16 May 2007

is the religious right eroding?

The past couple of weeks have brought two significant changes within the world of right-wing evangelicalism: the death of Moral Majority founder, Jerry Falwell, and the coming demise of Coral Ridge's Center for Reclaiming America.

Situate those events in a larger context: the Christian Coalition remains $2 million in debt and in organizational disarray, James Dobson has recently failed to exercise successful influence in several areas (including his inability to force Cizek's resignation from the National Association of Evangelicals over environmental issues), and the religious right appears fractured over the current slate of Republican presidential candidates.

While Facebook is hardly a scientific survey (and bears witness to the idiosyncracies of my friendships), as I scan through the profiles of evangelical friends, the largest groups list themselves politically as "Other" with "Moderate" coming in second. In significantly fewer numbers, evangelical friends identify themselves as "Liberal," "Apathetic," "Libertarian," and "Conservative" in almost equal amounts.

Among these same friends, I find a diverse array of political causes. While traditional conservative positions are certainly (and justifiably) present (e.g., pro-life issues), a number of other causes receive almost equal attention: alternative energy, global poverty, AIDS in Africa, opposition to the Iraq war, genocide in Sudan, and so on.

Again, checking out Facebook profiles is hardly a predictor of anything and it trends towards the younger end of the spectrum - mostly 20-somethings. But this may represent a shift among younger evangelicals, although 20-somethings are also the ones most likely to change their views in coming years.

It does seem to illustrate, however, what other data bears out - that there is a growing political realignment within evangelicalism, away from a too-easy identification with secular (neo-)conservatism and with a greater degree of skepticism about the direct role of the church in politics. This isn't to say that younger evangelicals are apolitical, but that their conception of what counts as "political involvement" seems broader, more oriented toward service, less enamored with power, more flexible, and less partisan.

I'm not convinced whether the death of Jerry Falwell and the demise of D. James Kennedy's political organization really do mark any important change in the wider world of evangelical politics, but I suspect that the kind of politics these figures symbolize is no longer so central among American evangelicals. I also happen to think that this is a good thing.