The American Interest
Analysis by Walter Russell Mead & Staff
The End of the Religious Right?

Andrew Sullivan and Damon Linker may soon have to find a new intellectual bugaboo. On The Immanent Frame, Marcia Pally rounds up recent data on America’s evangelical population showing that millennials are increasingly disenchanted with the culture wars:

Recent trends point to another political transformation within this community—to those evangelicals who have left the right, moving toward an anti-militarist, anti-consumerist focus on poverty relief, environmental protection, and immigration reform, and on coalition-building and more issue-by-issue policy assessment (more Democrat on environment, for instance, and more Republican on abortion).

These “new evangelicals,” as Richard Cizik, head of The New Evangelical Partnership for the Common Good, calls them, are neither small in number nor elite. By 2004, devout Christians whose activism differs from that of the religious right came to 24 percent of the US population.

Pally puts this number in the context of increasing support for gay marriage, legal abortion, and government aid among younger evangelicals. Sixty-five percent of evangelicals ages 18–30 favor more government spending on social programs, and opposition to civil union laws in 2009 was 57 percent and falling.

In some ways, this shift isn’t as dramatic as it might first appear. Even though younger evangelicals are increasingly walking away from the religious right, they are still self-identifying as Republicans (54 percent) more than Democrats (26 percent). Younger Christians still agree with the religious right on the issues but reject the movement’s tactics, tone, and narrow focus on social issues.

Pally discusses new ways evangelicals are trying to achieve the goals of the religious right, as well as to expand the scope of these goals. Though they still grudgingly vote Republican, they’re moving past the old strategy of loyal Republican activism in return for federal political favors. On abortion, for example, Pally’s younger evangelicals are shifting their energy from seeking a change in federal abortion law to helping local pregnant women who feel like poverty gives them no choice but to abort.

These trends are encouraging. American religion is known for its ability to reinvent itself. American Christianity will have to leave behind its culture war baggage if it wishes to attract the younger generation.

Published on January 22, 2013 2:00 pm