Liberal Evangelicals Growing, Unlike Their Coverage

The quiet disappearance of Mike Huckabee as a viable candidate for president has some people wondering: What’s up with religious right voters? The New York Times’ Peter Steinfels points out today that one important piece of the puzzle is missing: The exit pollsters often ask Republicans, but not Democrats, whether they are evangelical Christians. Why? Steinfels put the question to John C. Green—of course. Green is a fine scholar, though perhaps it’s unfortunate that when the question of religious right voting patterns comes up, he is so often the only expert on every reporter’s rolodex.

In this case, though (as so often), Green seems to get it right. He suggests that the pollsters are just good servants serving the masters who pay them, the mainstream news media. The MSM want to know about the impact of evangelicals on the GOP because it’s a familiar, long-running, and (let’s be honest) sexy story. The MSM have been making sure of that for three decades now. Even if evangelicals impact Democratic politics significantly, it’s not a “story,” so the MSM don’t really care.

This is especially curious this year for two reasons, at least. First, there is a growing liberal evangelical movement garnering lots of media attention. But its impact on politics is not getting enough attention. For example, did you hear about last week’s “Celebration of a New Baptist Covenant”? Nearly 15,000 people gathered to hear speakers including a few Democratic names you may just recognize: Jimmy Carter, Bill Clinton, Al Gore. Granted, for publicity purposes they could hardly have picked a worse time, just a few days before Super Bowl and Super Tuesday. Still, you’d think this would have been front page news [Look for a report from the Covenant later this week on ReligionDispatches].

Second, the largest part of the Democratic-voting evangelical Christian church in the United States is made up of African-Americans. There must be a very complicated story here about race, religion, and politics. Obama’s political fortunes depend largely on his ability to get the votes of evangelical African-Americans. Why don’t we have more covering that story? Were journalists to give that story the attention it deserves, the exit pollsters would, without a doubt, begin asking Democrats about their religious identity.