Thomas S. Kidd posted an article on The Anxious Bench a couple of weeks ago that I’ve been meaning to comment on for several days now. This particular Sunday night offers me a good opportunity to do so.
He wrote about a segment of evangelicals who do not fit neatly into the category of “traditional Republican.” This represents a change that has taken place since the 1990s, and perhaps even the 2000s, when evangelicals could largely be counted on to fully support certain traditional Republican platform planks: a commitment to American exceptionalism, a strong national defense (and readiness to use force overseas), and confidence in Republican presidents and Congressional majorities to enact lasting and meaningful social changes (think repealing abortion, defining marriage as between a man and a woman, stopping the flow of illegal immigration, etc.)
Without stealing his thunder, I will summarize Kidd’s article by saying that paleo-evangelicals are “reluctant Republicans” on three main issues–a) they are less comfortable with American civil religion, b) they are not as confident that political parties can follow through on their lofty promises, and c) they are not sure that certain issues come in as uncomplicated a package as they are often presented. Here is a sample of Kidd’s comments:
The mainstream media loves politically liberal evangelicals, especially at this time of year, as we wonder whether the evangelical base will turn out sufficiently to win the election for the Republicans. But the media seems to have missed another category of evangelical that is ill at ease with the Republican Party. Borrowing loosely from the term paleoconservatives, let’s call them paleo evangelicals.
The paleo evangelicals are not liberal in any sense. They come from diverse backgrounds and perspectives: some are deeply conversant with the ancient history of the church, and with the Reformation; some are sympathetic to Roman Catholic social doctrines and traditions (if not all Catholic theology and ecclesiology); some are deeply conscious of the church’s mission outside of America; some gravitate toward outlets such as The American Conservative or the Front Porch Republic, publications and blogs focused on the conservative themes of local culture, limited government, and ordered liberty.
Kidd is putting his finger on the beginnings of a major change in evangelical Christianity, in my view. I not only agree with Kidd, I think that the trend he is identifying is bound to continue. As the generation of evangelicals defined by the Moral Majority and the Christian Coalition grows older and loses influence, a new generation arises to take its place. In my own experience in twenty years of ministry as a pastor, Christian school teacher and administrator, and seminary professor, I have seen these changes firsthand.
Perhaps paleo-evangelicals will bring about needed perspectival changes in church life, as well as in politics. As they shift their confidence and loyalty away from political parties, perhaps they will also embrace a more rigorous Christ centered value system. Maybe evangelicals will place more of their attention on the person and work of Christ than on whether or not Wal-Mart allows their employees to say “Merry Christmas.” Maybe evangelicals will be more concerned about the ethical treatment of children of illegals than whether or not George Washington was a Christian. Or maybe evangelicals will care less about the so-called “worship wars” and care more about the ethics of war as it relates to the projection of American power.
The exciting thing is to watch how evangelicals relate to the culture in which they live. Perhaps too, evangelicals will look to how previous generations have done so, and learn from their mistakes as well as their triumphs.