Pally on "Evangelicals Who Have Left the Right"

According to New York University scholar Marcia Pally, author of The New Evangelicals: Expanding the Vision of the Common Good, about 20% of American evangelicals “do not identify with the religious right.”  In her recent essay at Immanent Frame, “Evangelicals Who Have Left the Right,” she identifies some major changes in American evangelicalism.  The so-called “new evangelicals”:

  • defend the separation of church and state and religious freedom for all, including Muslims.
  • criticize government when they believe it is unjust, upholding what might be called the “prophetic” role of the church in society.
  • are “civil society actors”…who advocate for their positions through public education, lobbying, coalition-building, and negotiation.
  • are altering their business practices toward economic justice.
  • use their profits to “redistribute resources in less developed regions” to support education, the fight against substance abuse, the homeless, and environmental protection.
  • engage in humanitarian aid abroad without pressuring locals to participate in religious activities.
  • oppose anti-gay discrimination in housing, education, and non-religious employment
  • may believe that homosexuality is a sin, but also believe that democracies “do not punish people for their sins.”  (Should the state “rescind civil rights for the commission of other sins, such as heterosexual adultery–why should it then for homosexuality?”).
  • oppose gay marriage, but their opposition to gay civil unions is decreasing.
  • oppose abortion, but one-third of them believe abortion should be legal.
  • “aim to provide accessible, realistic alternatives” to abortion, including medical, economic, and emotional support during pregnancy.
  • vote Republican because of the Democratic position on abortion.
  • vote Republican because they believe in small government and the “Protestant and evangelical emphasis on self-responsible striving for moral uplift.”

I know many of these “new evangelicals.”  I go to church with them and I teach them. While they do vote Republican, most of them are not entirely comfortable doing so.  They really like Barack Obama and think that his heart is in the right place, but they just can’t get over his views on abortion.  Some have decided to hold their nose and vote for Obama because of his moral vision for the country, but others just can’t do it with a good conscience.

So what does this all mean?  It seems that as much as evangelicals are changing in their approach to gay civil unions, the environment, social activism, and humanitarian justice, abortion still remains the dominant issue.  I am convinced that these new evangelicals would vote for a staunchly pro-life economic populist from the Democratic Party whose views border on socialism (a William Jennings Bryan-type?) before they would flip the lever for a pro-life champion of the free market and libertarianism. (A case in point is the 2006 U.S. Senate race in Pennsylvania where Bob Casey, a pro-life Democratic, trounced pro-life, big business Republican Rick Santorum).  Unfortunately this will never happen because the Democratic Party has made it clear that it will not nominate a pro-life candidate.  Too bad, such a race would be fun to see.

So would a race in which a pro-life, big-government Democrat ran for president against a pro-choice, small government, pro-business, libertarian Republican.  What would evangelicals do?

3 thoughts on “Pally on "Evangelicals Who Have Left the Right"

  1. I have a feeling that the 2012 campaign was pretty much the closest we're going to get to a national referendum on abortion. The stance of many pro-life groups is all or none and the majority of the American people do not subscribe to that concept.

    There are a lot of issues out there which are all or none for groups as well, but what is interesting is that the American people really don't support any of the all or none positions totally. I believe the current impasse in politics has a lot to do with the effect of money from those groups.

    It would be very interesting to see a politician advance a moderate position but the huge sums of money would go to defeating such a position from those groups.


  2. Well, I don't know what evangelicals on the whole would do, but speaking from experience, I think many of them would still vote Republican, simply because their reasons for being Republican extend beyond one issue.

    As for me, I have supported the President, despite my dislike of his foreign policy (almost entirely unchanged from Bush), the Patriot Act (extended from Bush), abortion, and setting a precedent that the banks are virtually untouchable and too important to prosecute.

    But it was between him and Romney, who would only be different on the issue of abortion, and that just isn't good enough. Politicians running as pro-life doesn't mean anything when they let 4-8 years pass without anything changing. So, a politician that works to reduce the amount of abortions is a lesser evil. Under Obama, they're down (from what I've heard), so I'm willing to overlook that.

    In any case, they need a third category – evangelicals who have left Republicans altogether, in favor of the Democratic party.


  3. So would a race in which a pro-life, big-government Democrat ran for president against a pro-choice, small government, pro-business, libertarian Republican. What would evangelicals do?

    William Jennings Bryan. Nice. Vs. a John Huntsman? Hell, this Republican is tempted. I like WJB and am no more libertarian than the next guy, which is a little but not a lot.

    As a political philosophy, liberals and conservatives are a lot more socially oriented than libertarian types, a point often missed. The problem is when “social justice” = abortion rights, which to the conservative is a miscegenation of natural rights and political rights.

    Some say the GOP loses votes for being anti-abortion, but I think the truth is that without its backbone of pro-life voters, it would probably collapse, for reasons you give here. I'm not an evangelical, but this GOPer has far less love for libertarianism than for the pro-life, pro-family agenda. If Roe had instead been 1873, WJB could conceivably have got my vote back in the day, sure.


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