Is the political evangelical a mythical creature? It’s become a truism and a source of angst that non-Christians see the evangelical church as too political. But Mark Chaves points to a survey that says white mainline Protestants, black Protestants and Roman Catholic are overall more politically active than white evangelicals:

Odd, given the image. Andrew Sullivan weighs in, quoting Joe Carter, who says “the typical reaction at the grassroots level to almost every political initiative in the ‘religious right’ is “lot’s of talk; little to no action.”

Let’s aside the eternally tedious “young evangelical” and look at the old evangelical, whose emotional needs get much less attention. It’s true. When I really think about it, not a lot of the white conservative evangelicals I know are all that politically involved. They vote Republican, of course. They get CitizenLink emails but don’t call the Congressmen like it tells them to. I don’t know anyone who went and rallied against health care. They sympathize with Tea Partiers but have never rallied there, either. They’re pro-life, but that basically means voting Republican.

However, when I look at my own parents and their friends, the nature of their political involvement has changed. They used to be the pro-life crusaders who picketed the abortion clinics, who went to the state capitol and lobbied for pro-family legislation. My parents are still politically involved (unlike most of their friends) but it is now all for the Republican Party, not for individual causes like marriage or abortion.

I’m wondering if the “old evangelicals” are actually a little politically disillusioned with the fervent grassroots marching of their younger days. I interviewed someone recently about the arc of the pro-life movement, and he told me that in its nascent stages, people genuinely believed they would see the end of Roe v. Wade by the end of the decade. Now, two decades and three Republican presidents later, Roe is still here and its overturning seems more like a dream–a cry to rally the spirits of the flagging troops–than something the average evangelical really believes he will see.

I am avidly reading James Davison Hunter’s new book, To Change the World: The Irony, Tragedy and Possibility of Christianity in the Late Modern World. He explores the theme of “will to power” and how both liberal and conservative Christians pursue it. In doing so, “they become functional Nietzscheans, participating in the very cultural breakdown they so ardently strive to resist.”

I wonder if this shift in political engagement–from grassroots activism to party politics for some–is a sign of a shift in the way some Christians view power. It is, after all, a change in believing in the power of deeply committed individuals marching on Washington, to believing in the power of a connected, networked, funded party machine.

About The Author

Alisa Harris

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