Religious right, evangelicals
leaning toward Bam & Dems
BEN Adam Climber, 20, a Seattle Pacific University student, talks about his political views. Students at a bipartisan political union meeting at the school say there’s a new movement afoot.
JIM BATES/Seattle Times
By HALEY EDWARDS
Sunday, May 11, 2008
MICHAEL Dudley is the son of a preacher man.
He’s a born-again Christian with two family members in the military. He grew up in the Bible Belt, where almost everyone he knew was Republican. But this fall, he’s breaking a handful of stereotypes: He plans to vote for Democrat .
“I think a lot of Christians are having trouble getting behind everything the Republicans stand for,” said Dudley, 20, a sophomore at Seattle Pacific University.
Dudley’s disenchantment with the isn’t unique among young, devoutly Christian voters. According to a September 2007 survey by the Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life, 15 percent of white evangelicals between 18 and 29, a group traditionally a shoo-in for the , say they no longer identify with the Republican Party. Older evangelicals are also questioning their traditional allegiance, but not at the same rate.
But, , don’t count your chickens quite yet. College-age and 20-something Christians may be leaving the , but only 5 percent of young evangelicals have joined the Democrats, according to the Pew survey. The other 10 percent are wandering the political wilderness, somewhere between “independent” and “unaffiliated.”
Shane Claiborne, a Christian activist and author of “Jesus for President: Politics for Ordinary Radicals,” has a different name for these folks: “political misfits.”
Claiborne has traveled around the country the past several years, speaking and preaching mostly to college-age Christians who are “both socially conservative and globally aware.” That makes them disenchanted with both major parties, he said.
“It’s not about liberal or conservative, or Democrats or Republicans,” he said. “I don’t think it’s a new evangelical left. … There’s a new evangelical stuck-in-the-middle.”
UW communications professor David Domke said some young evangelicals are breaking with the for the same reasons many people broke from the party in the 2006 legislative elections – the unpopular war in ; the Bush administration’s abysmal approval ratings; or, now, because of the tanking economy.
Others broke from the party when , who hasn’t held much appeal for evangelicals in the past, became the presumptive nominee.
The Arizona senator hasn’t been a consistent foe of gay marriage, and he supports federally funded . , head of the conservative Christian group , announced in February that if McCain was the GOP nominee, he’d sit out the election.
But students at a recent bipartisan political union meeting at SPU say there’s something more going on with young Christians than disenchantment with McCain.
In an informal poll of the political union, the majority supported Obama.
“I think it’s a new movement starting,” said Amy Archibald, 19, a sophomore at the evangelical school. “Most of us would never blindly follow the old Christian Right anymore. has nothing to do with us. A lot of us are taking apart the issues, and thinking, ‘OK, well, [none of the candidates] fits what I’m looking for exactly.’ But if you’re going to vote, you’ve got to take your pros with your cons.”
Eugene Cho, a founder and lead pastor at ’s Quest Church, which caters to a predominantly under-35 crowd, urges young Christians to look beyond the two or three issues that have allowed Christians to be “manipulated by those that know the game or use it as their sole agenda.”
“While the issue of abortion – the sanctity of life – must always be a hugely important issue, we must juxtapose that with other issues that are also very important,” Cho wrote in his blog on faith and politics.
Polls have shown that young Christians aren’t any less concerned about the “family values” issues that have traditionally driven Christians to the Republican camp. (In fact, a study by the Barna Group, an evangelical polling organization, shows young Christians are actually more conservative on abortion than their elders.) It’s just that they’re also concerned about issues such as social justice and immigration, issues traditionally associated with Democrats.
Judy Naegeli, 25, who works at a Christian philanthropy, says easy access to information about the world via social-networking sites, and blogs is the reason her generation is more concerned with social justice.
“It’s changed our perspective. … Each generation chooses their cause, and ours is , or poverty or social justice,” she said.
Tyler Braun, 23, a seminary student who opposes abortion and gay rights, said he’ll probably vote for Obama because, since he’d would like to see U.S. troops leave .
Anika Smith, 23, who works for a think tank in , said she’s concerned with the same issues, but she plans to vote for McCain:
“I’m worried about the war and the economy and social-justice issues. But, the abortion issue is still nonnegotiable.”
Nathan Johnson, the executive director of the King County Republican Party, says he is skeptical that young, socially conservative Christians will desert the this fall.
He agrees young Christians appear to be looking beyond the two or three issues – abortion, gay rights, stem-cell research – that have made Christian voters loyal in the past. “But that doesn’t mean they’re no longer Republican.
“Once the primary is over, and we get into a head-to-head contest, Obama’s voting record will come to light,” said Johnson, 24. “Then there will be a lot of young conservative voters who won’t be able to tolerate what he’s stood for in terms of abortion and other socially conservative values.”
Young evangelicals are more of a swing constituency than they’ve been for decades, said Andy Crouch, an editor at Christianity Today, a national evangelical magazine.
“This could turn out to be the election where both parties realize that the evangelical vote is so hopelessly split down the middle that it’s not worth courting them at all because what parties need are blocs that can be appealed to en masse,” Crouch said. “Paradoxically, evangelicals would become less relevant than ever before.”
Braun, the seminary student, said he’s not totally committed to any candidate yet.
“I just keep thinking, if Jesus were alive now, he wouldn’t necessarily be voting Republican,” he said.
poses with employees of solar product makerPV Powered Company in , which holds its primary on May 20.
MARK WILSON/Getty Images
Evangelicals also want Change
WASHINGTON (CNN) – For decades, evangelicals have been seen as solid supporters of the Republican Party. That could be changing.
The , a cornerstone of the so-called Reagan revolution – the battle over abortion law, and gay marriage – wants a change.
At least some evangelicals do.
A group of influential Christian leaders are declaring they are tired of divisive politics, tired of watching fights over some issues trump all the good they could be doing.
“Our proposal in [our] manifesto is to join forces with all those who support a civil public square. … a vision of public life in which people of all faiths – which, of course, means no faith – are free to enter and engage public life on the basis of their faith,” said evangelical leader Os Guinness.
For Democrats, the timing is good. The party has been pushing to overcome the “faith gap,” that many feel has hurt them with church-going voters.
Candidates are appearing in more religious settings, and conversations.
“What I try to do is as best I can be an instrument of His will,” Sen. Barack Obama has said.
“I obviously was fortunate to be able to rely on and be grounded in my faith which has been anchor for me throughout my entire life,” Sen. Hillary Clinton has said.
Mara Vanderslice of Common Good Strategies is part of that effort.
“I think the biggest thing that we’ve done wrong is sort of say that we just want a separation of church and state and only speak about religion in terms of separation,” Vanderslice said.
Evangelicals are now leading public support for many issues dear to Democrats: global campaigns against , hunger and poverty.
Even Congressional Democrats can see the power of a partnership, according to the Ethics and Public Policy Center’s Michael Cromartie.
“I think there are genuinely religious people, obviously in the Democratic Party, who’ve said, you know, ‘we need to stop toning down how our faith relates to public policy issues,’ whether it’s the environment or whether it’s questions of the economy or war and peace,” he said.
“And we need to start framing our concerns in religious language so that it might appeal to religious believers in America.”
Some staunchly conservative evangelicals are critical of the new approach. They are proud of the gains they have made through ties to conservative Republicans.
And if Democrats want a share of their support, some political analysts say the Democrats will have to give something in return – a hotly-debated issue like abortion.