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

‘Change is a mofo’: The GOP and white evangelicalism are in the same situation November 26, 2012

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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  • P J Evans

    Some of the stuff on line is best used as bird-cage liner,and anything claiming pedigrees before about the year 500 should be considered suspect at best.
    (I was looking at some people, years ago, in ‘Ancestral File’  and found that someone had been connected as his own grandfather. It’s a nice trick, if you could do it, but, well, I don’t think so.)

  • Mom did some research for a friend of hers named Steve, and discovered Steve’s great-grandfather, also named Steve, had had three sons – call them Steve, Joe, and Mike. They were among the first settlers in that part of Texas, and very active in the local community, so there was the potential for an interesting family history. 

    Just one problem: the three sons also had multiple sons, and they all reused the names Steve, Joe, and Mike. And the next generation did the same thing. Of course the newspaper articles never bothered saying which Steve, Joe, or Mike. Mom did get the births and deaths straight but she couldn’t do much about the rest of it.

  • EllieMurasaki

    That’s as bad as my grandpa’s family. His grandmother named all her kids and then all her grandkids. (Except my grandpa, because he wasn’t doing well when he was born, so since he was born to Catholic parents at a Catholic hospital they hustled in a priest for baptism, so his first name was the saint du jour and his middle name was what his grandmother had meant to be his first name.) So there was Uncle Johnny’s John and Uncle Johnny’s Jim and Uncle Johnny’s Tom and Uncle Jimmy’s John and Uncle Jimmy’s Jim and Uncle Jimmy’s Tom and Uncle Tommy’s John and…

  • B

    My Mom was into Ancestry.com for a while (I should see if she’s still working on it) and apparently I’m descended from this dude through my paternal grandmother:


    along with about a zillion other people in the US.  Don’t have to go back very far before you find people with massive numbers of descendants (or as other commenters have pointed out, no descendents, with no in-between).

    IIRC it was through his son John, which apparently makes me VERY distantly related to the Bushes.  Thrillsville.

  • Turcano


    Personally, when looking that far back in my family tree, I take more pride in the rowdier branches (to be specific, the ones that come from the Land of the Ice and Snow).

  • Donalbain

     If you do the maths, if someone alive at the time of Charlemagne has any descendants alive today, then he will likely have millions of descendants alive today. With descendants, its all or nothing.

  • Donalbain

    Again, that isn’t that much of a surprise. The company in question just needs to work back from the customer to the latest person they have on their database as a descendant from Charlie, and add the two together.
    And every time they do this, the work gets easier, since they have more people in their database to connect the next person to Charlemagne.

  • Jeff Freeman

    I agree.  My goal isn’t permanent domination for the Democrats, what I want is for the Republicans to go so far that they break and lose it all.  Only then will we have the kind of re-structuring that I think we need for true, long-term “serious, reasoned, fact based debate over policies”.  I think if the Republicans can be successful by merely pulling back a little bit then they will stay in their bubble (mostly) and I don’t think that’s a good thing.  I want that bubble demolished, and I think the only way that will happen is abject failure.

    Of course on the other hand if they actually can be brought back to reality in time for 2014 then that’s fine too, I just seriously doubt it’s possible.

  • Jeff Freeman

    Absolutely.  Gerrymandering is a huge thing, however my expectation is that if the Republicans keep pushing then even that won’t save them.  Remember, Romney could have won Ohio AND Florida and still lost.  What I hope is that the Republicans will go so bat**** that it CAN’T be ignored by the moderates and undecideds and that breaks the Republican’s power.  Wishful thinking, but I expect that it’s lees so than wishing that the Republicans will accept reality and voluntarily give up their stolen power.

  • Carstonio

    Entertainment companies seem to do well when there’s a balance between the idea folks and the bean counters, with one group as the brake and the other as the accelerator. I think our political system can use the same balance. Right now it’s harder for Democrats to be the accelerator because the Republicans aren’t just putting on the brakes, but disconnecting the fuel lines.

    I’d like to see the current GOP break apart, and a new party arise that can be a real brake. A party that generally agrees with the Democrats on government serving the common good, but urges caution and deliberation on its use. I don’t know if the GOP has ever been that type of party. Ninety years ago, the GOP basically stood for preserving economic privilege. In that light, its more recent efforts on behalf of privilege based on gender, race and religious affiliation amount to a feature, not a bug. Whatever it was before, now it’s nothing but old surly white men yelling at kids to get off their lawns.

  • Lori

    I’d like to see the current GOP break apart, and a new party arise that
    can be a real brake. A party that generally agrees with the Democrats on
    government serving the common good, but urges caution and deliberation
    on its use.  

    We have that party now. It’s called the Democratic Party. You should check them out.

    The notion that the Dems are the accelerator and we need the GOP to be the brakes is a view that’s out of date by a number of decades that’s about equal to the number that I’ve been alive. It’s the result of a lot of BS self-marketing on the part of the GOP and I really wish we could collectively get over believing it. If you look at the actual numbers instead of listening to slogans and campaign promises the GOP is no more “fiscally responsible” than the Dems and in fact is  probably less so overall.

    The party in power tends to increase spending when they can because, contrary to Mittens’ sore-loser whining about “gifts”, both sides tend to reward their friends when they can. That can come in the form of giving people what they voted for or it can be just plain pork, but either way there tends to be a price tag attached. The GOP tends to derisively call  it running up the national credit card when Dems do it, but Republicans happily reach for the AmEx too.

    As I said, if anything the GOP is worse. That’s because more of their spending tends to funnel through the Pentagon. Contrary to what they tell us every time there’s a fiscal problem, the kind of social spending that the Dems tend to favor is not more expensive than the war machine that the GOP uses to suck up everyone’s money and give it to executives in the defense industry.

    People seriously need to let go of this idea that Republicans are the responsible adults and Dems are flighty and irresponsible. The GOP loves to say that they’re the “daddy” in our little US family and the Dens are the “mommy” and that we desperately need our Republican daddy to keep our Dem mommy from wrecking the family budget buying candy for the kids and pricey shoes for herself. That’s incredibly sexist and also deeply dishonest. 

  • Carstonio

    Of course the Democrats have been more the brake than the accelerator in recent decades. That’s mostly because the other party’s reactionary obstructionism has shifted the Overton window so dramatically. I never said that the GOP was indeed the voice of fiscal responsibility. That’s been their spin for a long time, but as we’ve seen, they’re really about tribalist notions of privilege. Waging two wars on the national credit card does indeed benefit their friends in the defense industry, but it’s also part of their macho xenophobic ideology.

    And no, this isn’t about Democrats being flighty and irresponsible. My best-case scenario has the GOP fracturing, with the religious rightists and Birchers and Randians becoming an impotent fringe party or else just dying off. The more moderate folks would join with some centrist Democrats to become a new party, one that actually counts the beans instead of giving them all to Wall Street and Boeing. The result, I hope, would be the Democrats becoming more dominated by people like Elizabeth Warren who value justice, fairness and equality first and foremost, perhaps even allying with the Greens. In my wish list, both a more leftward Democratic Party and the new party would both favor single-payer health care and Wall Street regulation, but differ over scope and strategy.

  • Carstonio

    And you’re absolutely right about the sexism of the GOP’s “daddy” and “mommy” notions. I was thinking more of artists or architects versus bean counters, a complementary relationship where they balance each other’s strengths and compensate for each other’s weakness. Both sides would keep each other honest to a certain extent. Right brain and left brain. This doesn’t mean that architects are tempted to blow the budget on office buildings that look like Gothic cathedrals, or that bean counters all want rooms with bare white walls with workers using crates and plywood for desks. 

  • VMink

    So it’s kind of like playing Six Degrees of Chuck le Magne?

  • Green Egg and Ham

     2 to the 45th is near 35.2 trillion, so does that mean each of us is mathematically related to everyone 45 generations ago, since the population of the earth then was not 35 trillion?

  • One of the people I know is likely descended from Eastern European Jews, while I have British and Northern European ancestry. It was an amusing game for us to try and figure out how distantly related we are – I think we ended up deciding our common ancestor must be at least a thousand years back. :P

  • Donalbain

     Not quite. Because incest.


    2 to the 45th is near 35.2 trillion, so does that mean each of us is
    mathematically related to everyone 45 generations ago, since the
    population of the earth then was not 35 trillion?

    Once you go past third cousins, you’re as genetically similar as complete strangers. The overwhelming liklihood, as much as it creeps you out, is that your great-great-great-great-great-grandmother on your mother’s mother’s side, and your great-great-great-great-great-grandmother on your father’s mother’s  side are the same person. Most of those 35.2 trillion ancestors  are the same ten or twelve people.

  • Tricksterson

    No but there is a War on Yule and Saturnalia and it’s been going on for nearl two thousand years.

  • Tricksterson

    And they’re both looking down on you from Generic Valhalla and wondering why you have conquered and slaughtered more.

  • Tricksterson

    Don’t forget the rape victims of which I’m sure there were a slew.

  • By the way, I don’t know where to ask this so I’m asking here —

    Can anyone dig up for me the “Barack Obama is Silas Lynch” analysis pieces that were originally on wrightandleftreport.com ?

  • Lliira

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

    Not thousands.

    If you have any European ancestry, you are descended from Charlemagne.

  • Lliira

     Not just Western European. Charlemagne had a lot of kids, and those kids had a lot of kids. He married off his daughters in political alliances all over Europe, east to west. And men in that strata of society fathered children all over the damn place, so their sons littered Europe with children.

    It won’t be too long until everyone on the planet is descended from Charlemagne, except for a few isolated tribes. I’d guess the same could be said of Genghis Khan and a few Chinese emperors. In a couple thousand years, everyone will also all be descended from Queen Victoria.

  • Lliira

     That’s probably true of everyone living at that time who lived long enough to have children

    No, not actually. Rich, powerful men tended to father WAY more children than other men by many orders of magnitude. And, of course, women cannot bear as many children as men can father.

  • Consumer Unit 5012

     Like a friend of mine said:  “In a two-party system, we need a Loyal Opposition.  What he have now is an Arsonist Opposition.”

  • Jay

     People get genealogy wrong in entertaining ways sometimes.

    My dad’s side of the family is pretty straightforward, but my Mom is about half Irish and half Gypsy.  They claim that we’re descended from many prominent individuals, some of whom turn out never to have existed.

  • Ken

     Yep, that Adam.

    I can top that.  On my German side, one of the lines runs into the old Burgundian nobility, so I’m descended from Wotan and a (distant and much-removed) cousin of Beowulf and Siegfried.  According to tradition, at least.

  • You know, if people remembered the whole “you never negotiate with terrorists” thing  a bit more the Republican party would have been sidelined already. They are not terrorists in the usual sense, but to borrow some old Soviet expressions they are most certainly wreckers and saboteurs.