The Evangelical 99 Percent

A guest post by Richard Flory

Last week I spent a day at the annual Evangelical Theological Society meetings in San Francisco. My entree to the event was an invitation from some colleagues who are working on an project linking theological reflection and California culture, which allowed me to get a closer look at a gathering of several hundred evangelical theologians, biblical scholars, philosophers, pastors and political interlocutors–in effect, the brain trust of conservative American evangelicalism.

I went fully expecting to hear the working out of the theological and philosophical arguments that underlie the strident voices that emanate from the religious right. While there was a bit of shrill posturing (apparently some religions–one in particular–could legally be outlawed, according to one point of view), most of the sessions amounted to earnest attempts to uncover and present deeper thinking and reflection about the Christian scriptures, how Christians should live in the world and how they might have a positive influence in American culture.

I wasn’t surprised to see that most (85 percent or more) of the participants were white men. Still, there was what appeared to be a good number of blacks in attendance (in addition to a scattering of other minorities). But like the phenomenon described in the book Why Are All the Black Kids Sitting Together in the Cafeteria? the non-whites gravitated toward one another in the conversations between sessions. This in itself isn’t too surprising, given the isolation that many people of color experience at evangelical colleges and seminaries, which tend to be overwhelmingly white.

Equally unsurprising was the assertion that [Read more...]

Does God Use Natural Disasters to Guide American Politics?

In recent weeks, I have written about my discomfort with people aligning religion with a particular party and the costs that it might impose. Today I examine what I view as an unhelpful instance of a bringing religion into a political debate.  I use this not to critique the candidate who said it, but rather to examine its underlying logic.

In August, Republican candidate Michele Bachmann told an audience in Florida that God had sent deadly tornadoes and earthquakes in recent weeks to indicate his displeasure with the high levels of federal spending. She said:

“I don’t know how much God has to do to get the attention of the politicians. We’ve had an earthquake; we’ve had a hurricane. He said, ‘Are you going to start listening to me here?’ Listen to the American people, because the American people are roaring right now. They know government is on a morbid obesity diet, and we’ve got to rein in the spending.”

(Bachmann later claimed that she was joking, but having listened to her statement a couple of times, I’m not so sure.)

Whereas most religion-politics linkages take the form of “we’re on God’s side”, this takes it one step further and says “God is on our side.”

I’m quite comfortable with the idea of God communicating directly with people, but as I understand scripture [Read more...]

Did the Religious Right Lose 10 Million Christians?

In the 1990s, a seismic shift occurred in religious America. During that period, the percentage of Americans who did not affiliate with any religion more than doubled. In the 1980s, about 7% of Americans reported being religiously unaffiliated, and by 2000, this was up to 14% (and has since increased to about 17%). To be clear, many of these religiously unaffiliated still believe in God, but they don’t associate with any particular religion or denomination.

What happened, and why did it happen in the 1990s? Micheal Hout and Claude Fischer, sociologists at Berkeley, published a study that links part of this substantial drop of religious affiliation to politics. They examined what type of people left religion in the 1990s, and they found it closely tied to political beliefs. Unaffiliation among liberals increased 11 percentile points; among political moderates it increased 5-6 points; and among political conservatives it increased an insignificant 1.7 points.

So, why would liberal or moderate politics move people away from Christianity in the 1990s? Well, that was a time in which [Read more...]

Why It’s Difficult to Derive Political Affiliation from the Bible or Why I’m a “Political Agnostic”

With presidential elections coming up, we’ll hear a lot more about every aspect of politics, including its link to religion—especially Christianity.  I would like to step back and ask a very simple question: Is it possible to derive a distinct political position or affiliation from the tenets of the Bible?  My answer is “probably not.”

Trying to fit Christian beliefs into a specific political stance seems to be putting a square peg into a round hole—it just doesn’t fit.  There are two major problems in trying to translate Christian faith into politics.

The first problem is which aspect of the faith do you want to emphasize? [Read more...]


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