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).

Print Friendly, PDF & Email

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. The libertarian image is certainly overwrought, but it’s there for a reason.

    The reason is that the libertarians always jump out in front and try to take credit for movements that have few of their members.

    Breitbart is a big supporter of gay rights. When he realizes that the Tea Party consists primarily of people who disagree with him on that issues, he’ll dump the movement and move on to the next thing.


  2. Thanks for sharing Dougherty’s article. For me the most helpful assessment he made was in the closing lines:

    Christian conservatives haven’t abandoned their social issues—they’ve enfolded foreign and fiscal policy into their ongoing culture war. Their worldview has as much to say about war, healthcare reform, and tax rates as it does about unborn children and homeschooling.

    What all this means for a Christian theory of political engagement, in the long run, appears to be more theological/philosophical consistency within our own system of thought(which is a very good thing) in addition to acknowledging the moral dimension of issues such as debt, foreign policy, and the like. Obviously debt and abortion are not on the same moral plane, but they are both deserving of the title of moral issues, which just further explains the phenomena that Dougherty is addressing here.


    1. Matthew Lee Anderson May 17, 2011 at 8:26 pm

      I agree. This trajectory started *at least* six years ago, when Tony Perkins defined ‘values voters’ at the summit of that name and included both foreign defense and economic policy. I remember it very distinctly, as I thought it was something of a surprise.



  3. Dougherty’s position is certainly reflective of Pew’s new typology. It seems some folks are finally catching on to the fact that Evangelicals aren’t a bunch of liberals “duped” into voting GOP by abortion and gay marriage (as Thomas Frank would have us believe).

    That said, Evangelical views on foreign policy are much more complex than Dougherty would make out. Yes Evangelicals approve of the US-Israeli alliance, but that doesn’t mean they can’t think out of Bill Kristol’s box.

    Palin’s neoconservative apostasy may be a leading indicator.


    1. Matthew Lee Anderson May 17, 2011 at 8:24 pm

      Really well put, Keith, and thanks for commenting! I agree evangelical foreign policy is more diverse than Dougherty granted, but I also am not quite as critical toward the neocons as he is.


Leave a reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *