Michael Brendan Dougherty, who offered one of the better formulated essays in this volume, has the latest analysis of evangelicals’ relationship with conservatism.
It’s popular to talk about defense conservatism, social conservatism, and fiscal conservatism as the three legs of the conservative stool, but Dougherty won’t have it:
In their activist fervor, their enthusiasm for the ideas, and their electoral clout, religious conservatives are the base of all three legs. White evangelical Protestants make up almost third of the total electorate, and four out of five of them vote Republican. The religious right is more convinced of American righteousness in the exercise of its military might than the neoconservatives are, and more invested than Wall Street in lower taxes.
I think Dougherty’s line that the Tea Party is simply the Religious Right “wearing a tricorn hat and talking about Obamacare” is a little off, even though it’s quite popular and has solid statistical backing. But if you look at the people who the Tea Party has made famous, like Andrew Breitbart or Dana Loesch, they are hardly religious right icons and are at best ambivalent about traditional religious right hobbyhorses. The libertarian image is certainly overwrought, but it’s there for a reason.
But there’s a lot that’s right in Dougherty’s piece as well, particularly this bit:
Will that always be the case? Polls of evangelicals under 29 saw a 15-point drop in party identification with Republicans between 2006 and 2008, which has since only barely recovered. And there are other traditions of political thought available to evangelicals—whether Lutheran or Calvinist—that have the power to reform their instinctive nationalism. But the road from political theory to policy is a long one. And a less united evangelical front would make Republican lawmakers even less responsive to Christian conservatives’ social agenda. The politics of abortion, meanwhile, continue to close off the Democratic Party for evangelicals who might want a new political home.
Dougherty nails the young evangelical’s dilemma, especially those who are sympathetic with many of the conclusions of our evangelical forbearers (even while occasionally wincing at their tone and manner of argument).