It is no surprise that Newsweek has joined the chorus declaring evangelicals as big losers in this year’s election. What surprises me more is the exaggerated tone of both the headline on Newsweek‘s Web Exclusive by Lisa Miller — “Post-Evangelical America” — and of her first three sentences:
Just as “race” has a whole new meaning in America this week, so, too, does “faith.” For at least four decades, white evangelicals have been the religion-and-politics story in this country. Their power, their rhetoric, their numbers, their theology — all have been so dominant that many of us in the media had forgotten that religious faith could be expressed any other way.
The language is enough to make Ned Flanders hyperventilate and faint.
Miller cites no landmark event that established evangelicals’ power, rhetoric, numbers or theology as being “so dominant that many of us in the media had forgotten that religious faith could be expressed any other way.” This sounds more like a complaint that the mass media of the past four decades have not joined in Newsweek‘s drum beat that religious faith is a good thing, so long as it insists on no universal, absolute truths.
Miller picks up the now-familiar statistic of increased support for Obama compared to John Kerry, and then she serves the pièce de résistance: Jim Wallis (pictured), a white pastor who never fails to flash his evangelical I.D. card, trash talking on white evangelicals:
In 2008, 44 percent of Americans who go to religious services more than once a week voted for Obama; in 2004, just 35 percent of those people voted for Kerry — a nine-point increase and the most surprising number in all the religious polling. “It’s very cool,” says Jim Wallis, founder of the left-leaning evangelical group Sojourners, “that the story is not white evangelicals again.”
Midway through the story, as she discusses numbers in greater detail, Miller is acknowledges that “the exit polls provided few surprises.”
But before long the thesis of an epochal election returns. Hail Obama, slayer of the scandal of insisting on a saving relationship with Jesus!
The pro-Obama faithful represent a wild diversity of the American religious experience, including mainline Protestants, church-shoppers, the curious, the spiritual but not religious, the heterodox (those who subscribe to several traditions), [sic] the intermarried, the community-minded, the intellectually provoked but skeptical, and the traditionalists. Indeed, it includes almost every committed person of faith except those whose church culture insists on a personal relationship with Jesus Christ.
. . . George Bush came to power telling an evangelical story that appealed to his base, a story of sin and redemption, of simple faith, of good and evil. This familiar story — and stories like it — has overshadowed every other religious theme in America for 40 years. Obama — his deep religious faith and his peripatetic spiritual biography — shines a light on all other religious paths in America, various as they are, and infinite.
Those are some awfully large cultural shoes to fill. Something tells me the president-elect will have more pressing and secular matters to attend to for, oh, at least the first two years of his administration.