‘Change is a mofo’: The GOP and white evangelicalism are in the same situation

The past few weeks have seen a flood of commentary — some thoughtful, some fearfully reflexive — regarding the recent election and its implications for the future of the Republican Party and/or white evangelicalism.

When this picture was taken, these men had at least four things in common. And now they have five things in common.

Both institutions face the same problems. Both have become dominated by white male perspectives and have come to serve primarily the interests of those who share that perspective. Both have attained and maintained power by marginalizing everyone else — everyone who is not a straight, white, Christian male. This has been done through policy, through rhetoric that paints others as illegitimate and alien, and through the simple cluelessness that comes from not hearing and not listening to any other voices.

So while I’ve been reading a raft of articles about the future of the GOP and another raft of articles about the future of evangelicalism, those two streams of commentary have really been all about the same thing. They discuss identical concerns and obstacles and propose identical sets of possible responses. Read any article pondering a way forward for the Republican Party and everything it says can be applied to white evangelicalism. And vice versa. (That’s not surprising, really, since over the past several decades white evangelicalism has redefined itself as, primarily, a partisan subsidiary of the Republican Party.)

Tony Jones illustrates this parallel with a brilliant post in which he “remixes” David Simon’s post-election essay. Simon’s original post — “Barack Obama and the Death of Normal” — wasn’t concerned at all with evangelicalism or the church. He was writing only about politics and the future of the Republican Party. But as Tony’s remix shows, every word of Simon’s piece applies equally well to the identity crisis now facing the American church in general, and white evangelicalism in particular.

Read the original from Simon, and then read Tony’s remix. Here’s a taste of the latter:

Rear guard actions will be fought at every political theological crossroad. But make no mistake: Change is a motherfucker when you run from it. And right now, the conservative movement in America is fleeing from dramatic change that is certain and immutable. A man of color is president for the second time, and this happened despite a struggling economic climate and a national spirit of general discontent. He has been returned to office over the specific objections of the mass of white men. He has instead been re-elected by women, by people of color, by homosexuals, by people of varying religions or no religion whatsoever. Behold the New Jerusalem. Not that there’s anything wrong with being a white man, of course. There’s nothing wrong with being anything. That’s the point.

This election marks a moment in which the racial and social hierarchy of America the American Church is upended forever. No longer will it mean more politically theologically to be a white male than to be anything else. Evolve, or don’t. Swallow your resentments, or don’t. But the votes people are going to be counted, more of them with each election liturgical year. Arizona will soon be in play. And in a few cycles, even Texas. And those wishing to hold national office prominent pulpits in these United States will find it increasingly useless to argue for normal, to attempt to play one minority against the next, to turn pluralities against the feared “other” of gays, or blacks, or immigrants, or, incredibly in this election cycle liturgical year, our very wives and lovers and daughters, fellow citizens Christians who demand to control their own bodies.

Regardless of what happens with his second term, Barack Obama’s great victory has already been won: We are all the other now, in some sense. Special interests Christian? That term has no more meaning in the New America. We are all — all of us, every last American, even the whitest of white guys — special interests Christians. And now, normal evangelical isn’t white or straight or Christian. There is no normal evangelical. That word, too, means less with every moment.

The two subjects can’t really be separated here. Even those who imagine they’re speaking exclusively of either the Republican Party or of white evangelicalism are simultaneously also discussing the other as well. That’s partly because the two institutions have become so inextricably linked, but it’s also partly because they are both facing the same social and demographic changes — because they both exist in the same world and both must face the ways in which that world is changing around them.

Bob Smietana, the excellent religion reporter for The Tennessean, doesn’t make any distinction between these two subjects in his recent article, “Election signals America’s cultural shift as white evangelicals lose power“:

Since the day Pilgrims landed at Plymouth Rock, white Christians have considered themselves the home team in American politics.

As the dominant social group, they’ve shaped the country’s moral and political culture for nearly 400 years.

But the recent presidential election is a sign that those days may be over, a prospect that’s encouraging or terrifying, depending on which side people are on.

For some, the change leads to fear that America is no longer a Christian nation. For others, it’s an opportunity to separate faith from the quest for political power.

The trend is fueled by simple demographics, said Robert Jones, CEO of the Washington, D.C.-based Public Religion Research Institute. White Christians are simply too old and too few in number to control the outcome of a nationwide election.

His research shows 69 percent of senior citizens are white and either evangelical, Catholic, or mainline Protestants, and many voted for Romney. Those same groups are only a quarter of all 30-year-olds.

“Romney’s coalition looks like senior America,” Jones said. “Running up big totals among white Christians and expecting them to take you over the top is not a strategy for victory nationwide.”

Post-election, some in that group are downplaying the results, saying their side lost because of bad tactics, not bad ideas. Others say their leaders are too focused on politics and the culture war and not enough on living their faith. Few want to give up the idea of letting Christian ideals shape politics, but most acknowledge they are in for a long struggle.

Or, as Mark Silk writes, “Romney’s religious coalition should spook the GOP even more than I thought.”

I’ll be following that “long struggle” here, with its ongoing re-evaluation of tactics and ideas by both the Republican Party and the old guard of white evangelicalism. And as we follow that, keep in mind that to speak of one is always to speak of the other. Whether within the party or within the church, the same battles and arguments are taking place and it’s not possible, or necessary, to separate them.

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  • Carstonio

    Not that there’s anything wrong with being a white man, of course. There’s nothing wrong with being anything. That’s the point.

    There aren’t enough likes in all of Facebook to describe how much I like this sentence.

  • Jeff Freeman

    Personally I hope the Republicans double-down on all the things that failed them for the next couple election cycles. I hope they continue to to push the failed assault on women and the desperate attacks on non-whites.

    If they keep doing that then we might have a few years where **** can get done.

  • Katie

     I can understand where you’re coming from here, but I really hope that they don’t.  There is value to serious, reasoned, fact based debate over policies.  To the degree that that debate doesn’t happen, or only happens between the right and left wings of the Democratic party (which, as a side effect, tends to push the Democrats further to the center right), we’re deprived of a healthy political system, and a healthy political debate. 
    I’m also not sure that I want to live in a country where the extreme views that were being put forward in this election cycle are presented as real, viable, political positions.

  • Fusina

    Thankfully, Thanksgiving is over now. Just gotta make it past Christmas without an episode, and I”ll be good for a couple months.

    Okay, so one of my Mom’s cousins did the family genealogy, and it turns out that I (along with thousands of other people) am descended from Charlemagne. This, I think, is cool, but even cooler to me was finding out that Barack Obama, current president of these here USs is also a descendent of Big Chuck. As, apparently are George Bush 1 and 2, Mitt Romney, and a few other Presidents and big cheeses.

    My Mom was not pleased with the news that she is related to Big O, and wanted to know if I shared the fact to hurt her.

    Then she sent me an email about the “War on Christmas/Christians”. Didn’t bother to read the whole thing, esp. not the end where they usually try to guilt trip you into forwarding it to all your friends, thus cluttering up bandwidth with this crap.

    Still like the comment made in a book I read (heavily paraphrased at this point, but the meaning is unchanged), “There is no war on Christmas! No one arrests you if you say ‘Merry Christmas’. There is, however, a war on tolerance and inclusion.”

  • Carstonio

    Few want to give up the idea of letting Christian ideals shape politics.

    No one is asking them to give up letting those ideals shape their politics. Our host is an excellent example of a Christian whose political positions are heavily influenced by his religious beliefs, but who also translates these ideals into secular terms.

  • Kiba

    it turns out that I (along with thousands of other people) am descended from Charlemagne. 

    You too? When my brother went on a family tracing kick that’s one of the things he found out. I was never really interested in who was in the family tree. I was more interested in where the roots went (places as opposed to people). 

  • Carstonio


    it turns out that I (along with thousands of other people) am descended from Charlemagne.

    I have a relative who had that done as well, and I strongly suspected that the Charlemagne part was a scam.

  • Ursula L

    Both have become dominated by white male perspectives and have come to serve primarily the interests of those who share that perspective. 

    Have become dominated?  

    Has white evangelism ever not been dominated by white men?  And has any political party in the US ever not been dominated by white men?  

  • What I’ve heard is that everyone with Western European heritage is a descendant of Charlemagne. He lived so long ago that by now his genes have spread to hundreds of millions. 

  • Lunch Meat

    That’s probably true of everyone living at that time who lived long enough to have children. The only reason we know about Charlemagne and other royalty is because they were the ones whose records were kept.

  • EllieMurasaki

    And has any political party in the US ever not been dominated by white men?

    The Greens? Maybe?

  • Is this one of those Genghis Khan situations where EVERYBODY with even a sliver of European heritage is related to Charlemagne?

    (Personally, I have both European and Asian blood, so I’m just going to assume I’m related to both Charlemagne and the Khans. You can’t prove I’m not!)

  • You almost certainly are. Math is funny like that.

  • Joykins

    I read a book on genetics a few years ago that basically stated that everyone alive today is probably descended from nearly everyone who had children about 1000 years ago in the area of the world their ancestors were from–that’s when the family trees started merging like crazy.  So if that book is correct, nearly everyone with ancestors from Western Europe is probably descended from Charlemagne–whether documented or not.  I wish I could remember the name of the book.

  • And Muhammed, apparently.  Of course, his reach stretches farther than just Western Europe.

  •  Well, the percent of white protestants in the Democratic Congressional Caucus is now less than 50%. So there’s that. 

  • Not necessarily. Genetic testing proved recently that some amazing percentage of Asians are descended from Genghis Khan – something like 8%.

  • I’d bet closer to 80% than 8%.

  • It’s really simple math. A completely oversimplified example: If every couple had exactly two children, each of whom married and had exactly two children with someone they weren’t related to, it would only take ~33 generations (650-850 years) before everyone was related to everyone else.

  • EllieMurasaki

    Starting from how big a gene pool?

  • Carstonio

    While that sounds plausible, I’m not talking about genetics. The relative in question had a printout of several pages that purported to be a complete genealogy covering 1,200 years, starting with Charlemagne. I don’t remember if this came from a paid service or not.

  • The current population of the earth

  • EllieMurasaki


  • Morgan

     The 8% figure is for male line descendents – sons of sons of sons of… So indeed the real figure must be higher.

    On the OP:

    We are all the other now, in some sense. Special interests
    Christian? That term has no more meaning in the New America. We are all —
    all of us, every last American, even the whitest of white guys — special interests Christians.

    …Er? Aside from being obviously a bit suspect on its face, this change seems to precisely inverse the sense of the original text.

  • EllieMurasaki

    If the audience is composed of people who define ‘Christian’ as ‘people whose welfare I’m supposed to care about because Jesus said to love my neighbor’, then saying everybody’s Christian makes perfect sense. Only with that definition of Christian, though; any definition that brings in behavior or religious belief makes the paragraph crash and burn.

  • ReverendRef

     Genetic testing proved recently that some amazing percentage of Asians are descended from Genghis Khan

    One of our (many) foreign exchange daughters was from Mongolia where, as you would expect, Genghis Khan is celebrated as a national hero.  Her name is Geralsakhan, but we called her Emma. 

    One day I noticed the similarity between her name and Khan.  She said something about it honoring the past or indicating some kind of descent or something like that.  I thought it was interesting.

    And, as a side note, she’s now attending college here in the States and will be coming back “home” for Christmas.

  • Demonhype

     My fear is that they’re not going to just double down on that–they’re going to resort to illegal and evil actions to suppress votes and voters themselves.  Look what happened in Ohio here!  Obama won the popular vote and the electoral votes, yet the Dems got wiped out on the local levels because of gerrymandering–in other words, cheating.  They divided up the Dem votes and ensured that Republican votes would count for twice or thrice as much as Dem votes so Dems will never again be able to get into power no matter how many votes they get.  And that criminal monster Husted is trying to bring a squashed electoral model from Pennsylvania into Ohio, wherein each county will get one electoral vote and then the winner will get Ohio’s presidential electoral votes.  In essence, he’s trying to extend his gerrymandering cheat to the presidential level, ensuring that the Dems will never again have a chance to win because the system will be rigged against them.  Since the election, a lot of Repubs have been squalling about how they couldn’t have lost the election becuz SEE HOW MUCH RED IS ON THAT MAP!!!!  Husted’s little idea will have the effect of making election results dependent on geography rather than population, so that the decreasing white evangelical/GOP asses will still be able to force us (the majority) to live by their rules and their religious bigotries just because they tend to be spread out on larger portions of land.

    I’d love to think “that will never fly”, but then the first level of gerrymandering was a success for them and he did have a victory in that many if not most provisional ballots will be thrown out now if the voter hasn’t filled them in correctly because the onus of responsibility is on the voter now instead of the pollworker (giving a biased pollworker a chance to invalidate black votes and any other likely dem votes by saying “yes, you filled that out fine!” when they know it’s not, or even scratching a few things out just to invalidate it).  It’s not just that the right wing has possibly hit the critical mass point of crazy, dangerous, monsterous, bigoted or evil but that they, at this point, have the power, money and control of others to maintain their power even by outright and blatant cheating.  And that’s what scares me.

  • Morgan

     It’s still rather messy, though, unless I’m misunderstanding something. The original sense pointed out that a distinction between “normal (white, male, Christian)” people and “special interests” no longer works. The remix puts “Christian” in the position of the implicit Other. Something like “heretic” would make more sense, as I see it – in the “everyone’s a heretic to someone” sense. But maybe there is Theology afoot that I’m not conversant with.

  • Carstonio

    Sure, but that’s different from using a genealogy service that claims to be able to trace all one’s ancestors back that far.

  • Christopher Lee is another descendant of Charlemagne, which led to this metal opera.

  • Freak

    It’s probably real.  It’s a fact of genetics that a person’s lineage tends to either the whole of the genepool or dies out.

    I’d say that, for any person X living a thousand years or more ago, either X has no living descendants, or all living people of that ethnic group are descended from X.

  • Jay

    What exactly does the Republican party have to offer the rest of us?  Its fiscal conservatism is strictly rhetorical, its military wing is vastly in excess when compared to actual threats, and its religion resembles the Pharisees much more than anything Jesus taught.

    Let it go.  Join the left.  We have punch and cookies.  And gluten-free cookies if you need them, that’s the sort of people we are.

  • Freak

    I thought the figure was that 10% of all Asian males shared Genghis’ Y chromosone.

  • Kiba

    Dunno. Like I said I’m more interested in where than I am in who. The nice German genealogist my brother had doing the majority of the research would be a better person to ask, and if I had his name and contact information I would.

    Really though, the only thing that sparks my interest, and if I had the money for it I would do it in a heart beat, is the DNA test for the National Geographic Genographic project. Being able to find out the migration paths of my ancestors if much more interesting to me than to whom I might be related. 

  • Carstonio

    Again, I’m not talking about genetics. When someone claims to have a complete listing of ancestors over twelve centuries, I think it’s natural to be skeptical. 

  • LL

    But the Republican party’s offer to continue to treat me as if I’m stupid and claim my reproductive system for God is so tempting … and they came THAT close to convincing me rape’s not all bad. If it came with coupons for free frozen yogurt or an Amazon gift certificate or something, they might have gotten me with that. I am susceptible to bribery, as my vote for Obama proves. 

  • Barry_D

    “Since the day Pilgrims landed at Plymouth Rock, white Christians have considered themselves the home team in American politics.”

    Where ‘Christian’ means just what?

  • GDwarf

    (Personally, I have both European and Asian blood, so I’m just going to
    assume I’m related to both Charlemagne and the Khans. You can’t prove
    I’m not!)

    I’d be very surprised if you weren’t.

    It’s based on the simple fact that everyone has two parents, four grandparents, eight great-grandparents, sixteen great-great grandparents, etc. Go back to Charlemagne’s time and the number of great-…-grandparents any person living today would’ve had alive then outnumbers the number of people alive. That means that they must have had significant overlap with others, which means that the odds are ludicrously in favour of everyone being related. The only exception is cultures that had essentially no interbreeding.

    This also means that if there is a person from history from the time of Charlemagne back who had children, everyone whose ancestors are from that part of the globe (and many, many people whose ancestors aren’t) are also related to them.

  • vsm

    It’s not that unlikely. European nobility liked to keep track of who was related to who, so all you need to do is go back your family tree until you find a noble. Even that’s not all that difficult, since with any luck you can utilize the work of other researchers. See this post: http://sandwalk.blogspot.fi/2009/10/are-you-descedant-of-charlemagne.html

  • P J Evans

     Well, actually, there are millions of people descended from Chuck the Great. (Possibly a billion, but tracking down all of them is impossible.) The fun, for some people, is figuring out how many descents they have.

    (With a dollar and a descent from Charlemagne, you can buy a candy bar.)

  • P J Evans

     His assorted wives and mistresses, and those of his male descendants, were very helpful in that.

  • P J Evans

     I can do that, if I feel like it. There are some good, inexpensive genealogy programs out there, and a lot of sites with data (not necessarily reliable). The big problem is that they generally can’t handle more than 31 generations of ancestors in a printout, because the numbers get too big. It’s about 45 generations from here to Big Chuck.

  • P J Evans

     Probably not complete – I doubt if most people can do complete for even five generations. But you can get from here to there, if you have a few ‘lucky’ connections. (Quotes because going back past about 1500 means you’ll have to have a computer just to keep track of the people. I’m not sure how many ancestors I actually know about.)

  • EllieMurasaki

    *nodnod* Happens I’m descended from the grandparents of Ann Putnam of the Salem Witch Trials, and turns out her family’s been traced back quite a ways. I think somebody’s gotten as far back as 1200something, Roger de Puttenham, I think was the name.

    And some of my ancestry I suspect nobody’s ever going to trace accurately. Ireland has a lot of people named Mary Mahoney, and recordkeeping from a couple centuries ago for people with not a hell of a lot? Not so great.

  • Apparently Charley liked to screw; quite a large number of people of European descent trace back to him.

  • MaryKaye

    The one caveat on all these stories:  who the records say you are related to, and who you are genetically related to, don’t necessarily line up.  Closed adoption was the norm until quite recently, and arrangements where one family member quietly takes in another’s child even more so.  There are also a lot of “courtesy relatives” in many families, and it’s easy for the fact that they’re not genetic relatives to get forgotten over the generations.  Most of the people I grew up calling “aunt” and “uncle” were not related to me.  (And for that matter, “father” “brother” and “sister” are stepfather, half-brother, half-sister respectively.  I could easily see my children not remembering that and getting the pedigree wrong as a result.)

    After 9/11 genetic tests were used to identify remains.  The forensic specialists doing this wouldn’t take DNA from living people unless they were putative first-degree relatives–parent, child, sibling–of someone lost in the attack, because, they said, Americans are not reliable about their blood relatives past the first degree.

    If I could scan my own genome, the thing I’d personally like to know is whether I have any identifiable Neanderthal alleles.  Current research says some Europeans and Asians probably do, contrary to early reports based only on mtDNA.  I admire the Neanderthals and would be tickled to be related to them.

  • My cousin (the Glenn Beck retweeter) decided to get into genealogy and came up with a family tree that hooked up with the kings of England a couple centuries back and from there traced back to Adam. Yep, that Adam.

    Much to the surprise of my mom who had done a lot of well-documented research; seems it only took 3 generations before the cousin made a connection that contradicted something Mom has seen actual original records for.

  • EllieMurasaki

    People get genealogy wrong in entertaining ways sometimes. I can’t remember the last name of the family Dad was talking about the other day, but the first name was Paul so let’s pretend the last name was McCartney. Various amateur genealogers came to the conclusion that Paul McCartney was born after he got married which was after he died. Dad’s pretty sure the actual deal is that there’s at least three Paul McCartneys (probably father, son, and grandson) and people confused them, but without the original records to compare to it’s a hopeless jumble.

  • P J Evans

     There’s nothing like having a couple (or two) named John and Mary Greene to teach you how common a name can be.

  • P J Evans

     I can see that. I’m looking at a tree for someone who should be well researched and documented, and I can tell by looking at some of the names that they didn’t do nearly enough research. (I’m sorry, but you’re not going to find someone in 16th century England named ‘Baronet Smith’, and damned few with more than one given name. I see those kinds of things, and I get red alerts going off.)