As if on cue, Gabe Lyons and Jonathan Merritt have reminded everyone that conservative evangelicals are leaderless and losing influence.  The story practically writes itself at this point, which I guess means I am working way too hard.

While the evangelical/Republican alliance has always been far more tenuous than most people think, the narrative that evangelicals are exploring their political options is precisely what Republicans need to not take them for granted.  And evangelical leaders apparently aren’t waiting until Mitt Romney is appointed heir apparent to raise the specter of a third party.  Charles Colson has already done so, presumably with 2012 in mind.

The real story, though, is that the evangelical left is waking up to the reality that after they were so heavily courted for their votes in 2008, they have been practically ignored by the ruling party.  Here’s Richard Cizik, former President of the National Association of Evangelicals:

President Obama had the opportunity to construct a new public agenda that included evangelicals, those evangelicals who could agree with his broad agenda: of the concern for the environment, the poor, all these different issues. So Obama had the opportunity and in so many ways dropped the ball. There is no other way to describe it.

And here’s Jim Wallis:

There was very little values narrative in this election. And there was almost no attention to the faith community and its concerns. But the issues we face now are profoundly moral questions. We have work to do.

Evangelicals have always been used for their votes and for very little else.  And that clearly hasn’t changed now that the evangelical left is the movement du jour.   But waking up to that reality has to be rather difficult for Wallis et al., especially since the administration has taken on some of their issues the past two years.  Health care, finance reform, cap and trade–these are projects that the evangelical left has a serious interest in, so it really can’t be a good sign for them if they are starting to feel ignored.

Evangelicals may be at a political crossroads, but both paths lead to the same irrelevant end.  I suspect as conservative evangelical leaders realize that their concerns are being ignored there will be more chatter about backing a third party effort in 2012.  It’s posturing, of course, but the optimistic reading for conservative evangelicals is that the Tea Party’s organization will make such threats just plausible enough to keep Republicans honest.

Either way, get ready for another round of evangelical moaning about our lack of political influence.  Only this time, our chorus will have a few new voices.

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Posted by Matthew Lee Anderson

Matthew Lee Anderson is the Founder and Lead Writer of Mere Orthodoxy. He is the author of Earthen Vessels: Why Our Bodies Matter to our Faith and The End of Our Exploring: A Book about Questioning and the Confidence of Faith. Follow him on Twitter or on Facebook.


  1. As my colleague Ray Nothstine noted, Jim Wallis is really missing the proper way to frame what happened yesterday. He should be claiming victory instead of bemoaning the “libertarian” Tea Partiers.

    As David Brody writes (HT): “…conservative Evangelicals see fiscal issues as moral issues.”

    Hasn’t Wallis been claiming that “budgets are moral documents” ad infinitum? Isn’t this what Wallis wanted?


  2. “The story practically writes itself at this point, which I guess means I am working way too hard.”

    ROFL. Wow. Me too, by the way. I’m working too hard AND apparently in the wrong industry. So sad… Really.


  3. Christopher Benson November 4, 2010 at 1:03 pm

    “Conservative evangelicals are leaderless.”

    True or False? If false, who are the leaders?

    If former White House insiders Michael Gerson and Peter Wehner are correct, the Religious Right is done. They claim: “Many conservative Christians are looking for a new model of social engagement; they want their leaders to display a lighter touch, a less desperate and anxious spirit, and a more gracious tone.” I wonder if this new model will be more horizontal than vertical in its leadership, more like a priesthood of believers than a cult of personalities.


  4. Christopher,

    This is a good question. I wholeheartedly expect new leaders to emerge at some point, but they’ll come from the fringes, rather than the centers of the evangelical world….just like JDH says in To Change the World. : )



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