I’ll make a prediction: within 10 years or less mainstream evangelicals like the editors of Christianity Today magazine (and whomever/whatever is running the Billy Graham empire et al) will “come around” on issues like gay marriage equality, choice for women and premarital sex. They’ll suddenly find they’re really, really pro-immigration too!
They won’t do this out of the goodness of their hearts, let alone on moral grounds, but because these folks can’t figure out any other way to earn a living other than being professional Christians. They have lost their young people to “liberal” views on gay rights, sex and the rest, so the establishment will follow because they want to stay in business.
So – eventually — will the Republican Party. However before the GOP comes around they will more or less self-destruct.
I’ve watched the process of evangelical/Republican self destruction since the 1970s because I was once a Republican Party far right insider. (I describe my journey out in Crazy For God.) You may think my view of the evangelical establishment is cynical but I think not. One reason is that I’ve been the recipient of the evangelical lie machine wherein they often reveal more about themselves than about me.
For instance if I’ve read or heard it once I’ve read or heard it 100 times that I left the right and the evangelicals to make more money. In fact the opposite happened. The big bucks was in the evangelical God business. My income dropped more than by half when I left and never recovered. But the fact that so many in that world assume that I jumped ship to chase income is revealing. It was, is and will remain about earning an income for these guys. They would not understand true conviction if it up and bit them you know where.
Republican National Committee Chairman Reince Priebus is out of ideas. So is the evangelical leadership.
Priebus “explained” the party’s November defeat: “There’s no one reason we lost. Our message was weak; our ground game was insufficient; we weren’t inclusive; we were behind in both data and digital; and our primary and debate process needed improvement. So there’s no one solution. There’s a long list of them.”
But there’s really only one explanation and he avoided that: a staunch conservative bloc led by evangelical voters gaoded on by cranky intelecuals like Antonin Scalia, Robert George and the late Chuck Colson, have undermined the GOP’s national image to the point of no return.
Christians killed the GOP
The Republican Party’s ratings are at a 20-year low, with 58 percent judging it unfavorably, according to a recent Pew Research Center survey. The “values gap” between Republicans/evangelical voters and Democrats is insurmountable. Facts are facts and fact is the conservatives are mostly old, male, white and in decline. (Polls cited herein are from Andrew Kohut and the Wahington Post-published/Pew Research Center polls.)
As Kohut said: “A bloc of doctrinaire, across-the-board conservatives has become a dominant force on the right.” Ultra-conservatives and evangelicals fooled the Republican lawmakers that there would be no voter backlash if they stuck with the far right program laid out by people like Ralph Reed, Robert George and Gary Bauer. In other words living in the closed Fox News/Christianity Today/Antonin Scalia “information” loop conservatives believed their own bullshit.
Living on your own planet may have its rewards but winning elections isn’t one of them
Self-identifying Republicans have hit historic lows and the traditional divide between pro-business economic conservatives and social conservatives has narrowed. There’s less diversity of values within the GOP. So they will lose big, no actually lose HUGE in 2016.
After that we’ll be reading polls about how young evangelicals are abandoning the bedrock issues on gay marriage and sex, positions on abortion will soften too. No one likes to lose forever. So we’ll see the evangelist/evangelical establishment begin to scramble to make “new discoveries” that Jesus was pro gay and pro choice and pro premarital sex all along.
As the Kohut/Pew research notes, the GOP base is increasingly dominated by a highly energized aging white male (Southern) bloc of voters with extremely conservative positions: the size and role of government, foreign (non)-policy, social issues, and moral concerns. They stand with the Tea Party on taxes and spending and race and immigration and with Christian conservatives on key social questions: abortion rights and same-sex marriage.
And they have doomed the GOP. Do the math.
These far right conservatives became a huge reactionary force in the Obama era because he is black. Had he been white they would have disliked him but they HATED him because he is black. How do I know? Because his positions were actually moderate. So why else all the lies?
The Fox/ChristinaityToday/Franklin Graham/GOP/Tea Party cabal lied about Obama again and again and made themselves utterly silly looking—not a good thing in politics.
The people who pushed the GOP over the cliff represent only 45 percent of the Republican base. And they are demographically and politically distinct from the national electorate by a huge margin. Ninety-two percent are white. They are mostly male, married, evangelical, well off and over 50 years old. And they are… literally dying off.
Hatred for the first black president acted on the right’s central nervous system like a treble swig of Red Bull and pushed evangelicals into hyper drive.
Now they will pay and pay and pay some more. The Obama presidency is a stunning success—in spite of everything. The lies are seen as just that by the vast majority of Americans. The right has been hoisted on its own petard.
Ideological resistance to President Obama’s policies, discomfort with the changing face of America and the influence of conservative media is what pushed them into oblivion. And the GOP has taken the evangelicals over the cliff with them. It was all lies. Obama was always a moderate. Everyone rational knows that, only the Fox loons think differently.
The conservative/evangelical response to Obama was literally insane. By the 100-day mark of Obama’s first term, 56 percent of Republicans disapproved of the president and blamed him for the Bush economic meltdown. By January 2010, 61 percent of Republicans and 73 percent of conservative Republicans strongly disapproved – i.e. hated — the president. They also said he was the antichrist, a Muslim, a communist, a friend of terrorists and that he hated Israel.
Republican views on gun control, abortion rights and global warming veered hard right and into la, la land. These trends kicked in before health-care reform became such a dominant political issue, but the angry political debate over “Obamacare” only reinforced them.
This far right tide of opinion — strengthened with the emergence of the tea party — showed its power in 2010, with midterm election victory for the GOP. Conservatives accounted for 68 percent of the Republican base, compared with 60 percent eight years earlier.
Conservative evangelical Republicans were more likely (33 percent) than the public at large (22 percent) to see the growing number of Latinos in America as a change for the worse. Similarly, 46 percent of conservatives see increasing rates of interracial marriage as a positive development, compared with 66 percent of the public overall.
As Kohut/Pew numbers show, Race has loomed larger in voting behavior in the Obama era than at any point in the recent past. The 2010 election was the high mark of “white flight” from the Democratic Party, as National Journal’s Ron Brownstein called it — the GOP won a record 60 percent of white votes, up from 51 percent four years earlier.
To the conservative base, Obama, as an African American in the White House, is the symbol of how America has changed for the worse. Unease with him sets conservative Republicans apart from other voting blocs — including moderate Republicans, who have hardly been fans of the president. For example, a fall 2011 national survey found 63 percent of conservative Republicans reporting that Obama made them angry, compared with 29 percent of the public overall and 40 percent of moderate Republicans.
If a values backlash and racial-political polarization helped forge the staunch conservative bloc, the conservative media has reinforced it. A bloc of right wing evangelical/Republican voters relies entirely on conservative media to comprehend the world. Pew found that 54 percent of staunch conservatives report that they regularly watch Fox News, compared with 44 percent who read a newspaper and 30 percent who watch network news regularly. Conservative Republicans make up as much as 50 percent of the audiences for Sean Hannity, Rush Limbaugh and Bill O’ Reilly. There is nothing like this on the left. MSNBC’s “Hardball” and “The Rachel Maddow Show” attract significantly fewer liberal Democrats.
Republican reinvention won’t happen because staunch conservatives keep GOP lawmakers in office. They also will keep the party out of the White House.
The young people will leave the party in droves. After the huge loss waiting for Republicans in 2016 you’ll see the evangelical establishment start to crack as they try and follow the money to the new generation.
Trust me, the people who are at the top of the big evangelical churches and big publishing and media companies will have a “come to Jesus” moment in droves since they can do math and also want to make their house payments.
This “come to Jesus” combination of conservative and liberal views is already typical in the population at large. To win, both parties will soon try to appeal to the mixed values of the electorate.
For the evangelical establishment to win back young people they’ll have to do what liberals have done for decades: pick and choose their way through the Bible and decide it “says” what people want to hear. (Readers should take a look at thoughtful article “The Rise of Liberal Religion” by John Turner for more on this.)
But it will be very hard for the Republican Party, given the power of the staunch conservatives in its ranks to change for a longer time. So expect Republicans to not be in the White House for several more election cycles. But also expect to see gay weddings performed in all the big evangelical churches within ten years. Expect to see Christianity Today magazine – after much “soul searching” – to endorse Hillary Clinton for her upcoming presidential race.
Theology has always been about institutional survival. It still is and evangelical leaders may not be able to think clearly but they always have known how to count the money.
To book Frank Schaeffer to speak at your college, church or group contact him at Frankschaeffer.com