The Corner

How Conservative Is the Evangelical Base?

My ACLJ colleague Jordan Sekulow’s Washington Post piece making the case for Christian support for immigration enforcement reminded me of a disturbing but very real trend in American evangelicalism — a perceptible drift left on economic freedom, immigration, and the environment.

The drift is most obvious amongst young people. In recent years, I’ve spoken to thousands of young evangelicals, and skepticism of free-market economics is at an all-time high. Many have read books by Ron Sider or Shane Claiborne or have seen Jim Wallis in campus debates speaking in defense of our nation’s drift towards European economic and social models. Others uncritically accept environmental alarmism and see the green movement not as a competing religion (which it often is) but instead as a model for so-called environmental stewardship.

My fears were confirmed at a recent conference where analysts were breaking down the voting behavior of counties by religious composition. Regarding life, the more evangelical a county, the greater its tendency to support the pro-life cause. The progression was, in fact, dramatic. Regarding economic freedom, on the other hand, while the more evangelical counties did ultimately tend to support the free market, the difference was well within the margin of error.

In other words, the evangelical community is convinced on life. Economics? Not so much.

Why? Because optics matter. When progressive Christians address evangelicals, they wear their concern for the poor on their sleeve. They convincingly cite the vast number of scripture passages commanding believers to care for the “least of these,” and they’re quite effective at pointing to the BMWs in the parking lot even as they show slides of abject poverty in Africa. Market defenders speak the rhetoric of prosperity. Progressives speak the rhetoric of compassion. (Not to beat a dead horse, but that’s certainly one reason by George Bush coined “compassionate conservativism.”)

Some Christians are starting to push back, and by and large social conservatives are still small-government conservatives, but there are cracks in the foundation. We can’t simply assume that the new generation of evangelical voters understands the historical power of economic freedom to lift millions (indeed billions) out of poverty. We can’t assume that Christians exposed to years of environmentalist propaganda can understand the very real economic, theological, and cultural dangers of accepting junk science and elevating creation over Creator. At the end of the day, there are profound consequences to ceding our educational institutions to the Left and the rhetorical high ground to socialists.