Republicans were stomped because there was a Democratic candidate in Obama who was extremely comfortable talking about Jesus. McCain's religious awkwardness was a problem. Then, surprisingly, McCain chose Sarah Palin as a running mate and evangelicals were back in! Locked and loaded. In fact, I was caught up in the drama of it all and wrote about the difference Palin would make for evangelicals. She spoke to issues that the old kind of evangelicals needed to hear in every election: Jesus, abortion, traditional marriage, and family values. The film presents members of the McCain team courting the gatekeepers of evangelical groupthink in cities like Colorado Springs, Colo., and Washington, D.C. The whole thing made my blood pressure rise.

I wonder, then, what would happen in 2012 if evangelicals, on the traditional right or the progressive left, decided not to be pawns or puppets for any political party. What if attempting to court the "evangelical vote" would be as nebulous as trying to court the "left-handed vote?" Wouldn't it be exciting to have a presidential campaign that was more about what the candidates actually believe than voters having to decipher the planned duplicity of much of today's political rhetoric? I can only dream.

Anthony Bradley

Anthony is associate professor of religious studies at The King's College in New York and a research fellow at the Acton Institute for the Study of Religion and Liberty.

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