According to New York University scholar Marcia Pally, author of The New Evangelicals: Expanding the Vision of the Common Good, about 20% of American evangelicals “do not identify with the religious right.” In her recent essay at Immanent Frame, “Evangelicals Who Have Left the Right,” she identifies some major changes in American evangelicalism. The so-called “new evangelicals”:
- defend the separation of church and state and religious freedom for all, including Muslims.
- criticize government when they believe it is unjust, upholding what might be called the “prophetic” role of the church in society.
- are “civil society actors”…who advocate for their positions through public education, lobbying, coalition-building, and negotiation.
- are altering their business practices toward economic justice.
- use their profits to “redistribute resources in less developed regions” to support education, the fight against substance abuse, the homeless, and environmental protection.
- engage in humanitarian aid abroad without pressuring locals to participate in religious activities.
- oppose anti-gay discrimination in housing, education, and non-religious employment
- may believe that homosexuality is a sin, but also believe that democracies “do not punish people for their sins.” (Should the state “rescind civil rights for the commission of other sins, such as heterosexual adultery–why should it then for homosexuality?”).
- oppose gay marriage, but their opposition to gay civil unions is decreasing.
- oppose abortion, but one-third of them believe abortion should be legal.
- “aim to provide accessible, realistic alternatives” to abortion, including medical, economic, and emotional support during pregnancy.
- vote Republican because of the Democratic position on abortion.
- vote Republican because they believe in small government and the “Protestant and evangelical emphasis on self-responsible striving for moral uplift.”
I know many of these “new evangelicals.” I go to church with them and I teach them. While they do vote Republican, most of them are not entirely comfortable doing so. They really like Barack Obama and think that his heart is in the right place, but they just can’t get over his views on abortion. Some have decided to hold their nose and vote for Obama because of his moral vision for the country, but others just can’t do it with a good conscience.
So what does this all mean? It seems that as much as evangelicals are changing in their approach to gay civil unions, the environment, social activism, and humanitarian justice, abortion still remains the dominant issue. I am convinced that these new evangelicals would vote for a staunchly pro-life economic populist from the Democratic Party whose views border on socialism (a William Jennings Bryan-type?) before they would flip the lever for a pro-life champion of the free market and libertarianism. (A case in point is the 2006 U.S. Senate race in Pennsylvania where Bob Casey, a pro-life Democratic, trounced pro-life, big business Republican Rick Santorum). Unfortunately this will never happen because the Democratic Party has made it clear that it will not nominate a pro-life candidate. Too bad, such a race would be fun to see.
So would a race in which a pro-life, big-government Democrat ran for president against a pro-choice, small government, pro-business, libertarian Republican. What would evangelicals do?