Waning evangelical influence

by Anthony Bradley
Posted on Tuesday, November 13, 2012, at 1:29 pm

By most accounts, evangelicalism began with the influence of the Great Awakenings of the 18th century, which provided a set of social norms and values that has shaped much of American life and public policy for nearly three centuries. But those days may be over.

The 2012 Republican Party platform, which embraced many of those norms and values, was clearly rejected by more than half of the American electorate. I am no futurist, and I am open to being wrong, but to me it appears that evangelical influence in American political and cultural life is quickly coming to a close. In fact, before too long, it wouldn’t surprise me to see the Republican Party begin to distance itself from conservative evangelical Christians.

Just look at the data from last Tuesday. According to Fox News exit polling, Barack Obama received 55 percent of the female vote, 60 percent of the millennial generation vote, 52 percent of the Generation X vote, 93 percent of the black vote, 71 percent of the Hispanic/Latino vote, and 73 percent of the Asian vote. The only majority Mitt Romney held was among white men and white women. In fact, the constituencies that predominantly voted for President Obama are the exact same groups that conservative evangelical churches and denominations have been unsuccessful at reaching.

Our country’s changing demographics also speak to this point. According to census data from 2010, for the first time in this nation’s history racial and ethnic minorities make up more than half all children born. But these minorities do not even come close to making up half the births in evangelical churches across the country. Given these numbers, are conservative evangelicals even relevant to the Republican Party in future elections? 

The GOP also keeps missing opportunities.

Republicans who have chosen unhelpful rhetoric on immigration policy continue to alienate many Latinos who tend to embrace traditional family values and free-market economies. To many of them, immigration is the most important issue above all others.

With black voters, Republicans continue to be at a disadvantage, as they battle the “racist” label Democrats attach to the party and its candidates. The GOP also needs to understand that many in the black community care more about entitlement programs than they do about abortion.

The millennial generation, many of whom have been raised in a culture of divorce and single-parenthood, experience a disconnect when they hear Republicans touting the value and importance of “traditional families.”

With these cultural dynamics, Republicans, in order to take back the White House, are going to have to start appealing to their new actual base: deistic fiscal moderates. 

And here’s a valuable lesson for conservative evangelicals from last Tuesday’s election results: If your church, college, seminary, denominational annual meeting, etc., looks like Romney’s concession speech audience, you likely will be unable to transform, influence, or engage America. To do so, you’ll need to start including minorities and women as executive leaders and thought leaders who will help chart institutional direction.

Taken altogether, then, could it be that Americans are now saying, “Farewell evangelicals. It was a good run”?

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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