Monday, October 15, 2007

Young Evangelical Voters

Dallas Morning News reporter Wayne Slater has an interesting article today with interviews supporting polling that indicates that "young evangelical voters" have a wider range of issues in mind than do their elders when deciding who to vote for. Based on that notion, pundits are speculating that those younger voters may be up for grabs in coming elections.

While proponents of that theory make some valid points, one may sense that they indulge in a fair amount of wishful thinking, as well.

It is not surprising that younger voters, evangelical or otherwise, would approach politics differently than an earlier generation, as they have come to age at a time when the concerns are different. The interests of the religious right have never been as narrow nor as monolithic as some pundits seem to remember them. The notion that the older generation of evangelical politicos have only been concerned with abortion and gay marriage does not hold water for those old enough to remember that the written materials produced in the early days of Jerry Falwell's Moral Majority had a lot of information on opposition to communism and support for lowering taxes. With the decline of Soviet communism, the religious right has certainly been more focused on domestic concerns, or was, at least, until the 9/11 attacks generated concerns about radical Islam. Ironically, the growth of that concern has proven to be divisive for evangelicals of all ages, as some of those political figures who have garnered support among grassroots evangelicals for their positions on the war on terror (Giuliani and McCain) have not been popular with those considered to be evangelical leaders.

Polling of the concerns of young evangelicals is also difficult, as it is not easy to discern whether those responding to polls are truly representative evangelicals who will take active roles or even vote in the coming election. It is sort of ironic that Mr. Slater chose to take the temperature of young evangelical opinion at Baylor University, a historically Texas Baptist school now distrusted by many evangelicals who would not think of sending their children there.

In addition, Mr. Slater makes one sloppy reporting error that deserves mention: he speaks of evangelical leadership passing "from Billy Graham and Jerry Falwell" to a new generation of leaders. However, Billy Graham has never participated in the political forays of the religious right, having decided to give up taking political positions as a result of disappointment rising out of his relationship with Richard Nixon. While Rev. Graham continued to be seen with political leaders of both parties, for over 30 years his only role has been pastoral, not political.

Nonetheless, while young evangelicals may or may not be diverging from their elders in their political thinking, churchmen might think that it would not be a bad thing, if true. While the Christian message, which touches on all of life, certainly has political implications, it has been an enormous mistake for religious leaders to attempt to reduce the Church into a voting block. The church belongs to Christ -- and to no one else.

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