Monday, October 30, 2006

On Evangelicals

Busted Halo has a review of Peter Feurherd's book, "Holyland USA: A Catholic Ride through American's Evangelical Landscape."
“This center of evangelical kitsch next to Route 4 is the last place in the world a liberal New Yorker like me would ever imagine being,” Feuerherd writes, “But I’m here because there’s a phenomenon happening in this country, and here is one of the best places to study it.”

The phenomenon Feuerherd refers to is the decline of one religious group and the steady growth of two others. “America used to be considered a Protestant nation, meaning one dominated by old mainline denominations,” Feuerherd says. But their numbers and influence have declined, and now it’s evangelicals and Catholics who largely shape the national religious landscape.
For Catholics, this book provides an engaging guidebook to evangelicals that helpfully dispels some shopworn stereotypes. After attending multiple services at evangelical churches, Feuerherd says that while their preachers have a fire-and-brimstone reputation, “the reality is more Oprah,” with preachers drawing from America’s therapeutic, self-help culture for solutions to money and marriage woes. Readers might be surprised to learn that “politics is rarely discussed in such precincts,” and that “the stereotype of the evangelical as exclusively Middle American and Caucasian doesn’t hold.”
The review at least doesn't mention one very important, but often over-looked fact, that large number of American evangelicals (or rather, conservative Christians) are African American, who are, by and large, solidly Democratic. This latter fact is part of Andrew Greeley's new work, "The Truth about Conservative Christians," reviewed in the Oct. 20 issue of Commonweal (article online for subscribers only).
One of the reasons this book does not match most analyses of conservative Christians is that Greeley and Hout recognize what many other students of the subject don’t: a large number of theologically conservative Christians are African Americans, the nation’s most loyally Democratic group. Arguing that conservative Christianity is allied with conservative politics makes sense, they write, “only if you want to exclude Afro-American Christians from the ranks of the religiously conservative.” They continue: “But that is a groundless exclusion. Their ‘Evangelical’ credentials are as good as anyone else’s, in some cases marginally better.” Indeed.
As y'all know, all those years living in the South have really increased my respect for evangelical Christians. Then there's my involvement with the Evangelical Catholic movement. And of course, reading about that fellow, often described as a Catholic evangelical or an evangelical Catholic, Fr. Isaac T Hecker. I think we have a lot to learn from each other.

[As an interesting aside: a story in today's Christianity Today online talks about the upcoming PA Senate election. You know, Catholic vs. Catholic. Casey vs. Santorum. Except, it's part of a series profiling "races where evangelicals play a decisive role." I think they mean evangelical voters. But it's interesting to think that they might be referring to Sen. Santorum (I doubt they'd use the same terminology for Bob Casey Jr.)]

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