The Myth of the Liberal Young Evangelical

They are opposed to Obamacare, same-sex marriage, and the legalization of marijuana. They believe it’s important for a presidential candidate to have strong religious beliefs. They plan to vote for Mitt Romney. They are evangelicals.

No surprises there, right? But consider one other factor: These are young evangelicals.

Since 2007, the media has attempted to present young evangelicals in the Millennial generation (age 18-25) as increasingly liberal on social issues and more likely to vote for Democrats. But a new study by the Public Religion Research Institute confirms that the majority of young evangelicals (or at least young white evangelicals) have not abandoned the conservative political (and presumably the theological) positions of their parents.

Of course there remains—as has been the case for at least forty years—a small number of evangelicals who are both young and liberal. But their number are not increasing substantially, much less nearing a majority. The slow, steady shift of white evangelicals from Democrat to Republican has created a powerful narrative that overshadows the fact that for the last four decades at least one-third of evangelicals have voted for the Democratic Party.

In the mid-1960s, white evangelicals self-identified as 68% Democrat, 25% Republican, and 7% Independent. By 1978, the majority of evangelicals still aligned with the Democratic Party, though the numbers had dropped to 53% (only 30% aligned with the GOP). Even in 1984, when the newly emergent “religious right” turned out for Reagan, only 48% identified as Republican while 40% remained Democrat. The decline continued until 2008, when only 34% of white evangelicals remained in the Democratic Party.

Despite the fact that since the 1960s one-third of evangelicals have voted for Democrats, the media is always surprised when post-election exit polls consistently reveal that . . . one-third of evangelicals voted for Democrats. For instance, when 32% of young evangelicals (age 18-29) voted for Obama in 2008, the media assumed this was an unmistakable sign Millennials were becoming more liberal.

A relatively larger percentage of young evangelicals did buy into the “hope and change” message of Obama, making the 2008 something of an anomaly. But recent polls show that the enthusiasm for the President has waned and the young evangelical support for a Democratic president is falling once again. The most recent study finds that eight-in-ten (80%) white evangelical Millennials support Romney, while just 15% support Obama. That’s an even lower percentage than John Kerry received from the demographic in 2004 (16%).

Even in 2008, a likely high-water mark for young evangelical identification with the Democratic Party, there was significant evidence that the group was not becoming more liberal. A study by Baylor University during that period found that young evangelicals “hold views similar to older evangelicals regarding abortion, same-sex marriage, stem cell research, marijuana use, government welfare spending, spending on the nation’s health, and the war in Iraq” and “remain significantly more conservative than nonevangelicals on these same social issues.”

Since evangelicals tend to put strong emphasis on the authority of the Bible, it shouldn’t be surprising that they do not support a party whose platform is, on several issues, diametrically opposed to Biblical principles. What is surprising is that such as large number of evangelicals have embraced the naïve idea that voting for a party that endorses abortion-on-demand, same-sex marriage, and unnecessary restrictions on religious freedom, can be a morally neutral act for a Christian.

(The same people who can’t comprehend how Christians in prior eras voted for politicians who supported chattel slavery seem to have no qualms about supporting a candidates that believe the unborn can be killed at any time, for any reason, and have every taxpayer pay for the slaughter.)

Whether a morally serious evangelical should support the GOP is certainly a debatable question (one that I’ve often asked myself). Whether a morally serious evangelical should support the Democratic Party is more clear: We should not endorse a party that is unequivocally pro-abortion, unapologetic about trampling religious freedoms, and unwilling to consider opposition to the destructive redefinition of marriage as anything other than intolerable bigotry.

This is not to say that Christians should vote for Republicans. All that is necessary is for a majority of Christians within the Democratic Party to have the courage to withhold their vote until the platform is changed. With that simple act, these problematic issues would disappear within two election cycles. Sadly, the party currently has a larger number of Christians who are inflexible partisans than Christians who are pro-life, pro-marriage, and pro-religious freedom.

Fortunately, there is still a majority of young evangelicals that isn’t willing to exchange God’s revealed truth about justice for the lie that all political parties are equally worthy of our support. As long as they refuse to abandon their convictions, we still have reason to hold out hope for America’s political future.

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Where Are You Most Likely to Run Over a Deer?
Religion is Wasted on the Young
The Mask of God
  • Don

    Good thoughts, Joe! The only consistent exception to this myth is what I saw during my half-decade long foray into Christian ecology (what ever happened to THAT movement, by the way?). This was probably the biggest bastion of progressive evangelicalism (led by the Vineyard folks) of our generation. It went hand in hand with so-called main line denominations, an odd relationship as long as it lasted. I saw plenty of conflicted folks. Lots of talk about stewardship, until the uncomfortable moments when evolution and the nature of how things came to be came up. Or – heaven forbid – when pro-baby folks started listening to what the global warmists were actually saying about population control. I’ve since moved on. I think many folks have. But those were still fun waters to swim in.

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  • Brandan Robertson

    This is absurd. One can be a faithful Evangelical and Democrat. I am.

    I am pro-gay marriage, yet think homosexuality is a sin.
    I am pro-choice, yet believe unjust killing is wrong.
    I am pro-Obamacare, precisely because of Jesus.

    I am a YOUNG evangelical for Obama. When the only churches you poll are John Hagee-esque churches. I know thousands upon thousands of Evangelicals for Obama.

    Check out our FB Page…

    • Joe Carter

      I think you confuse being able to make a claim and actually living it out. Anyone can claim to hold two contradictory beliefs at the same time, but that merely means they are intellectually inconsistent. For example, thinking that unjust killing is wrong and then supporting the unjust killing of unborn children makes no sense at all.

      • B.J.R

        Hey Joe-

        There are a whole number of Christians who believe life begins with the first breath because God “breathed” life into Adam. It’s not inconsistent. It is just different from yours.

        I am a Democrat. I am a reformed evangelical. I even am a part of the Gospel Coalition. And I have no contradiction in my living. I don’t have a problem with you being republican. I just don’t think it’s Christ honoring to say you cannot be Democratic and a Christian.

        • Joe Carter

          ***There are a whole number of Christians who believe life begins with the first breath because God “breathed” life into Adam. It’s not inconsistent. It is just different from yours.***

          With all due, that’s nonsense. Any Christian who truly believes that needs an education in theology and biology. According to your “first breath” principle, a doctor could pull a child out of the womb, cover their mouth, and then kill them as long as they didn’t catch their first breath. I’ve been a student of Christian bioethics for almost 10 years and I have never, ever heard of the “first breath” claim before.

          ***I just don’t think it’s Christ honoring to say you cannot be Democratic and a Christian.***

          The truth is always Christ honoring. And the truth is that no one who is a Christian should support a party that is pro-abortion.

          • B.J.R

            First- let me appologize. I came off aggressive in my first post. But I just find it so harmful and unChristian to have leaders say “you cant be a democrat and follow Jesus”.

            I didn’t just “make that view up”. There are dozens of sources who have claimed that historically.


            Now also let me clarify- I am not “pro-choice” like most. I believe abortion is okay in medical emergencies and the such. I am a conservative Christian and a political moderate. Anyways. I appreciate the dialouge.

            • Joe Carter

              I apologize too for being overly aggressive in my answers and not fully explaining my position. For example, I too think that as a general rule it would be harmful to say “you cant be a democrat and follow Jesus.” But my claim is actually the reverse of that: If you are a follower of Jesus, you shouldn’t be (based on their current platform) a Democrat. While they may seem similar, they are very different.

              The first claim implies that being a Democrat is inherently incompatible with being a Christian. Obviously there are some labels that are contradictory to being a Christian, such as being an atheist or Satanist. But being a Democrat is not in the category. Being a Democrat (or Republican) means aligning with the platform of a particular party. Since the platform can change, the compatibility with Christianity can change.

              I think that claim is rather uncontroversial. If the Democrats reverted back to promoting racial segregation or chattel slavery, then most modern Christians would have no problem saying that Christians should not be members of the Democratic Party. My claim is only controversial because many Christians think that distancing themselves from the party over an issue like abortion is not necessary. I disagree and I think a biblically solid case could be made for my position.

              ***There are dozens of sources who have claimed that historically.***

              I didn’t mean to imply that you made it up yourself. I have no doubt that there are some fringe Christians who would make such a claim, just at their are Christian white supremacists and other groups that make their claims based on history and the bible. But I don’t know of a single reputable Christian theologian or bioethicist who would espouse that view. And for good reason since it could be used to justify infanticide.

              ***Now also let me clarify- I am not “pro-choice” like most.***

              But you are claiming that it’s acceptable for Christians to embrace a position (the Democratic Party platform) that protects, defends, and seeks to advance abortion. I simply can’t fathom how that can be compatible with orthodox biblical Christianity.

              • Morgan Guyton

                You’ve got an extremely wooden logic to your argument. Voting Democrat and/or associating with Democrats is not “embracing a platform.” How in the world do you think they’re going to change their platform unless some people who disagree with it join their party and gain enough influence to change it? If you actually had an interest in seeing their platform change, you would think about this differently.

              • Marcus Goodyear

                Joe, you know I have a lot of respect for you. But I don’t think you are being fair to Democrats here. Both parties have serious morality problems on their platforms.

                I wish it were simpler. I wish one party could claim moral superiority, but I just don’t see it.

                • Charity Jill

                  I second this.

                • Joe Carter

                  Both parties have serious morality problems on their platforms.

                  What do you see as the morally problematic aspects of the GOP platform? I don’t think their document is perfect, but I don’t find anything that is openly anti-Christian as the Democratic Party’s position on abortion.

                  • Darrell Schapmire

                    Joe, to my recollection, there was one party who actually voted God from the platform. Which party was that?

                • Marcus Goodyear

                  Joe, I can’t reply to you directly because the thread is too long.

                  If you are unable to find any morally problematic aspects of the GOP platform, I think that proves my point.

                  It’s totally okay for you to support the GOP as fully as you do. I’m not saying you should be any less loyal or excited about your political party of choice.

                  But you don’t seem like an unbiased source here. Which just means, you should be really careful not to condemn others who don’t embrace your bias.

                  Be passionate! Be outspoken! Love what you love! But don’t condemn those who don’t love what you love. Even we independents end up feeling belittled when you do that.

                  • Joe Carter

                    If you are unable to find any morally problematic aspects of the GOP platform, I think that proves my point.

                    How does it prove your point? You haven’t pointed out what you think is morally problematic in the GOP platform. If there is something I’m missing, if there is something in that document that is as morally egregious as the Democrat’s support of abortion, then I’d welcome having it pointed out so that I can condemn it.

                    It’s totally okay for you to support the GOP as fully as you do.

                    I think you misunderstand my position. I’ve never said I support the GOP. Thinking that their platform is not as anti-Christian as the Democratic platform is not saying that I support it.

                    Which just means, you should be really careful not to condemn others who don’t embrace your bias.

                    My bias is pro-life. I certainly don’t expect pro-abortion Democrats to embrace my bias. But I would think that pro-life Christians should do so. I don’t understand why they put allegiance to a political party ahead of protecting the most vulnerable and innocent humans.

                    But don’t condemn those who don’t love what you love. Even we independents end up feeling belittled when you do that.

                    One of biggest problems with our political climate is the idea that you shouldn’t condemn moral evils if a significant number of people in America support it. I truly don’t understand that way of thinking. Should the abolitionists have have refrained from condemning slavery because it turned off independent voters?

                    I don’t like coming across as incivil. I don’t like making people feel uncomfortable about their political choices. But truth and justice have to take precedence. I can’t lie and say that I think Christians can be Democrats when the very platform of the Democratic Party includes positions that are in opposition to Christian morality.

                    • Marcus Goodyear

                      Joe, you say you don’t like coming across as incivil, but your behavior in the thread here doesn’t really demonstrate that to me. I’m not looking for a point for point rebuttal. I’m not throwing words back at you. Perhaps I should have known better than to have commented at all. I will definitely think twice about engaging again.

                      To your point: Think about everything the GOP stands for. There are morality problems. You know there are without me pointing them out.

                      Abortion is a huge problem too. I wish there were an easy solution to that problem in our society. And there is no question that it will be one of the many moral issues at stake in this election that voters need to consider.

                    • Marcus Goodyear

                      Joe, I shouldn’t have called you incivil. What I meant was that I was looking for conversation not debate. It isn’t fair for me to force you to engage the way I prefer. But I hope you’ll forgive me if I withdraw from the debate.

                      Maybe someday we can have a cup of coffee together to talk about these things. That would suit me much better, I think.

      • Dan Allison

        Wow. It takes a little thought here, Joe, to oppose abortion and still be pro-choice, so I will lay it out for you with this introduction. I am a follower of Christ, NOT a guardian of bourgeois morality, okay? Life begins at the beginning, at the get-go, at the moment of conception you have a full, complete human being. But I don’t think Jesus would have advocated jail for young woman seeking abortions. He would advocate forgiveness. He would tell us to work for a society that nurtures families. He would agree that higher minimum wages would allow more working people to afford families. Putting people in jail — getting our revenge against them — would never be part of Christ’s plan. I see a mean, hateful people who want to jail young women whose lives are already in crisis. States passing petty laws to harass those women. Until pro-lifers take legality and jail OUT of their agenda, they’re welcome to just stand there and be Pharisees until they turn blue. Your dismissal of Brandan was rude and arrogant.

        • Joe Carter

          Putting people in jail — getting our revenge against them — would never be part of Christ’s plan.

          No, of course not. The man who said that those who hurt children would be better off having a millstone tied around their neck and thrown in the river would obviously be against jail time for abortionists. Obviously.

    • Ernie Cantu

      James 1:7-8

      7 For let not that man suppose that he will receive anything from the Lord; 8 he is a double-minded man, unstable in all his ways.

  • Morgan Guyton

    As an evangelical, I am committed above all to evangelism, and I am very alarmed at the rate at which the “liberal” side of our culture has been leaving the church. I am also alarmed at the way that conservative evangelicals seem completely unbothered by this. To suggest that our primary identity should be based on political issue stances is to abandon what our primary vocation should be: to get to know people and support what we can about what they’re doing, in the hopes that we can share the love of Christ with them. There are two different approaches to evangelism: hegemonic and cruciform. The first is the legacy of the Roman Empire; the second is the true legacy of Christianity. I write about both here:

    P.S. I could throw your argument back in your face for why evangelicals can’t support Democrats. Democrats are not going to change their stance on abortion unless enough people *inside* their party push it off the platform. So the movement should be the opposite of what you’re suggesting if you’re actually serious about stopping abortion as opposed to just wanting lower taxes and needing an issue to use as a smokescreen for your real interests. Infiltrate, support what you can, and change what you can’t support.

  • Flyaway

    Jimmy Carter thinks the Democratic Party should change–”I’ve signed a public letter calling for the Democratic Party at the next convention to espouse my position on abortion which is to minimize the need, requirement for abortion and limit it only to women whose life are in danger or who are pregnant as a result of rape or incest. I think if the Democratic Party would adopt that policy that would be acceptable to a lot of people who are now estranged from our party because of the abortion issue,” he added.

  • Morgan Guyton

    Thank God Romney finally came out as pro-choice.

    When the pro-life movement realizes that their only function for the Republican Party is to lock down the trailer park vote, then you will actually be able to have a bipartisan movement that might stop abortion in this country.

  • David Ellis Dickerson

    There actually IS a way to be Democratic and pro-choice, and it runs something like this: if you assume a non-Dominionist posture (i.e., following the basic Christlike model of rendering to Caesar and staying out of politics–those taxes Jesus wanted Christians to pay surely paid for unChristian atrocities, didn’t they?), then you can think, “Okay, since ending abortion isn’t ever going to happen, which party’s policies are more likely to REDUCE abortions?” On that, there’s no question: sex education and widely available birth control are FAR more effective at reducing the rate of abortions than the traditional Republican platform, which is “don’t teach, deny access, misinform them for their own good if you have to, and shove everything sexual into back alleys as long as people just freaking behave themselves.” The Republican approach favors absolutist moralism that essentially demands that all Americans, of every faith, obey the most stringent evangelical sexual ethic, which not even most evangelicals actually obey (a friend of mine is a pastor for a megachurch; he tells me he’s performed over 80 marriages and only two were probably virgins); the Democratic approach favors pragmatic engagement with people who have always fornicated and always will, and tries to minimize the human cost.

    I shouldn’t add this, perhaps, but I will: I’ll believe that Republicans believe that abortion is actually murder when they treat it like a murderous behavior they want to stop. That is, they SHOULD be in favor of free contraception and sex education; they should also be adopting (and finding mothers for) every single fertilized embryo that every fertility clinic ever threw away, and demanding (as they did with stem cell research) that scientists find different ways to help infertile couples because the human cost is so high. (They complain, but with nothing like the vehemence you see over abortion; it ought to be a core part of the Christian pro-life platform, and instead it’s usually an aside or a footnote.) In short, what I consistently see is that the alleged Republican plan to stop murder has the exact same shape and scope of a plan that merely attempts to punish fornicators.

  • Slow Learner

    “unapologetic about trampling religious freedoms”

    In what way are you un-free to practice your religion, as a result of changes to law or government policy under Obama?
    What parts of your personal religious expression and practice have been harmed or curtailed, and what part of your Church’s practices have had to be altered?

    If you can point to any examples of religious freedom genuinely being curtailed by the Obama Administration, you win one Internet. Bear in mind that stopping proselytising to a captive audience doesn’t count, as that infringes on the right of another to freedom from your religion. So nothing about school graduation prayers, &c.

  • Mattiedef

    Well, I saw some DARVO in this one about religious freedoms. As a former member of the once persecuted Catholic faith in this country (Had arguements that a catholic president would answer to the Pope like he’s some sort of catholic Emperor as late as 1960s) I can attest to anything worrying about ‘religious freedoms’ is just DARVO.

    As for obamacare. We should be more serious if we get Christian. We should feed the hungry, out of the taxpayers pockets. We should care for the sick, as a country, we should clothe the naked, as a people, visit the imprisoned and care for them, as a society.

    Finally, Pro-life is not about ‘justice.’ At least Catholic Pro Life is anti-abortion and anti-capital punishment. Conception to Deathbed.

    I can understand refusing to vote, though. Makes more sense than supporting a party that wants to oppress the poor and generally be unloving as possible.

  • Steve

    You painted democrats in perjorative terms that simply were not accurate, ignored the sins of republicans completely, and redefined Christians as people who agree with your political beliefs, not people whom God has called to himself out of mercy and grace. You fit perfectly with those who hated Jesus most, the Pharisee convinced of his own righteousness, and redefined sin to fit their own view of themselves. Your mindset is the reason people are leaving evangelical churches in droves. But you are too blind to see.

  • Joseph K. McCall

    So up front, I’m a former Republican who was a Ron Paul Republican/ libertarian. I’m pro-life, and believe abortion should be illegal (or a small caveat perhaps concerning the life of the mother, but it would be very small)
    (In the area of same-sex marriage, I take the view that marriage should be privatized, which is probably were my libertarian leanings really shine through) I do believe that homosexuality is a sin, and the Church should never stop proclaiming it as such- and should not support and give legitimacy to same-sex unions and marriages.

    Also, we must be careful in painting in broad strokes. There are pro-Choice Republicans, and there are Pro-life Democrats. (As a libertarian, there are pro-choice, and pro-life libertarians also- and I would dare say the fights within that group are far more volatile that between Dem’s and Rep’s)

    I like what you said when you wrote “Whether a morally serious evangelical should support the GOP is certainly a debatable question…”
    Your openness here is appreciated.

    That being said, your two big issues, abortion, and same-sex marriage, will not be “fixed” by Republicans.
    They, at best, give lip service to these issues, but will never do anything about it. Abortion has the best chance of having legislation being produced. Honestly, I feel as if conservative Christians my vote was hijacked for many years by the Republican party. That said, obviously the Democratic party is not going to create legislation either- and no, I don’t see the libertarian party making a difference any time soon either ( we can’t even get on the ballot in some states, but I digress)

  • Alan Bean

    It is not surprising that young evangelicals reflect the “biblical worldview” of their parents; they live in an alternative universe designed to protect them from serious engagement with alternative viewpoints. Thank God for abortion, without it evangelicals would have no moral issues to fall back on at all (this religious liberty mantra is just plain silly–no one is trying to take away our religious freedoms). Issues such as compassion for the children of the undocumented and the children of the incarcerated are much closer to the heart of Jesus, but white evangelicals never talk (or think) about these issues because they don’t affect us.

  • Steve Z

    I do see one problem with you saying that the redifining of marriage (same sex) is “destructive.” That is nothing more than your opinion. It is not a biblical norm that can be proven. Marriage has taken many forms throughout history and not a one of them has been destructive to those who choose to believe that marriage is between one man and one woman. My marriage is perfectly intact apparently, according to your logic, in spite of some of my acquaintences being gay and married. Can you provide any thing but your opinion that actually shows that heterosexual marriage will be destroyed by gay marraige being legalized. its not like gay people are not co-habitiating right now and I can detect no twinge or problem. Where is the biblical mandate that indicates that ongoing sin is going to destroy anything except those who are involved in it? The USA is not Israel so please do not quote passages spoken to ancient Israel in their historical context–I probably cannot pevent you from doing so since that seems the oly fall back for proof-texters.

    The USA s not God’s new chosen people and we have never even been close to a nation that was thoroughly godly. Genuine beleivers have always been here and participated in governing but the vast majority of progress in this country’s history has happend via genocide and corruption — the westward expansion – genocide of entire epople groups, the industrial revolution — on the backs of chlidren, abused workers, and defensless people of all ages.

    The very laws that protect your right to be religious and to practice your religion, the very rights that you enjoy as a heterosexual male (if you indeed are that) are denied others. You want said rights for yourself but not for others who are different than you. Legalized same-sex marraige will ahve the same effect on society as it does now -not any. Even if someone wants to make the argument that this was once a “Christian” nation, it is not longert and has not been for quite some time. Why is that–people are free to make moral choices and they have chosen ones other than yours. Thats the way it is. You do not get to push yours on them if they do not want them and that includes laws that only reward you nd the people who think like you. No no one is outlawing heterosexual marriage and that is the only thing that would affect you.

  • Keith Johnston

    “Whether a morally serious evangelical should support the GOP is certainly a debatable question (one that I’ve often asked myself).” We should not endorse a party that is does not care about the poor, that in rejecting global warming it has shown its rejection of modern science and higher learning, that seems to think that voter suppression is an acceptable way to win an election, that thinks that lying about the President’s religion is an acceptable ‘traditional American family value’ and that thinks that gay marriage and abortion are the only moral issues involved in an election.

  • Kevin Van Dyck

    I for one appreciate your concession that Christians shouldn’t automatically vote Republican. When I left the Democratic Party, there were solid moral reasons I couldn’t join the GOP. I would still vote for a Democrat who is pro-life and pro-traditional marriage, because he would be closer to my beliefs than a Republican. Unfortunately, I don’t see any Democrats like that on my ballot this year. I can’t vote for Obama, but at the same time, much of what Romney stands for is repugnant to me.

    Alan, you’re not paying much attention if you really don’t think ANY white evangelicals are expressing concern for prisoners or children of the undocumented. Have you seriously never heard of Prison Fellowship and its Angel Tree program? Do you not know that even the new head of Focus on the Family supports a wiser and more compassionate approach to illegal aliens and their children? You should be more careful to ensure that your claims line up with the facts.

  • jerry lynch

    “…has created a powerful narrative”: This is a powerful narrative–those “who love the world are at enmity with God.” Your piece is such an extremely sad and discouraging view about Christianity selling itself to the rich in the very basic abonination of partisan alignment. Joe, your ideas are so vile it is difficult to believe you are a Christian. My heart aches for the likes of you. Get on your knees, brother.

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  • josh

    With all due respect sir this article is wrong
    or rather it is both right and wrong. Its right because i really thought…..until the election…..that things were startimg to change in the evangelical community
    dont get me wrong…..i knew romney would pull evangelicals by a decisive margian. Ita just that i thought it would be a 60-40 vote or even a 65-35.

    But the election proved me wrong. Romney got 80% of the evangelical vote. Disturbing as that is, it is nonetheless the truth. However, and heres where youre wrong……… The large majority of that 20% vote for Obama came from evangelicals under 35. That said im willing to bet that Romney got about 60-65 percent of the young evangelicals as opposed to the 80% he got from evangelicals overall.

    So yeah…..youre right and youre wrong at the same time.

  • Dan Allison

    I was probably too easy in my earlier comment. EVERYTHING coming now from the Christian right is a deceitful surface text covering a subtext of selfish Randians who refuse to pay taxes or be a part of community. Rand herself wouldn’t much care for the deceitfulness of Randians masquerading as Christians. There’s simply nothing the Right can say that doesn’t really mean “We aren’t paying our share any more and we don’t care how many die.”