One, the “evangelical bloc” is not what it used to be. Until recently the bloc (as politicians saw it) was mostly white, middle-aged, and infused with a syncretistic American civil religion. Yes, they were pro-life (a good thing), pro-family (also good), and for religious liberty (another good thing) but too often equated Americanism with Christianity and militarism with biblical conviction. The evangelical today is still pro-life and pro-traditional family. She recognizes, however, that “seeking first the kingdom of God” does not mean living the American Way of Life, much less necessitate vitriolic nationalism. She does not immediately buy into popular versions of American exceptionalism (as exceptional as we truly may be).
The newer (younger?) evangelical also has a more balanced (and biblical) concern for the environment, for economic inequalities and opportunities, for immigrants seeking to be part of the American dream, for speaking to pro-life and pro-family issues with both conviction and kindness, and so on. They are less concerned about “holding on” to some idealized golden past than they are with being part of God’s mission in the world in spite of temporal partisan politics. They appreciate the past, but realize that biblical Christianity is forward looking. Politicians will continue to speak to the old bloc, still large and important, but diminishing in size and influence.
Two, the pandering has all too often become fake, cynical, and transparent (can you spell Trump?). Politicians, don’t tell us what you think you want us to hear, just tell us the truth about all your beliefs, your stands, your values, your convictions, and what you will do. Yes, some do, and all should, regardless of whether or not they are speaking to evangelicals (but that may be too much to ask). Having said all that, this is exactly why political outsiders lead in the polls. They are speaking more truthfully (I didn’t say absolutely truthfully) more often than politicians usually do. Not that I agree with all they say, but their popularity is understandable. The other establishment guys should learn something from this; but apparently they aren’t.
Three, evangelicals have been burned too many times. The Religious Right married the Republican Party. Certainly, the Republicans lined up more with evangelicals than Democrats did, but that marriage meant we lost too much of our prophetic voice. We need to regain it. We especially need to regain it because the Republican presidential candidate of 2024 will be pro-choice and pro-gay marriage. If not, he/she will not be elected. Think about it. If the demographic changes of the last five years stay the course . . . just think about it.
Four, and most importantly, evangelicals are more and more setting partisan politics and nationalistic tendencies aside and asking “what is the comprehensive biblical view as it relates to all these issues?” That is, not just “what does the Bible say about abortion and gay marriage, but what does it say (and how can we apply it) about poverty, war, immigration, gun violence, crime, and all other kinds of social issues?” That is, many of us need to move beyond simple favorite verses to doing the hard work of biblical theology. Of course these are not new questions and going to Scripture is not a new tactic! There is, however, a new desire on the part of evangelicals to take into account the whole counsel of Scripture and apply it to all social, political, and economic issues, not just to the most egregious moral ones. Yes, it is hard work! (Warning: shameless plug. See my growing feeble efforts here www.christoculture.com/flight-plan-for-21st-c.html).
Now, I am just an old, white, middle-class evangelical myself. I have voted against more candidates than for any over the last couple of decades. I still struggle with how to be politically aware, concerned, and involved (as I believe we should be) without being sucked into partisan ideologies and politicking. Besides, I may have completely misread all this! I do know, however, that I am tired of overly simplistic answers from pandering politicians to serious and complicated issues.
I want – really want – to think and act biblically and theologically in my politics. I am more interested than ever in having a kingdom vision of reality and not simply an American vision. Am I patriotic? Yes. Do I want to see America “great again”? Of course. I think the big issue is how we define “great.” Hasn’t that been part of our political struggles for over two hundred years?