On my bloggingheads show last week, I spoke with Lydia Bean, author of The Politics of Evangelical Identity, an ethnographic study of four congregations, two (one evangelical and one Pentecostal) in the United States, and the other two (also one evangelical and one Pentecostal) in Canada. In the book, Bean, who is now a strategist for the PICO National Network, argues that white evangelical political identity in the United States is formed not (as is often the stereotype) by a top-down strategy of conservative pastors telling congregants how to vote, but rather through reinforcement of ideals of what makes a “good” Christian through lay leaders, para-church organizations, and ministries both within and without the church.
It’s a very interesting read, particularly the comparisons between the American and Canadian congregations. For example, while many white conservative evangelicals in the U.S. oppose Obamacare, Bean found that Canadian white evangelicals are very fond of their nationalized health care. The reasons for this, Bean explains, have a lot to do with political persuasion outside the American church, and in particular from business interests who found useful allies in religious leaders who helped define American evangelicalism as being against a government-provided social safety net. That’s not a view inherent to evangelicalism, though, as Bean found in the Canadian experience.
What lessons lie in Bean’s findings for political organizers seeking to mobilize progressive faith communities, which have “thinner” identity formation than their white evangelical counterparts? Bean has some suggestions, which include reaching deeper into blue collar and Latino communities, as well as some potent criticisms of Democrats’ “wooden” faith outreach. Watch: