The Changing Face of Evangelical Politics
By Emily McCordIn a Washington Times piece published earlier this spring, Sarah Putnam Bailey describes the "handwringing" among evangelicals at the changing face of evangelical activism.It is certainly true that the face and nature of evangelical action continues to dramatically shift and that the old order is experiencing an overhaul. However, I would argue in accordance with Bailey that this is a good thing for both the church and society.Bailey writes, "While a handful of leaders was once able to rally evangelicals to flood Washington with phone calls about an issue, the younger generation has many more leaders to choose from, thanks in part to social media like Twitter." The prevalence of social media today certainly has played a role in the dilution of influence in evangelical circles. In the 90's, a few leading outlets like Christianity Today and organizations like Focus on the Family provided the voice for the evangelical circles. Building name recognition was harder and required more permission from the established evangelical governance.Today, outlets like Twitter and Instagram allow individuals to build a following and influence at a much faster rate. With a few well-timed posts and the right network, it's possible to build an audience from scratch virtually overnight. Leadership among evangelicals is, as a result, far more diluted as a myriad of voices, young and old, established and emerging, contribute to conversations about society, culture, politics, and justice. A multitude of studies show that cynicism and suspicion regarding established institutions characterize Millennials. Even young faithful adults active in the arenas of politics and religion have experienced widespread disillusionment with the polarized discussions of their parents' generation. But this cynicism about the status quo has frequently been translated into a posture of humble and curious engagement as they strive to dialogue about and wrestle with difficult social issues in new ways. Additionally, an emerging spirit of adventurous entrepreneurism, (exemplified by popular writers and leaders like Jon Acuff, Rebekah and Gabe Lyons, and Donald Miller) has deeply impacted Millennials' perspective on work, family, and the status quo and has conditioned them to examine and challenge accepted social ills and debates with new eyes and fresh perspectives. Activism and social media have brought Issues closer to home - young Christians are no longer fighting an ominous force far away in San Francisco or Washington, D.C. as their parents did during the 80's and 90's. Now young Christians find themselves wrestling with social and moral issues with the neighbors next door and the friends across the table (and on social media). Shifts in vocabulary represent a deeper shift in priorities. While activist Christians of decades past fought "cultural battles", young Christians now are "engaged" and "dialogue" about issues like social justice. The language of conflict and polarization is giving way to a language of exchange. This shift reflects a deeper change in values and concerns. For instance, while older Evangelicals and traditional conservatives remain aghast at the recent Supreme Court ruling, a recent Pew poll reveals that, in fact, over 60% of young Republicans (under 30) in fact now favor the legalization of gay marriage. In her piece, Bailey writes, "But even as the number of influential voices grows, it remains to be seen whether any one person or group will emerge that is capable of mobilizing young evangelicals in large numbers."The happy marriage between the old order of the GOP and evangelical Christianity is rapidly unraveling. Young evangelicals are engaging and leading in a myriad of unpredictable ways on a host of tough issues. Christians will still be influential in the public sector, but candidates who hope to run with widespread young evangelical support will find themselves in need of a much more nimble, less polarized platform. Dramatic platitudes meant to rouse emotions of fear and rage aren't working as well in our current political climate - polarized discussions are giving way to a quieter, calmer, more civil discourse. This is a very healthy shift for society and for our political arena, and, in part, can be credited to the deep humble work of the church in past decades as evangelicals have striven to be more in tune to the needs of their neighbors.Whether a conservative candidate will have the courage or the vision to tap into this shift remains to be seen.