Is The Era Of Evangelicals Over?

Surveying the political landscape, Steven P. Miller finds it “tempting to say yes” to that question. He interprets the Christian Right’s emphasis on religious liberty in the face of defeats on issues like same-sex marriage as evidence they’ve “abandoned the pretense of being a moral majority”:

Social conservatives (evangelical or otherwise) are no longer only battling liberal elites. They are contending with a growing real majority of Americans who either vigorously disagree with them or do not see what the fuss is all about. These Americans have long separated their workplaces from their places of worship. They likewise assume the separation of church and health care (notwithstanding the names of their neighborhood hospitals). Some of them support increased access to contraception precisely because they are uncomfortable with abortion.

Many evangelicals affirm these common-sense approaches, of course. The Christian Right does not represent them; in most cases, it never did. Now, though, evangelical conservatives are having a harder time getting away with claiming to speak for all evangelicals, never mind for Christians as a whole.

We are witnessing the public de-coupling of “evangelical” from “Christian” when it comes to politics. Born-again Christianity is no longer the standard against which religion’s role in public life is measured. This is a pivot from forty years of Carter, Falwell, Robertson, and Dobson, and it seems unlikely to be reversed anytime soon.

This assessment might explain Albert Mohler’s recent statement at the Southern Baptist Convention’s annual meeting that America “is embracing a horrifying moral rebellion that is transforming our culture before our very eyes.” Ruth Graham’s unpacks his comment:

To be fair, that’s a line that could have been used at just about time in the SBC’s 169-year history. And “embattled minority” is a treasured pose for many participants in the culture wars, no matter how powerful or popular they happen to be. But the United States really is undergoing a moral revolution on certain sexuality issues the SBC considers crucial: support for gay marriage has grown by almost 20 percentage points since the turn of the millennium, for example. The “transgender tipping point” just made the cover of Time. Conservative Christians will likely discussing these issues for years to come, but it may be only a matter of time before they’re simply talking to themselves.

This is a challenging time for the Southern Baptist Convention. A few weeks ago, the denomination released its annual “church profile” that revealed membership numbers declined for the seventh year in a row. Baptisms, a key measure of health for a denomination whose very name reflects the importance of the practice, declined for the second year in a row, with a quarter of all SBC churches reporting no baptisms at all. Attendance at Sunday services was down, too. The only silver lining was a slight uptick in the number of churches.

Related Dish on conservative churches and secularization here.