Evangelicals and the Public Square
That evangelicals have become an important political constituency is not news, but two new books probe behind the headlines to reveal both the hidden tensions and unsung successes of a movement that is about far more than just swing votes. Sociologist Michael Lindsay in his book, Faith in the Halls of Power: How Evangelicals Joined the American Elite (August 2007) traces how evangelicals have risen to prominence not only in government but also in the realms of business, entertainment and academics. Their holistic embrace of power has resulted in a new division, says Lindsay, between an old guard of “populist” evangelicals and more sophisticated and culturally elite “cosmopolitan” evangelicals. Journalist Hanna Rosin explores such divides on the micro-level at Patrick Henry College in her book God’s Harvard: A Christian College on a Mission to Save America (September 2007).
Analysis: A Portrait of Republican Social-Issue Voters
Analysis: Young White Evangelicals: Less Republican, Still Conservative
Analysis: ¡Here Come ‘Los Evangélicos’!
The Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life invited Lindsay and Rosin to sit down with Senior Fellow John Green and a small audience of journalists for a conversation about the present and future of a religious and cultural movement that is dramatically reshaping American life.
John Green, Senior Fellow in Religion and American Politics, the Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life
JOHN GREEN: Good morning everyone and welcome to “Evangelicals and the Public Square.” It’s wonderful to have you all with us here today. Without further ado, let me introduce our guests, who we’re delighted to have with us this morning. Hanna Rosin is the author of God’s Harvard, of which we’ll talk about today, a book about Patrick Henry College. On my left is Michael Lindsay, who is the author of Faith in the Halls of Power: How Evangelicals Joined the American Elite.
To begin with, I’d like to pose a couple of questions to each of our guests to get our conversation started. Michael, let’s begin with you. Which halls of power are evangelicals roaming in these days, and how did they get there?
MICHAEL LINDSAY: Thanks, John, it’s great to be here. The book basically looks at how evangelicals have come to be powerful in four important areas – government and politics, higher education, arts, entertainment, and media, and business life. It traces developments starting with Jimmy Carter’s election in 1976 and looks over the last 30 years at how evangelicals have moved up in power in these different spheres. I found that these are the four central domains around which evangelical life focuses.
One of the things that surprised me is that a lot of us assume most evangelical influence is in politics. That’s where a lot of the attention has gone. But I found a whole lot more resources being devoted, for example, to evangelicals in Hollywood, as well as on elite college campuses, than we pay a lot of attention to. I think it’s a significant development.
Peter Gomes says there are more evangelicals on Harvard’s campus today than there have been in 200 years. He’s been there as the chaplain of Memorial Church for the last 40 of those 100 years, so he’s in a good position to assess that. A lot of people say, “Why is that?” Part of it is that as elite campuses have tried to diversify geographically, ethnically, and racially, they have also diversified religiously. And so, there are more evangelicals coming to campus.
As research shows us, when you compare evangelical young people with other young people of different traditions – Jews, Catholics, mainline Protestants – evangelicals are the least likely to give up their faith when they go off to college. So you have more of them coming to elite campuses, and when they get there, they’re not giving up their faith. Places like Harvard and Stanford have been interesting places to study.
GREEN: Michael, there are a couple of distinctions you raise in your book that I’d like you to comment on briefly, because I think they’re very helpful in our discussion. You draw a distinction between the institutional advances that evangelicals have made and their expressive advances. I wonder if you could just talk a little bit about those terms.
LINDSAY: Yes, thanks John. The institutional element is how evangelicals have built a real infrastructure for cultural change. Their support of organizations, colleges, and universities, seminaries, parachurch organizations, and NGOs around the world provide the institutional apparatus and the long-term repositories around which evangelicals can mobilize and raise funds; they use that institutional basis to give them cultural authority. But they also have to have rallying cries, ways to talk about their faith that is publicly accessible and that drive them into making a difference in these different spheres of society. And so, the expressive dimension is really important.
Voting is actually the exemplar of expressive behavior. When you vote, you’re in essence trying to vote for someone that you identify with in one way or another. That’s why it’s really important to pay attention to how candidates talk about faith or how they talk about other issues, because it’s a way in which the voters and the candidates build relationships. When a voter goes into the voting booth and pulls the curtain, a lot of times casting their vote is a way of validating the things they think are important. In some ways, when we cast our votes, it’s a way of voting for ourselves. It’s a way of saying, “This particular candidate embodies things that are really important to me.”
A lot of people assume that evangelicals don’t care about what candidates talk about; they’re just mainly interested in results. Well, results do matter to evangelicals. But God talk matters a whole lot on the campaign trail. So that expressive dimension I found to be as important as the institutions that they’ve built over the last couple years.
GREEN: Quickly, I just have one more question for you, and then we’ll turn to Hanna about her book. How does this all matter, and what difference does it make that evangelicals are not only in the White House and voting in that intentional way, but also have influences in Hollywood and so on?
LINDSAY: The thing that matters is that evangelical influence is a whole lot more than we think, and also it’s a lot less than we think at the same time. It’s a whole lot more because if you think of evangelicals just as a political movement or an interest group in American politics, you miss all of the other ways in which evangelicals have been active and are mobilized and engaged in American public life. If you just base it on developments in Washington, and you forget what’s going on in Silicon Valley or on Stanford’s campus, or what’s happening on Wall Street or at Harvard or in Hollywood, you miss a lot of the tangible ways in which evangelicals have been mobilized over the last 30 years.
In fact, I find that politics is not the area they are most excited about today. So [their influence] is a whole lot more than you think. Why is that important? Because evangelicals are really resilient to political setbacks; they don’t see themselves as principally a political movement. It’s a very durable identity.[Their influence] is a lot less than we think, though, because there’s not some great power group that is pulling the strings of this movement that comprises anywhere from a quarter to a third of the adult population. There is not some conspiracy theory. I don’t buy into this inner cabal. I found, for example – I talk about it in the book – how in the exact same White House, evangelicals opposed one another. So you have C. Everett Koop fighting against Gary Bauer in the Reagan White House over the issue of AIDS, whether AIDS is a public health crisis worthy of the White House’s attention. I found these kind of tensions happened all the time; not just in politics, but in lots of other areas. So it’s a lot less than we think, because it doesn’t have that driving sense of unity.
People assume that evangelicals have succeeded in American public life because they are united – not so. The reason evangelicals have succeeded over the last 30 years is quite simple: They fundamentally believe something is wrong with the world and that they know how to set it aright. That gives them a fire in their belly to be actively engaged. It drives them to be involved in lots of different areas. If you understand that, you get a much better appreciation, I think, for how evangelicals assert influence within the halls of power.
GREEN: Thank you, Michael. Now, let’s turn to Hanna’s book. You mentioned the influence of evangelicals in higher education. Of course, Hanna’s book is exactly about that in a very particular way. Hanna, would you mind telling us briefly about “God’s Harvard” and its mission to save America?
HANNA ROSIN: Yes, Patrick Henry College is not actually as powerful as Stanford yet, although it wants to be someday. It’s only a seven-year-old school. The reason I chose it is because I thought it was so emblematic of what was going on in evangelical culture these days. It’s a school that was founded by Michael Farris, who was very prominent in the home-schooling movement in the 1990s. He also ran for lieutenant governor [of Virginia] as one of the first wave of Bible-quoting politicians in 1992.
The school’s aim, as they like to say, is to shape the culture and take back the nation. That’s a provocative way of putting it – and it’s also both of these things that Michael talked about, focusing on both the culture and politics. Now, they explicitly put themselves closer to Washington because they see themselves as a sort of training academy for Washington politicians. They send a lot of kids to work at the White House – which they’ve been very successful at with this White House, for obvious reasons – and to serve their congressmen. But they also have kids interested in Hollywood and the other areas Michael wrote about.
Michael Farris, who is sort of bombastic, takes the most extreme version of what evangelicals are trying to do. He will get up every year at freshman orientation and say something like, “Before me seated today are the next generation of Supreme Court justices, perhaps the next president, and the next Academy Award winners.” Because the kids have been home schooled, because they’re freshmen, and because, like Michael said, they’re incredibly driven – people who went to school in the 1960s will often come to Patrick Henry and say, “This reminds me most of college in the 1960s. This is like the Peace Corps generation. We’ve got these people who fight intensely about ideas and have a mission that they take so seriously.” They’re not as successful as maybe [Farris'] wildest dreams, but they are much more successful and driven than your average ambitious college student.
GREEN: Hanna, there are Christian colleges around the globe. (Inaudible) – in fact the Harvard of Massachusetts [started out] – (laughter).
ROSIN: We hear that a lot at Patrick Henry: “What went wrong?” (Laughter.)
GREEN: They even had a mission to save America quite literally; if my information is correct, Harvard was originally for training ministers. So how does Patrick Henry differ in your view from the other Christian colleges in America?
ROSIN: That’s what a lot of people say is the arrogance of Mike Farris. Other founders of Christian colleges say, “What do you mean there’s no Christian college for ambitious kids? What about Wheaton? What about Calvin? What about all these other places?” I think the difference – and what drew me to Patrick Henry – is that, first of all, almost all Christian colleges these days – Baylor, Biola in California – are going through a moment when they’ve stopped training kids to live [in] a parallel Christian subculture. That’s not what they’re interested in doing. Every Christian college is now interested, like Regent University, in making their kids part of the mainstream.
The reason I like Patrick Henry is because, first of all, it has no baggage. It has no 50 years of baggage of trying to change its mission. It was founded in the year 2000, completely in this new mode that evangelicals are in now, where they want to be part of the mainstream, and they want to be the faith in the halls of power. It’s in that mentality completely, so that’s its ambition on the one hand.
But on the other hand, Patrick Henry [represents] the most extremely conservative of evangelicals. It’s not in the 26 percent of [Americans who identified as] evangelicals [in 2004] that we write about. It’s in the 12 percent of [Americans who identified as] very conservative evangelicals, and of home-schoolers on top of that, so you’ve got the most extreme in terms of religion and the most extreme in ambition. [They] try to marry these two together.
The book is about actually the difficulty of doing that. You take kids ages 19, 20, 21 years old, coming from their home-schooling situations and being pushed to work in the White House or in going out to Hollywood. That’s the reason I was attracted to it, is because we can all see the tension in that situation.
GREEN: I’d like to just pick up on the tension, because I think it’s one of the fascinating parts of your book. You talk about Patrick Henry wanting to train students that were both pure and ambitious. Could you expand on that just a little bit?
ROSIN: When you talk to people in Hollywood especially, that makes them crazy, because it’s as if you want people to walk around with a bubble around them. That’s what home schooling is about. You think of home schooling as people wanting to take their kids out of the system. It’s not really that. It’s people who want to give their kids as many layers of protection as possible, so that when they’re ready to get out there and take back the nation and shape the culture – as they say in home-schooling circles – they are well protected. That’s the idea.
The tension is that becomes extremely difficult, because it’s a Christian liberal arts school, so they teach Nietzsche and Kant. It’s perfectly possible that Nietzsche and Kant become more interesting to you than your Bible all of a sudden. The founder of the school, what he tells the parents at orientation is, “Think of this as opposition research.” (Laughter.) That’s a quote. “So we’re going to give them this. You can understand how the other half lives.” But of course, it doesn’t necessarily operate as opposition research.
I can only think of a handful of kids for whom the system works perfectly, where they’re really able to read all of this and go in the White House and notice that, unlike what they thought before they got there, young Republicans drink and sleep around and go to Oktoberfest and all the things that a young conservative Christian does not do. So I can only think of a few kids who remain intact.
By the end of my book, you can see one of the freshmen being trained to be a perfect Christian soldier becomes disillusioned, especially in the last couple of years. When he learned Newt Gingrich had had a mistress at the same time that he was talking about Monica Lewinsky, he was genuinely shocked by that. When he thought about the Republican candidates who have – count the number of marriages among them – he was also genuinely shocked by that. That is the tension that happens in that situation.
GREEN: Could you tell us about the impact of this approach in both the short and long term?
ROSIN: I’ll answer that in two levels. One thing I’ve written about is that every administration has a kind of spirit, which it imprints on its young people. So you have the New Deal generation, and you have the Peace Corps generation. I think Bush, as you’ll see in Michael’s book, really has done something in terms of staffing with evangelicals that’s never been done before. Even if Carter talked the talk and Clinton talked the talk, Bush really created this situation where they became professionals. Evangelicals who have been fairly thought of as a protest group, [Bush] really trained them to be part of the mainstream.
As we all know, becoming part of the mainstream tends to dull your edges a little bit. So they do have an impact in the sense that they’re now part of a fabric of Washington because of this network that’s been created. But I do not believe – [after] 2004, there was a whole slate of books basically saying, “Theocracy’s a’coming. They’re taking over our world.” I think there is an inverse relationship between vocalized religious extremism and political success, and that’s what you see in these kids. They notice that either they’re going to have to temper themselves in some way, or they’re just going to have to become a pastor. That’s a decision they make in the end. Except for Tom Coburn – there is a handful that sneak by that system, but it’s pretty rare.
GREEN: Thank you, Hanna. I’d like to focus our attention here just for a moment on the future, and what this means in the next couple years and maybe over the next couple of decades. I’d like to ask you both to comment on this. As you all know, after next year, we’re going to have a new president, whether we want one or not. This may be a dramatic change in the sense of having a Democratic administration, or it’s possible, of course, that we’ll have another Republican administration. What’s the likely role of evangelicals to be after November 2008? Michael, would you like to take a shot at that?
LINDSAY: This is why I say that evangelicals are here to stay in the corridors of power. They’re not going to be disappearing regardless of what happens in ’08, and it’ll be interesting because some of the most extensive outreach occurring to evangelicals is not in the Giuliani campaign or the McCain campaign; it’s occurring in the Obama campaign and the Clinton campaign. The idea that evangelicals are in the back pockets of Republicans – I think we could see the conventional wisdom about values voters be turned on its head in ’08. It’s possible.
But I think that evangelicals will continue to be a very formidable influence; not just in politics, but in these other domains, because they still believe things are not right in the world, and they still believe they have a way to contribute and make a difference. It’s this notion, particularly looking at what Hanna has done, and it jives with what I’ve found – there is enormous energy devoted to preparing the young for cultural change, enormous energy. There are a lot of different initiatives and programs and fellowships and internship opportunities. And they’re not low-level, rinky-dink kinds of jobs. These are really high-powered, high-capacity opportunities.
Basically what happens is that the evangelical community has recruited some of their own who are already in the corridors of power to help train, mentor, and disciple the next generation. This is the key to cultural change. This is what every group does; if you have a social movement that wants to advance, you take people who are already accomplished, and you help translate that into the next generation so it outlasts the current generation. That’s why I don’t think that evangelical influence is going to die with the deaths of Jerry Falwell or Bill Bright or D. James Kennedy or James Dobson; not so. Evangelical influence is just undergoing a renaissance in a different way, and it’s a new generation. That’s why I talk about, in the book, cosmopolitan evangelicals, which I think are the new face of what evangelicalism looks like.
GREEN: Would you like to expand a bit on cosmopolitan –
LINDSAY: Basically, in the book, I differentiate between two kinds of evangelicals. Populist evangelicalism has been what a lot of attention has been devoted to. This is the domain of, “We’re going to take back Washington.” A lot of Patrick Henry embodies populist evangelicalism. Principally seeing politics as the arena where you have to bring about cultural change using mass rallies.
An exemplar of this was, in 1980, there was a Washington for Jesus rally, which Bill Bright and a number of other evangelical leaders organized. It’s the idea that a radio commentator would get on and say, “You need to call your congressman today. They’re voting on an issue.” And the evangelicals would flood the phone lines on Capitol Hill. This is an important part of evangelical activism. But I think it’s actually [part of] the previous generation.
That generation is dying off, and it’s being replaced with what I call cosmopolitan evangelicalism. This is the evangelicalism of the establishment, where the edges have been softened. The cosmopolitan evangelicals that came up time and again in my research are those folks who interact regularly with people of different faiths and of no faith at all. They rub shoulders in the secular world all the time. And they don’t lose their faith as a result of that, but they interact with their faith in different ways.
So whereas populist evangelicals want to take back America or convert to the Christianization of this country, cosmopolitan evangelicals have a more modest goal. They simply want their faith to be seen as legitimate, authentic, and – they hope in the end – attractive and winsome. In the same way, they do want their faith to draw others, but [they use] different forms of mobilization [that are] far more subtle, more nuanced, and because of that, more significant.
GREEN: Hanna, where will the Patrick Henry graduates be after the next election?
ROSIN: It’s funny. When you talk about cosmopolitan evangelicals, it’s such a great phrase. I called them “evangelical snobs” in my book, which is a little meaner. But that’s a better turn of phrase, because it’s the same thing. At first I started to think, “Everybody is embarrassed by the Left Behind novels.” I would meet a few people who wouldn’t talk to me about the Left Behind novels or who would insist on talking to me about certain movies that they’ve seen, or who were really embarrassed about some speech they heard by [author] Tim LaHaye.
The word “winsome” comes up all the time. I talk about this in my introduction; even the Biblical phrases, which go in and out of fashion, have moved toward the more sophisticated-sounding, intellectual-sounding Biblical verses. The Patrick Henry kids who may come in from a populist background very quickly move to – That’s why they do Christian liberal arts; that’s why they study the classics; that’s why they study Latin, as I talked about, because there is this sense that right now as an evangelical, you have to be cosmopolitan. It’s a little brain freeze [for some students.] It takes a while to catch up with that reality. But I think that they all absolutely will become cosmopolitan.
Now, just to get to the practical elements of what you talked about, since you did the broad picture – I just have to say that my crystal ball is cloudy on this matter, because I think everything is changing so quickly. You’ve got Mike Huckabee who is a different kind of evangelical; you’ve got Rick Warren who is political and isn’t political at the same time. You’ve got all the old guard leaders who are dying out. You’ve got these Republican candidates who don’t look like family values candidates at all, except for the Mormon, who they don’t consider Christian.
And then you’ve got two Democrats who have the most convincing, coherent faith stories of all the candidates by far; Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama, just in terms of saying, “I started here; I moved here: I’ve consistently been in this church; here is my marriage. I’ve struggled through it, and I’ve come to this place.” The Christian testimony that is the most recognizable is on the Democratic side.
When I call the Patrick Henry political arm [to ask,] “Who are [you] going to agitate for this year,” they actually just don’t know yet. It’s just so hard to settle on someone. In that forum they had in Florida, the values forum, none of the [leading] Republican candidates showed up. So I think it’s pretty unclear. People keep flirting with things. John McCain will say a few religious things. And Barack Obama will go on his faith tour. But it’s pretty unclear what it will look like in this election.
LINDSAY: Can I ask Hanna a question, John? Hanna, did you find a tension between the populist rhetoric of Michael Farris and maybe, let’s say, the board of Patrick Henry and the faculty and the ways in which students are cultivated – maybe they come in populist and then they’re cultivated to become cosmopolitan?
ROSIN: It’s the massive fracture line of the school. And the school nearly fell apart. My final chapter is about this huge fight, which actually broke out into the mainstream press – there were stories about it at the time I was there – between the professors who all went to UVA and have legitimate degrees in government and are evangelical Christians, but would teach a version of, say, the founding fathers that is completely recognizable to a secular university, but includes more about Biblical influences. The [former] president [and current chancellor] of the school who is from a more populist background, whose mentor is Tim LaHaye, who is worldly in a sense because he’s run for office, but who is very much of the populist evangelical school – By the end of the year, nobody was talking to each other. It was just a horrible year for them. And then all those professors quit.
Now, it’s settled down a bit, but yes, it’s the huge tension in this movement. And [Farris] is not of the old guard; he’s somewhere in the middle. The next generation is not having it. They’re all on YouTube; they all have laptops. They know where it’s at. Even if they didn’t see a movie until they were 19, now they see a lot of movies.
GREEN: Michael, in your book, you use a really interesting term. I think some other people have used it, but you used it particularly effectively. That is the term “elastic orthodoxy.” One of the questions I have for both of you, as we look forward, beyond 2008 maybe into the next generation, is about these evangelicals who are cosmopolitan and have access to the corridors of power and are part of the fabric of Washington: How are they going to be able to manage the demands of their faith and the need to get along with different kinds of people in a pluralistic society, an increasingly pluralistic society, many of whom don’t agree with the basic elements of their faith?
ROSIN: I’ll talk about one small thing, because I think that’s an important concept. I think David Brooks called it flexidoxy, this idea that you can discard some things and keep some things. I’ll talk about it in terms of homosexuality, which is a pretty bright line at a place like Patrick Henry. It’s not discussed. The school is new enough that it’s not yet had one of those incidents where someone comes out of the closet, which a lot of conservative evangelical schools have had, and so they’ve had to grapple with it.
It’s pretty much, if you are discovered to be gay, you’ll be kicked out of the school immediately. It’s as bad as being Catholic. Just kidding. But you will. It is one of those things that is just not talked about. There’s no discussion about it. It’s a closed book.
On the other hand, the students understand at this point, because they’re cosmopolitan, that it’s just as bad to be homophobic as it is to be a homosexual. Those things are equally bad in their mind. And I’m not just talking about the usual “love the sinner” line. I’m just talking about matters of cultural presentation. So the students will say things like, “Yes, it’s a sin. But there are many other things that are a sin.”
They’ll be extremely careful. You’re not going to have a case of a Patrick Henry kid doing one of those things where he gets up and says a rant about September 11th being the fault of gays and lesbians. I just can’t imagine that happening in this generation, even though they may believe exactly the same things.
LINDSAY: I’ve found that every movement has to have a cohesive set of beliefs that holds the movement together. That, for evangelicals, is orthodoxy. It’s a core set of beliefs about God, the Bible, Jesus, heaven, hell. And in this way, evangelicals are like fundamentalists. They have a core set of beliefs that they hold true to and that drives them to be united. That remains the same.
But the difference between evangelicals and fundamentalists is that as fundamentalists come into contact with people who don’t share those same kinds of beliefs, they tend to withdraw, to build separate institutions, to have a separatist mindset, because that orthodoxy is somewhat brittle and can be easily chipped away.
Whereas evangelicals engage secular society, and as they come to interact with it, they don’t withdraw from it or repel from it, they actually get more into the mix. They are more engaged in the process. This is what gives their orthodoxy elasticity and flexibility. It’s what’s really allowed them to succeed in American public life, because they’re able to build bridges with lots of different groups.
One of the instances that I feature in the book is how evangelicals were at the vanguard of a broad coalition of different religious groups to lead to the passage of the International Religious Freedom Act of 1998. Evangelicals were really at the forefront of this. But they didn’t use explicitly Christian justifications for being involved with it; they used the language of human rights and issues of international religious freedom. This is where they can say, “We can build a common cause with some other groups, even though we don’t agree with them on every single issue.”
Whereas fundamentalists tend to say, “If you’re not in lockstep with us in every single way, then we’re not going to participate with you.” Fundamentalists are very concerned about losing their core passion and their core sets of beliefs. They’re afraid that they’re going to dilute the purity of their faith. That’s a really big problem for them. Whereas evangelicals don’t seem to be quite so bothered about that, and perhaps in the process, they have diluted their faith. Perhaps they’re not still united in this same way. But I find that that elastic orthodoxy is what has allowed them to really move forward.
GREEN: In a lot of discourse, we tend to make the word orthodoxy and dogmatic rigidity synonymous. I think what this discussion suggests is that those are really different concepts. A person can be orthodox and dogmatic, dogmatic and not orthodox and so forth. I think that’s one of the reasons there’s a lot of surprise at this elastic orthodoxy, because it seems like an oxymoron.
ROSIN: I will add, and you would know this better, but I never hear the word “fundamentalist” anymore. I’ve never met a young person who would ever call themselves a fundamentalist in the way Jerry Falwell would have proudly said, “I am a fundamentalist,” and probably [would have] considered “evangelical” a vague, wispy word.
GREEN: But that’s interesting, Hanna, because a lot of descriptions of Patrick Henry say it’s a fundamentalist school.
ROSIN: Right, right, which they wouldn’t accept. I mean, they would understand that word –
GREEN: Michael talked about the purity that comes from fundamentalism. But you also talked in your book about purity. How does the purity of these students differ from the old-style religion?
ROSIN: What I talk about is that something happened in evangelical cultural history in the 1970s. One of my chapters is about evangelical advice books. It goes into what the evangelical leaders taught throughout the 1970s. Basically, what they noticed was that the evangelical flock was drifting the same way as the rest of America. So you had women with young children working; you had just as many divorces; and they really decided they needed to put a stop to that.
What they did was basically reinstitute this idea of traditional male-female roles; men are supposed to do one thing, and women are supposed to do another thing. They hammered that message in, uniformly, in as many ways as possible.
That said, they tried to rewrite the roles a little bit, so that men’s roles became more feminized. If people remember the Promise Keepers movement, this was an example of that, where men were supposed to be more expressive and value friendship. They also kind of rewrote marriage, but still keeping the traditional roles. This is what home schooling came out of. You have this idea of a housewife, but completely re-imagined in an 1980s super mom mode. You were no longer a housewife, just sitting around dusting your blender, you were a housewife who was basically the center of everything, and a teacher, and really in charge of a lot of different things. The same was true of the men, where the men were supposed to be a different kind of husband and take their wife out – not the distant patriarch of the 1950s.
There’s been a lot of academic work about the idea of the re-imagined traditional evangelical marriage. So, the kids are born into this generation where the women, even though they’re conflicted about it, and they just worked for Karl Rove, and I have characters who are deeply conflicted about women’s roles, but still, they really do understand that a woman’s role is to raise her children. No matter how ambitious she’s been, how high she’s risen in the White House, eventually she’s going to raise her children.
But their marriages are very – They write each other letters, and they’re extremely romantic. They exchange all sorts of ideas about what their future is going to look like, and [do things] I’ve never seen teenagers do. The courtship system really does allow for a lot of that because it de-emphasizes physical contact, and so they have a lot of these endless romantic exchanges. They create what looks on paper to be a perfectly realized equal marriage. Now, the result is going to be the same. The woman is going to quit whatever job she has, and she is going to raise their children. But the process is completely different than it ever has been.
GREEN: That’s fascinating. Before we turn to some questions from our audience who have been very patient listening to us talk, I can’t resist asking you all your opinion about something that’s been in the news recently. That’s this idea of an independent candidacy that would be supported by at least Christian right leaders if not a broader set of evangelicals. What do you think? Is that likely to happen? What are the prospects, Michael?
LINDSAY: I think this is really a warning shot that the conservative evangelical leaders have fired over the Republican leadership’s head. I don’t think this is actually going to materialize. It’s a way in which James Dobson, Tony Perkins, and a number of other folks involved with the Council for National Policy, including Tim LaHaye, are in essence saying, “We’ve got to get behind a candidate who is avowedly pro-life. This is a cardinal virtue for us. We’re not going to support you.”
Of course, Republicans remember 1996 when James Dobson and a number of other evangelical leaders basically said, “We’re not going to get behind Bob Dole because he’s not conservative enough,” which was very upsetting to the Republican establishment. But as a result, evangelicals were just not mobilized to turn out in 1996. Dole did a whole lot worse than he would have if evangelicals had felt that there was somebody they could support.
It’s possible that if nothing else, whoever becomes the Republican candidate will be strongly pushed to choose a vice-presidential candidate who evangelicals can get really excited about. That certainly is within the realm of possibility. I think they’re too politically savvy and too concerned about – These conservative leaders are very concerned about the candidacy of Hillary Clinton. They certainly don’t want to do anything that would give the White House to Hillary Clinton. They remember 1992 and Ross Perot and what happened there. And so, I think probably it’s more of a warning shot than it is a reality.
ROSIN: I think it’s a perfect window into where evangelicals are now, and how trapped they are, because on the one hand, they really don’t want to turn into what African Americans complain about being to the Democratic Party, which is somebody that the party just takes for granted. And so, their way to try and get out of that box is to issue a little threat.
On the other hand, they don’t want to be the people who issue threats. They don’t want to be seen as the fringe interest group that they always have been. They want to be part of the process. So I think they’re caught in this funny bind where they don’t really know what to do. Like you said, this is a kind of last desperation shot.
I should say, I’ve recently read about a lot of evangelicals being honest about wanting Hillary Clinton to be the nominee for obvious reasons. Because I think if Hillary Clinton is the nominee, then their role is secure. It is obvious what their role will be in the future if Hillary Clinton is the nominee. Mike Farris, the [founding] president of Patrick Henry [now chancellor,] actually said that the other day, describing why it would be good for her to be the nominee. Whereas if Hillary Clinton is not the nominee – let’s say, it’s a different Democrat – if it’s Obama and Giuliani, the evangelicals are basically irrelevant to that equation. So that’s some realistic politics.
LINDSAY: One of the things that strikes me is that movements don’t have to have a god, but they have to have a devil. For many evangelicals, Hillary has embodied that and been the poster child for 1960s progressivism. You’re exactly right in that it can be a rallying cry in ways we haven’t even seen before.
ROSIN: Obama can’t be the devil, because they’re extremely self-conscious about their African American – about race, and Ralph Reed was very self-conscious about that. They’re always self-conscious about how many African Americans are in [the] evangelical church and why that remains separate despite their best efforts.
GREEN: Thank you very much. I think it’s now time to turn to our audience. I’d appreciate it if, as I call on you, you would identify yourself so we can all know who is asking the question. Let’s begin over here.
RUTH MARCUS, THE WASHINGTON POST: Hanna and I talked about this a little bit beforehand: I’m curious about why you all think, John included, that evangelicals haven’t seized on one of their own in the 2008 campaign and rallied behind Mike Huckabee? Is it simply a political calculation that he doesn’t have enough fuel to run on, or is there something more behind that?
LINDSAY: This is the big conundrum of the Republican field: Why are they not getting behind Mike Huckabee? Because he was a Southern Baptist pastor – you don’t get more evangelical than that. And yet, you have to remember that there is a bit of a distance [between] the Southern Baptist culture [and] the wider evangelical movement. This is a real divide. In the last 50 years, there has been some real tension between the northern evangelical contingency, which is more populated by the Wheaton crowd, the Christianity Today crowd, the Calvin College crowd, and the South, which was dominated by Southern Baptists. So there is something of that: a little bit of distance between the Southern Baptist contingent and wider evangelical movement.
I actually think Huckabee is the one who embodies what evangelicals really want, more so than any [other candidate.] That’s why I say it could be a warning shot, that Huckabee has got to be the VP candidate in a Republican candidacy, because they want someone [of] their own. That’s all I can figure out. I don’t know. Do you have any sense of why?
ROSIN: He does represent the new style of evangelical. He’s very attractive in that way. He’s very charismatic. He’s very approachable. It is kind of a mystery why he doesn’t take off. I don’t really know.
GREEN: Well, it could just simply be a matter of name recognition. In a lot of those surveys that other people have done and that we’ve done here at the Pew Forum, relatively few people, including relatively few evangelicals, know about Mike Huckabee. That may be part of it; there is a pragmatic issue. Of course, the leaders know about him, the people we’ve been talking about. But they recognize that their followers don’t. They may be waiting to see if Huckabee or someone else can get over that gap of being a viable candidate.
ROSIN: I also thought it was partly a status consciousness – I would love to be in a board room where they were debating Huckabee versus Mitt Romney. Mitt Romney whose theology they don’t agree with but who has so much more stature and is so much more mainstream and the soul of the movement – “Are we going to pick somebody who is very much like us but who has no chance of winning, or are we going to pick Mitt Romney who has a chance of winning, but who we have these really profound differences with?”
ROB MARUS, ASSOCIATED BAPTIST PRESS: I’m really interested in Michael’s distinction, though Hanna touched on it some too, between the populist evangelicals – the old guard – and the new cosmopolitan evangelicals or evangelical snobs. I think a lot of my readers would say, “There have been those people all along. They’ve been called moderate and progressive evangelicals. They always get overlooked.” Is this just the world finally paying attention to the fact that they exist and a new generation realizing that the populist evangelical message isn’t working with a majority of America?
LINDSAY: The distinction I make is not principally a political distinction between the political left and the political right. It’s more of a style and orientation and a vision for what they want. You have folks on both the evangelical left and the evangelical right in both the populist camp – you have a lot of populist sentiments among the evangelical left – as well as on the evangelical right. The cosmopolitan/populist divide is more about strategies for mobilization. Do you use a language of “we are the majority” or “we’ve got to get out the vote” and principally use populist modes of activity? Or, is it more established – [Hanna,] you have a wonderful phrase from your piece in the Post a couple years ago about how evangelicals are like the Episcopalians, because they are established and blush easily.
ROSIN: I think this is the dividing line of Patrick Henry: Theologically, they would fall under populist evangelical; stylistically, they would fall under cosmopolitan evangelical. This is just anecdotal, but there is a real disconnect that happens at just about the end of sophomore year, when you start to blush at the thought of your 12-year-old Pentecostal self. It becomes embarrassing. A lot of the kids move over to different religious traditions where they start to look for things like more liturgy and a more staid form of worship. Because in class, they are being groomed to be these St. John’s College-type intellectual kids, speaking Latin and reading Kant. There becomes this disconnect between theology and style, which they have to resolve in some way.
LINDSAY: It also relates to tension [in] the evangelical subculture. I found that cosmopolitan evangelicals are far less enamored with the subculture, so that they take great pains to say they’ve never read the Left Behind books, or that they never owned a Thomas Kinkade painting. This affects the whole orientation of how they view their fellow believers as well as the rest of secular society.
ROSIN: There is a picture of Tim LaHaye in the – they fund a scholarship, Tim and Beverly LaHaye. She [was formerly] on the board of Patrick Henry. And there is a portrait of them in the hallway, under which is the name of all the scholarship [recipients.] These kids are extremely well behaved. College pranks are very rare at the college. One of the only college pranks I’d ever seen is somebody put a suit of empty clothes in front of the LaHaye books, as a kind of making fun of the Left Behind concept. (Laughter.) I never saw those books on anyone’s shelves, never on anybody’s dorm shelves.
MARUS: Do you think that is maybe just indicative of the sociological change in American evangelicalism as much as anything in the past 50 years?
ROSIN: Yes, like more education, more money. One of the obvious things that happened since World War II is this huge boom in Christian colleges. Yes, they are entering a different class than they had been [in] before the 1950s.
TERRY EASTLAND, WEEKLY STANDARD: I just want to see if you all might wish to complicate the discussion yet further. This goes to the term that there has been assumed to be a definition of, and that is evangelical.
Hanna, I’m wondering whether the differences may be different at Patrick Henry College? I need to read your book, I suppose, to find out about the split that occurred with the professors who left. As I understood it from what reading I’ve done, these were people who were largely members of the Orthodox Presbyterian Church; they were Calvinist in theology; they were Reformed in theology. I’m wondering if their differences might not go much deeper than simply stylistic ones.
Then, for you, Michael, I’m just wondering in your rather larger survey of evangelicals, whether there might be a movement among younger evangelicals into more confessional contexts, maybe a higher view of the church, if you will. I’d just be interested in your comments.
ROSIN: I’ll answer quickly about that particular incident. There were many layers of difference. One was stylistic. One was intellectual. One was political. And one was theological. The theological one, they tried to keep the most covered, because I don’t think they wanted to be perceived as a school just for Baptists or a school for any certain kind of person. In fact, Michael Farris was very unhappy with the idea that he would be perceived as anti-Reform. But the professors definitely felt what you are saying.[Farris] wrote a book about Tyndale, which made some of these tensions obvious, in which he talked about the dark side of Calvin, having burned people at the stake. This was clearly in his mind. But I think this is yet another one of these things he’s conflicted about, where he wants to be more unified in terms of what denominations he accepts. But in his heart, he maybe doesn’t necessarily feel that way, and it comes out in this book.
LINDSAY: There are different streams that lead to the evangelical river. You have the Anabaptist stream, which has been very strong, but you also have this Reform stream. I actually would say that, over the last 30 years, the Reform stream has become a far more significant player in the wider evangelical movement. So you have the rise of a lot of Presbyterian churches in elite centers, such as Redeemer Presbyterian in New York, Menlo Park Presbyterian in Silicon Valley, University Presbyterian in Seattle, First Presbyterian of Hollywood and Bel-Air Presbyterian in Los Angeles.
You also have within the Baptist tradition, which has held up the pietistic tradition, some movements toward a more Reform theology. Emblematic of this is Chuck Colson, a member of First Baptist Church of Naples, Florida and a strong evangelical leader, who oftentimes uses his back-page commentary in Christianity Today to articulate Reform theological ideas that really come from Francis Schaeffer and L’Abri and talk about the language of common-grace theology or co-belligerency, some of these ideas that were really foreign to the Baptist theological tradition, which saw a greater separation between the church and the rest of society. There’s a much more of a drive toward integrative tasks.
The thing that I found that crops up not only in engaging evangelicals in politics, but also engaging them in corporate America is that they want their faith to be part of who they are when they’re at the workplace, or that they want it to be part of the entertainment that they produce in Hollywood. That kind of integrative impulse really shows the way in which Reform theology has played an important role.
EASTLAND: Would you include within the discussion Southern too?
LINDSAY: Yes, Southern Seminary [is] clearly making the Reform turn, or Capitol Hill Baptists here in D.C., [are] certainly embracing that Reform tradition. That’s a very good point, Terry.
KATHY SLOBOGIN, CNN DOCUMENTARY UNIT: I have two questions for Hanna. There’s been a story recently, a controversy about Christian high schools suing the University of California system because some of their courses haven’t been accredited. I don’t know if you looked at this, but Patrick Henry aspires to be the evangelical Ivy League. What is the quality of the education the kids are getting there? For example, in biology courses.
The second part of the question is, these kids have been molded from a very early age, and they’ve existed in this rarified atmosphere in Patrick Henry. When they do get out into the real world and have to test drive the beliefs they’ve grown up with – you’ve mentioned conflicts. But are they conflicts within the mold, or do some of them actually break out of the mold altogether and just abandon the values? I’m interested in how that holds.
ROSIN: I’ll answer the quality of education question first because it’s a very complicated answer, and especially with biology because the woman who taught biology has a Ph.D. from the University of Virginia. On the other hand, she teaches six-day creationism. It’s one of the few Christian colleges that teach young-earth creationism; it’s very rare.
I’m writing another story for a magazine about this new creationist mode. The creationist movement, and even young-earth creationism, has gotten to the point now – it’s a fairly new movement; it only got going in the 1940s and 1950s, but it’s now in this mode where they have enough people with legitimate Ph.D.s that they’re creating a kind of alternative scientific reality, a coherent scientific explanation, which is how they teach science at Patrick Henry. The kids come from homes where evolution is a dirty word, nobody’s even mentioned it; it’s like this dark horse, we don’t talk about it. They get to the college, and now they have a UVA-trained biologist teaching them a coherent, scientific explanation for young-earth creationism.
As I write, sending kids out into Republican circles as six-day creationists, that’s the social equivalent of saying you have two wives. Michael Farris must know that that’s socially unacceptable, to be a Republican candidate and to go on about how you believe the Earth was created in six days. I don’t really resolve that question; I think that’s something they’ll have to resolve over time.
I have a quote in there from Michael Farris that gives them the political message. It’s a fairly blank quote, something like, “You don’t go out there and talk about six-day creation; you talk about intelligent design; you talk about the merits of one and the merits of the other; and you teach your supporters to keep their stupid mouths shut.” It’s something like that. It’s a quote from his constitutional law class. With that strategy, he defines effectively what Bush did; it’s exactly what Bush did. Nobody’s going to get up there and call themselves a six-day creationist. So there’s an intellectual level; there’s a theological level; and then there’s a political, practical level, on which the education operates.
And your second question: I have yet to meet a student who’s not a Christian. There are many, many rebellious students, and those are the students who tend to stay in touch with me. There are many students who became Lutherans, who went from Baptist to Lutheran and Baptist to Presbyterian during their time at the school. That’s extremely common. Six-day creationism is the first thing to go when they go out there into the world. There are some who drink. But I have not met a student who’s become faithless; who’s said, “I don’t believe in God or anything like that.” I’ve even heard of some students who became gay after they left the school, but still remain Christian. So, it does fall apart a little bit, but not entirely, not that I know of.
LUIS LUGO, PEW FORUM ON RELIGION & PUBLIC LIFE: I want to probe just a little deeper into this whole question of cosmopolitanism on the part of the new generation. I understand the stylistic aspect of it, that these are folks who understand they have to comport themselves in the public square without the rough edges, as it were. I’m wondering, though, whether it is also translating in some ways, in terms of a broader agenda, a substantive agenda, whether at Patrick Henry or elsewhere. Do you see that broader cosmopolitanism leading towards an expansion of the evangelical political agenda beyond, let’s say, abortion and same-sex marriage to other issues, which they would be reading about in Aristotle, such as schooling and a whole host of public policy concerns?
And related to that, the term cosmopolitanism, of course, suggests having a more international or global orientation. Do you see the new generation having a more internationalist approach in their view of the world?
LINDSAY: Yes, I do, Luis, very much so. I’ll take one small example, which encapsulates both of those, where you have a substantive change within the traditional views of evangelicals, and you also have outreach through international efforts.
Look at the ways in which evangelicals have responded to the AIDS crisis. In 1986, when C. Everett Koop said, “This is a public health crisis,” almost every evangelical leader denounced him, saying, “AIDS is God’s scourge on the homosexual community, and we don’t need to be making this a centerpiece of the Reagan administration.” You had White House evangelicals like Gary Bauer actively trying to keep Koop from getting to the president and having that kind of access. So there was a lot of tension in 1986.
Fast forward 20 years; 20 years later you have another evangelical in the White House, this time it’s Michael Gerson, the president’s speechwriter and the informal custodian of the president’s compassionate conservatism agenda. He and Josh Bolten start trying to figure out, “How can we make a big statement about AIDS?” The fact that it was an evangelical who brought to the president the idea of allocating $15 billion toward AIDS relief in Africa, and the fact that it occurs in Africa, and the fact that it’s AIDS; it’s not cancer, it’s AIDS. That is a really big change in the evangelical community. The amazing thing is that once that initiative was announced, some of the very same evangelical leaders who had denounced Koop in 1986 praised the White House for being bold and courageous. That shows how really different that kind of cosmopolitan orientation is.
ROSIN: The other issue where that’s starting to happen on is the environment, where there’s discussion within the evangelical movement about global warming and their traditional stance on global warming. That touches on a lot of different issues – taxes, how we view corporate America – there’s a whole host of issues that follow from that. But I think in 20 years you’ll see the same thing, where right now people might be critical of Rick Warren for what he says, and then 20 years down the road you’ll have a religious environmental movement that will be take[n] for granted.
DAVID KIRKPATRICK, THE NEW YORK TIMES: The informal way I’ve understood the big split in American Protestantism that led to what we now know as the evangelicals, or fundamentalists, or orthodox on the one side, and the mainline, liberal churches on the other – I’ve always understood it in shorthand, in my own mind, as a dispute over which way the world was heading. That the mainline churches held on to the idea that if we get our shoulder to the wheel, we can make the world better and better and better, and improve the world around us, and so on and so on.
And the evangelicals held on to a different and more pessimistic view: The world is going downhill. As Bill Bright always said, the only three things that are going to be forever are God, God’s word, and human souls; let’s not get distracted with the bread and the soup kitchens; let’s keep our eye on the real prize here. That’s the divergence, and the emphasis on personal morality and all of that on the conservative, traditionalist, orthodox side follows from that. You might say some of the mainline churches lost a little bit of their distinctiveness because they got mixed up with secular goals.
When I hear evangelicals these days talking about the environment and other ways they can embrace public policy goals or charitable goals, about lifting up the poor and the world around us; it sounds to me like that distinction is collapsing. They’re talking about how we can, through human effort, make the world a much better place. They’re not talking as much about how the most important thing is saving souls. Is that distinction vanishing, or what’s going on?
LINDSAY: That’s a great question, David. I would say that difference between the pre-millennialist and the post-millennialist orientation certainly has been true in theological circles. But most evangelicals don’t know what they believe, or why; they are like most Americans. So they can’t actually articulate those kinds of notions. And yet, I would say –
KIRKPATRICK: (Off mike.)
LINDSAY: You got it. That’s exactly right. What we find, though, is that there are theological currents that run hand-in-hand with changing power dynamics. Evangelicals have made it into the corridors of power, so they naturally see themselves more as part of the establishment than they did 30 years ago. They don’t have quite as pessimistic an orientation because they’ve been able to succeed in the White House; they’ve been able to get some of their people – Evangelicals are very excited that their brand of faith has moved into the halls of power. That has, invariably, influenced the ways in which they look about the rest of the world. They don’t have that same pessimistic orientation.
There are still some who think of themselves as outside protesters, who say, “The world’s going downhill, and we have to be really concerned.” The [distinction] between focusing on this-worldly affairs and other-worldly affairs, I would say, was much more salient for previous generations of evangelicals than it is today. Rick Warren embodies this; he doesn’t want to divorce the two, he wants to have them brought closer together. I think it’s probably the way in which you see the mantle of leadership of the evangelical community passing from say, Billy Graham, who is the person up front, to somebody like Rick Warren, where Warren has just as much of a social justice cause as he does a desire to save souls. They work hand-in-hand.
Now, could it mean that, eventually, evangelicals lose their evangelistic edge? Certainly you could say that’s possible. I think there are ebbs and flows. But really I see it as a maturing of the evangelical movement; it’s a more mature movement, and it has a wider spectrum that fits in those categories. Also, there’s a greater appreciation, like I said, of this Reform theology, which very much sees more possibility – Reform theology holds this pessimistic view of human nature – people are really evil and bad – and yet somehow, by God’s grace, we can do good things, and we are compelled to do that. This notion of being compelled to make the world a better place has a theological purchase with a lot of evangelicals today, as they’ve moved into more powerful positions.
ROSIN: That’s true, it does work much better in Reform theology, which is becoming more popular, but those two things just co-exist. I once asked Tim LaHaye this question because when he first got involved in the Carter administration, it was in this incredibly pessimistic mode like, “This is horrible.” He met with Carter, he heard what he had to say about abortion, and he said, “This is horrible, God is calling us to get involved.” But they never reconciled that with their theology – they just got involved, and they still held the same incredibly pessimistic theology, and nobody ever really thought about how those two things would go together.
And I asked Tim LaHaye about this, and he just dismissed me, like, “That’s a lefty conspiracy, always trying to get the contradictions.” He really just didn’t want to talk about it. I asked him in a different way, and he just said, “That’s the mainstream press telling us we can’t be involved; we have a right to be involved.” But I think they never really thought about it. And Reform theology does think about it; it holds those two ideas together. That somehow people are bad, and so we don’t need to strive for perfection anywhere, we just sort of stumble along; that’s a colloquial summary of how Reform theology operates. But it does operate that way, so it works a little better.
LINDSAY: And you’re compelled to do something. Because humans are evil doesn’t mean that you can’t get engaged; in fact, you’re compelled to be engaged.
ROSIN: You’re compelled to do works and works and works. Right, yeah.
ROBBIE MILLS, PEW FORUM ON RELIGION & PUBLIC LIFE: I’m curious – we’ve talked a lot about the domestic implications of evangelicals in the public square. Luis hit a little bit on the international dimension. In your research for your books, to what degree do you find evangelicals drawn to the table from a foreign affairs perspective? What is their outlook on what’s happening outside our borders, the impacts of 9/11, that kind of thing?
ROSIN: They’re hugely more involved, wouldn’t you say, than they have been?
ROSIN: This religious freedom commission made their issues AIDS and Sudan, and human slavery also became an issue of theirs. There’s been a sea change in that in the last nine years. In he war on terrorism, I don’t know about that so much. From my world, where I was in Patrick Henry, they were very interested in national security work. That’s all I can say about that; part of the thing they felt compelled to do was fight the fight against terrorism. On the other hand, because they’re intellectual, Harvard-like kids they didn’t actually, necessarily, want to go fight the fight on terrorism. (Laughter.) So they would fight it by doing intellectual spy work [or things] like that. But it came up a lot.
LINDSAY: Historically, the military’s been the part of the U.S. government that has had the most religious sentiment, not only through the Chaplaincy Corps but just the ways of the people, particularly since we moved to an all-volunteer force; people drawn to the military tended to have more of an evangelical religious orientation. So regardless of if it’s a Republican or Democratic administration, those who are in top positions in the Pentagon tended to be more religiously active. Whereas the State Department was seen as a bastion of secularism; this was the last arena where there was [no] evangelical influence.
One of the people that I brought up in the introduction is somebody named William Inboden, who has all the classifications that you would need to get into the State Department, fits into the Mandarin class there quite well: did his undergrad at Stanford, Ph.D. in diplomatic history at Yale, worked for Senator Sam Nunn, helped draft the legislation that became the International Religious Freedom Act. So he has all the right credentials; and yet for him, religion is not just something to be studied in international conflict, it’s something that’s personally important that compels his engagement in the State Department.
A lot of the attention about evangelicals has been paid to their involvement on issues like same-sex marriage or abortion or domestic policy, but I think the real interesting story is how they have embraced international affairs and become, in many ways, the foreign policy conscience of political conservatives, and the ways in which they are using the State Department, USAID, and other governmental structures to bring about some of their vision.
ROSIN: This is more well-known, but [they also have a] concern for Israel, which manifests itself in both the old populist way and the new cosmopolitan, post-millennialist, Reform way. There are all sorts of ways that their love for Israel [inaudible.] That’s another reason evangelicals have to remain concerned about the war on terror in Iraq and what’s going on in the Middle East.
EASTLAND: Will Inboden did his dissertation on Reinhold Niebuhr, which is interesting, and he’s Capital Baptist as well.
With respect to the students that you interviewed, Hanna, and your general survey, Michael, I’m wondering if you detect a post-Christian America understanding amongst younger generations of evangelicals. That is to say that they’re not as preoccupied as, say, Michael Farris is with that concept, or that recovery, of taking back the nation and making it something that it was supposed to have been a long time ago. I’m wondering if you’re seeing something else, maybe driven by some of these international concerns. Is there more of a distinction, if you will, between faith and the United States?
ROSIN: One thing I started to notice after a while is that the parents would tell the kids, “Christians are discriminated against in government; [we] don’t have a role, you have to fight the fight.” And the kids would – it would go in one ear and out the other; it was like, “Wear your hat, it’s cold outside.” It didn’t reflect their experience of it at all. As far as they could see, they were the army on the ground; they were the base. It didn’t seem to them in any way that they were left out; they just blended into the mainstream. In a sense, that makes it post-Christian.
I feel like this election is going to answer these questions for me – whether it becomes an issue or not, and how much evangelicals get to play a role in this election, or whether they turn into truly sophisticated voters, [meaning] that they can’t be bought off with a testimony. You can’t just tell a story of your faith; they’ll have to divide. You have the Mississippi governor’s race, where you get some sort of populist Democrat back, and then some evangelicals will become the freestyle evangelicals, and they’ll vote for Hillary Clinton or Barack Obama. It’s not necessarily that they’ve changed a lot, but they won’t have that perfect unity they had under Bush, where it was possible for all those factions to unite behind one person in 2004.
LINDSAY: I did see generational differences, Terry, in what I studied. Survey research shows that 70 percent of evangelicals don’t identify with the religious right. So the idea of trying to take back America [as a] Christian nation perhaps resonates for some of the movement leaders, but most of the people I interviewed who were under age 50 didn’t see themselves principally as culture warriors. Because of that, they have different goals, different ambitions, and different concerns.
GREEN: Unfortunately, it’s my sad duty to bring this discussion to a close. I’d like to offer a special thanks to Hanna Rosin, who wrote a great book called God’s Harvard; hope you all go out and read it. And also to Michael Lindsay for being with us; his book is Faith in the Halls of Power, also a wonderful book.
This transcript has been edited for clarity, spelling and grammar by Andrea Useem.