Saturday's Greenville News article on young evangelicals suggests they have different priorities than their elders. Fascinating! We can make some important political converts in this group, I think.
Some excerpts from Ben Szobody's in-depth piece titled, No presidential candidate has excited young evangelicals:
It’s not the loudest group of voters, but the fate of the 2012 presidential race and even the future fortunes of the Republican Party may partly hinge on a swelling group of independents loosely defined as young evangelical Christians.This is fabulous news!
Polls and people in tune with the generation say many in the group find themselves politically adrift, amid a bitter campaign that so far features very few of their concerns.
In a shift that may seem radical in the framework of left-right politics, some voted for Barack Obama in 2008 and now support Ron Paul. They may have wanted to transcend partisan politics four years ago and now feel that pulling back on government is the best option left, say a sampling of voters and those who work with them.
The group doesn’t tend to vote in primaries, and the current field of Republicans is seldom touching on their vital subjects. But to lose their vote may mean to lose a generation for good, Christian and political figures say.
“I think a lot of young evangelicals are going to feel politically homeless,” said Tim King, communications director for the social justice group Sojourners who himself fits the demographic.
For his generation, King said abortion matters but the concern for children now includes issues such as child trafficking, mercury levels that affect fetuses, the spread of AIDS and clean water access.
These problems may rope in some big political solutions: social safety nets, churches doing more and a focus on a person’s individual behavior.
One of the problems with young evangelicals that I have noticed, is an easily-offended sensibility. Kids from evangelical and/or home-schooled backgrounds (and due to Bob Jones University, a home-schooler hub, we have a PARCEL of them represented locally, so I know whereof I speak) have been raised in a sequestered environment. They are not allowed to watch TV at BJU, for example; similarly, lots of the home-schooled kids have been extremely overprotected. When they get out into the real world, it can be overwhelming and confusing.
I see this disparity between the young and old evangelicals, as resulting from their experiences in being in sudden contact with liberal Christians, non-Christians and mass-culture in general. The realizations come fast and furious: Wait, how can we be anti-abortion without caring about what actually happens to children after they are born? This starts them thinking in all kinds of new political ways, as they see what Cardinal Bernardin called "the seamless garment"--the concept that "life issues" include war, poverty, the environment, immigration and other global concerns.
Across the nation this week, 53 percent of Republicans were more enthusiastic about voting than usual, compared to 45 percent of Democrats, Gallup reported. But among voters ages 18 to 29, enthusiasm fell by 28 percent since 2008, and by 21 percent among 30- to 49-year-olds.
There’s been little political polling since 2008 focused on young Christians in particular, though a new book by Barna Group President David Kinnaman describes the top reasons many are veering from traditional churches and their positions.
Nearly a quarter of 18- to 29-year olds said Christians “demonize everything outside the church,” while 22 percent said the church is “ignoring the problems of the real world.”
It’s not necessarily that young Christians are apathetic, or less concerned about moral causes than their parents, or disillusioned after voting for Obama, say voters themselves and those attentive to their concerns.
Instead, they say many have a much broader view of how to change society after the Religious Right generation that preceded them. Politics is just a piece, and abortion is just one of the important social issues in play.
“The reality is, there are a lot of people who are actually thinking more broadly about these concerns,” said Paul Blumer, an active churchgoer, owner of Streetside Catering and president of Food for Life, a ministry that feeds the homeless at Triune Mercy Center near downtown Greenville.
He’s frustrated with his voting options but is part of a segment of young Christians who see the poor as their urgent, long-ignored cause. He’s currently trying to get a homeless man and his three children out of a hotel and into a home with another family.
“Here’s what people said to me when I took this on,” Blumer said. “‘You better call DSS.’ And I thought, what is going on with us? Why is it that we continue this constant shrugging of our responsibility as Christians off to government agencies, putting our trust in them as if they will perform the duties that will save these children’s lives?”
Among the current GOP candidates, Blumer likes Ron Paul’s libertarianism but knows he’s unlikely to win and dislikes the way Paul himself is treated as a savior.Daisy winks, that might not be such a bad thing. Some of us think their dogmatic conservativism may have an unintended positive benefit: they will drive the kids away and ultimately self-destruct. (Some already can't get away fast enough.)
“The Republican Party has terrible problems in this area,” said Brent Nelsen, a political science professor at Furman University, a former statewide Republican candidate for office and a founding member of Redeemer Presbyterian Church. “They’re not appealing to the demographics that are growing.”
This includes both young and Hispanic voters, Nelsen said, noting that Obama retains a big advantage among youths, though the Republican Party has recovered some of them since 2008.
The Republican candidates for president, by questioning Obama’s theology or making clear appeals on traditional moral grounds, are talking to “old-school” conservatives who vote in primary elections, he said.
Meanwhile, the “peace-and-justice” movement in evangelical churches is growing, and voting habits tend to lock in during a person’s younger years, Nelsen and King said.
“We’re not talking about the end of the Republican Party as we know it,” he said, adding that the demographic is still relatively small.
Still, if Republicans don’t address what young Christians care about — such as human trafficking or AIDS in Africa — both Nelsen and King say the party risks losing them for good.
Szobody claims these young people have "a different view of how Christians interact with culture.":
King lays out the timeline this way: The social gospel movement of the 1920s and 1930s aimed at transforming institutions, which was followed by an emphasis on saving individual souls, and then the Religious Right generation sought to use politics as a tool. Preserving prayer in schools, the Ten Commandments in courthouses and “under God” in the pledge while fighting abortion and gay marriage were their causes.As I said, fascinating. Hoping some of the disaffected will show up at our Occupy events... hey, we got MOVIES, yall!
Now, King describes a Christian generation that sees everything from art to writing to building stronger neighborhoods as ways to change others’ view of the world and be a witness for Christ. This effort encompasses environmental concerns, a compassionate approach to immigration and a focus on poverty.
This broader set of interests means that young Christians are often very conservative on the matter of abortion, for instance, but don’t vote on that single issue, King said. They might urge a young woman not to have an abortion, but then question whether the church is prepared to support her and her child.
It’s not a generation exposed to major social movements like the civil rights effort, but he said Occupy Wall Street seems to have hit this nerve: For the first time, they were pushing a cause, their friends were on the news and the world was paying attention.
For the Christians in the crowd, King said a shift from Obama in 2008 to Paul this year isn’t as large as it may seem. They believe Paul is the guy who would end the wars, and is serious about ending the collusion between big business and government — issues Obama underscored in the last election.
Nelsen knows friends who have gone from Obama to Paul, and he said they thought Obama favored personal freedoms but see his actions in office as reliant on the state. That makes Paul the new choice.
Blumer’s view is decidedly libertarian, and he blames “RINOs”* for failing to take up important social causes. In the general election, he said he may write in Paul’s name, or “Jesus Christ.”
Given the options, it’s always a risk that young Christians may not vote, King said.
Still, he said it’s no accident that after 40,000 college students raised $3.3 million to fight modern-day slavery at a January conference in Atlanta, Obama mentioned the effort in his remarks at the National Prayer Breakfast.
“President Obama has an opportunity to make the case, but it’s not a done deal,” he said.
Among the youth overall, Obama currently polls well ahead of both Santorum and Mitt Romney.
Meanwhile, Republicans have to think to the future, Nelsen said, noting the conservative student groups on Furman’s campus have split into Republican and libertarian camps.
“The young people are up for grabs, ideologically, and I don’t think either party has figured out how they’re going to handle this libertarian wave,” he said.
We hope to see some of you politically-aware young evangelicals. Your input and participation is welcome!
Stay tuned, sports fans.
*RINO= Republican In Name Only. (They refer to libertarians and liberals.)