Vail Daily column: Why a majority of evangelicals vote Republican
White Protestant evangelicals continue to vote solidly Republican. In recent mid-term elections, these Christians endorsed the GOP’s candidates by a whopping 78 percent-20 percent margin. This voting pattern mirrors how evangelicals overwhelmingly preferred Mitt Romney, John McCain and George W. Bush in the last presidential elections.
Michael Barone, senior political analyst for the Washington Examiner and resident fellow at the American Enterprise Institute, puts into perspective how the GOP dominates evangelicals’ vote. Their mid-term ballots show “a Republican margin that amounts to 15 percent of the total electorate — more than the Democratic margins Mr. Obama got from African-Americans. Nearly 40 years ago, white evangelicals were voting for fellow believer Jimmy Carter,” observes Barone. “Now, they’re a key part of the Republican coalition” (The Wall Street Journal, “A Political Age of Minor Change,” Nov. 8-9)
What motivates white evangelicals to rubbers tamp the GOP’s agenda? Some older men feel uneasy because the U.S. is losing its Protestant heritage. Reasons for conservative Christians aligning with the GOP go deeper, however. In the evangelical DNA there’s a view of the future that meshes with the GOP’s conservative values.
Survey the latter third of the 19th century to uncover religious roots that feed evangelicals’ identity with today’s Republican Party. Start with evangelicals’ expectations for Christ’s return to Earth. During the four Sundays prior to Christmas, Christian communities observe Advent Season. Advent is derived from Latin and means “an arrival, a coming, an appearance.” Christians anticipate Christ’s coming in three ways: He came as a baby to Bethlehem; he comes to enliven contemporary Christians and he will come at history’s climax to right wrongs and usher in a peaceful 1,000-year reign — the Millennium.
During Advent in the Middle Ages, Roman Catholic priests concentrated on Christ’s coming again to wrap up history. On the four Sundays prior to Christmas, they preached on the themes of heaven, hell, God’s Judgment of humanity and Christ’s second coming.
Though no longer tied to this preaching scheme, some white evangelical Christians are fixated on learning precise details about end times — when Christ will appear at history’s climax. Methodist and Pentecostal Christians in the 1870s attended Bible camps in England and the U.S. where speakers spun timelines of history’s culmination.
These believers shivered in fear as a dark future loomed. Like today’s doomsayers, they behaved like cuttlefish which, when unable to escape a dangerous situation, blacken the surrounding waters and sink into the muck.
Timelines rehearsed in evangelical churches today predict chaos around the corner. Their end-times stories spotlight a cauldron of natural disasters. Terrorists stir up global wars. Liberal churches don’t save believers from this mess because they have sold out on the Gospel. The nation of Israel is attacked. An Antichrist lurks in shadows, creating havoc. Christians are rescued from this mess in the nick of time. Christ returns to elevate believers into the air. At the end, God’s chosen are raptured — spirited away from human misery on earth.
During the Roaring ’20s and Great Depression of the 1930s, evangelical Christians aligned social trends with their biblical timeline of chaos prior to Christ’s return. They distrusted President Franklin Delano Roosevelt who sided with unions. Evangelicals believed striking laborers acted like Bolsheviks bent on destroying America. To fight these immoral forces, many conservative Protestants during the Great Depression sided with corporations, which pitted free enterprise against socialism.
During the Great Depression, evangelicals hated liquor and loved Prohibition. When Al Smith, a Manhattan Roman Catholic and the 1928 Democratic presidential candidate wanted to repeal Prohibition, many conservative Protestants became ardent Republicans. In 1932, Franklin Delano Roosevelt leaned toward the “wet” agenda. He flexed government’s muscle to repeal Prohibition, which many “dry” Protestants judged as evil.
You sense where history is careening. Evangelicals heard end-time sermons in which Stalin was the Antichrist, aided by that dictating socialist Roosevelt who camouflaged his Leninism.
Fast-forward U.S. history. Evangelical support for the Republican Party escalates. These believers continued to be wary of government’s overreaching, which puts poor folks on the dole. Conservative Protestants supported a political ideology that prepared them for Christ’s imminent return. Christ’s future earthly kingdom looks similar to what Republicans stand for: limited government, free enterprise and religious freedom that fends off socialism.
It’s highly suspect to rip biblical passages from their ancient contexts and treat them as revelations unfolding in 2014. Moreover, end-time prophecies concocted in the 1870s haven’t come true. And finally, the Bible warns doomsayers not to set a specific time for future events to unfold. “But of that day (when Christ returns) or that hour no one knows, not even the angels in heaven…” (Mark 13:32).
End-times historian Matthew Avery Sutton, in “American Apocalypse: A History of Modern Evangelicalism,” traces the relationships between predicting the future and current GOP loyalty. This combination of evangelicals’ fixation on future catastrophes with conservative politics steers their vote. Sutton shows how this dynamic shapes older, white, male evangelical priorities with “the urgency, the absolute morals, the passion to right the world’s wrongs and the refusal to compromise,” — earmarks of right-wing GOP politics.
The Rev. Dr. Jack R. Van Ens is a Presbyterian minister who heads the nonprofit, tax exempt Creative Growth Ministries (www.thelivinghistory.com), which enhances Christian worship through dynamic storytelling and dramatic presentations aimed to make God’s history come alive.
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