It’s hard out there for conservative evangelicals

Interesting piece in the NYT profiling religious conservatives in Iowa.  I do have some sympathy, as the ground really has shifted amazingly fast under their feet:

The change in America seemed to happen so quickly that it felt like whiplash, the Odgaards said. One day they felt comfortably situated in the American majority, as Christians with shared beliefs in God, family and the Bible. They had never even imagined that two people of the same sex could marry.

Overnight, it seemed, they discovered that even in small-town Iowa they were outnumbered, isolated and unpopular. Everyone they knew seemed to have a gay relative or friend. Mr. Odgaard’s daughter from his first marriage disavowed her father’s actions on Facebook, and his gay second cousin will not speak to him. Even their own Mennonite congregation put out a statement saying that while their denomination opposes gay marriage, “not every congregation” or Mennonite does. Mrs. Odgaard, 64, the daughter of a Mennonite minister, was devastated.

“It all flipped, so fast,” said Mr. Odgaard, a patrician 70-year-old who favors khakis and boat shoes. “Suddenly, we were in the minority. That was kind of a scary feeling. It makes you wonder where the Christians went.”

Of course, there’s still plenty of Christians (though the number is declining).  Most of them are just more tolerant.  But, I can certainly see how it would be disorienting.  That said, stuff like this (although a paraphrase rather than a quote, just kills me):

While other Americans are anxious about the economy, jobs and terrorism, conservative Christians say they fear for the nation’s very soul. Some worry that the nation has strayed so far that God’s punishment is imminent.

Give me a break?  How about how a nation treats it’s poor, disadvantaged, and prisoners instead of how it treats it’s gay people??!!  I seem to recall the Jesus saying just a wee bit more about the former.  Have these people actually read the Gospels?  You know who treats the poor, disadvantaged, and prisoners really well?  Scandinavians.  And hardly any of them are actually practicing Christians. And God has not exactly wreaked vengeance upon Denmark.  Please, spare me your concern for “the nation’s soul.”

About Steve Greene
Professor of Political Science at NC State

5 Responses to It’s hard out there for conservative evangelicals

  1. rgbact says:

    Yes, reality TV America is great for the gays and transgenders. Downside is its also great for Trump. The liberals at the NYT still don’t see the connection. One day liberals will wake up to realize that a culture based on pop culture has it drawbacks.

  2. Mike in Chapel Hill says:

    My sympathy for people who think the bible is inerrant, the earth is young, and God is going to punish those who think otherwise is exactly zero.

  3. ohwilleke says:

    “Of course, there’s still plenty of Christians (though the number is declining). Most of them are just more tolerant.”

    Certainly there are still plenty of Christians. Certainly the percentage of people who are Christian are declining (it is also probably true that the number is decline although it is a closer thing in the case of absolute numbers of Christians because the population is growing so you can hold steady the number of Christians while losing market share).

    I am not convinced, however, that “Most of them are just more tolerant.”

    In a nutshell, the trend of the last several decades has been for mainline Christian denominations to be a candle burning at both ends. They are losing market share to Evangelical Christian denominations and they are also losing market share to the ranks of the non-religious and also in not insignificant numbers to non-Christian faiths (Islam, Buddhism, etc.).

    Overwhelmingly, people who leave Christianity, whatever their original denomination was, are more tolerant and more liberal than those who remain in the faith. Furthermore, when people convert from mainline Christianity to Roman Catholicism or Evangelical denomination of Christianity, or from Roman Catholicism to an Evangelical denomination, the converts tend to become more conservative and intolerant without making the existing members of the denomination more liberal and tolerant.

    Each of these trends, on average, tend to make the average person in shrinking pool of Christians less tolerant.

    There are a few trends that could increase tolerance, but it isn’t clear that they actually do:

    * The people who leave mainline denominations for Roman Catholicism or Evangelical Christianity tend to be the more conservative members of those denominations, so their departure makes the remaining mainline denominations more tolerant. Sometimes this allows them to take concrete steps (like accepting gay clergy) that institutionally express more tolerance; sometimes institutional expressions of more tolerance push conservatives in the denominations out and into Evangelical Christian denominations. It isn’t clear that this makes Christianity as a whole more tolerant on average, but it probably has made many mainline denominations (which are shrinking at astonishing and highly persistent rates) more tolerant.

    * Young adults who were born into Evangelical Christianity and are staying there are more tolerant on many issues, like gay rights and interracial marriage, than the older generation in the same denominations, while still remaining steadfastly conservative overall. Over time this will make Christianity more tolerant (although Evangelical Christian denominations are now also losing market share).

    * A lot of church communities within the Evangelical Christian fold have rebranded themselves and not describe themselves as non-denominational Christian churches (often megachurches), rather than continuing to have an identity with historical conservative Evangelical Christian denominations like the Southern Baptist Convention or the Assemblies of God. This makes it harder to quickly and superficially reach conclusions about how tolerant those Christian communities are, and often, part of the purpose of the rebranding is to de-emphasize, without totally abandoning, intolerant policies and stereotypes associated with Evangelical denominations. Hence, a church may still take an anti-gay stance if a parishioner presses a clergyman to discuss the issue, but may make a deliberate decision to simply not talk about that issue very often rather than frequently discussing it and prominently noting the position in widely distributed materials as many conservative Evangelical denominations do. On the other hand, other “non-denominational” churches take more extremely intolerant positions that all but a handful of conservative Evangelical denominations did because the denominational standards are no longer holding them back.

    Ultimately, this provides a route by which Evangelical Christianity could moderate quietly over time, but it is still a bit early to tell how this dynamic will ultimately play out and how it will interact with the generational trend towards tolerance. I suspect that one of the better predictors of the tolerance level of a non-denominational church is the age of its clergy and of the leaders within its founding group of parishioner-members. Non-denominational churches led by younger people are probably more tolerant on average.

  4. R. Jenrette says:

    Those who are not associated with organized religion or even a specific church are not necessarily non believers. Many are but many others think that the Sermon on the Mount is the only direction they need.

  5. Jon K says:

    I’m sorry, but I refuse to allow conservative evangelicals to have the deciding vote on what it means to be a Christian. There are many Christians who I think offer an interpretation of the faith starkly at odds with the conservative evangelical take on the religion among my favorites Tolstoy, Adam Hamilton (, and Jesus.

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