Evangelicals crumbling or thriving?

Are evangelicals really cracking up?

I finally finished David Kirkpatrick’s long piece in the NYT Sunday Mag about how evangelical Christendom is falling prey to internal divisions and losing its political swagger.

It’s still available on the Times’ “website”:http://www.nytimes.com/2007/10/28/magazine/28Evangelicals-t.html?pagewanted=1&_r=1 as of today.

Kirkpatrick’s thesis has become the conventional wisdom in the media, largely because (it seems to me) evangelicals do not have a presidential candidate to rally around.

I’m always leery of making generalizations about “evangelical Christians” or “Roman Catholics” because there are simply too many of them.  But we all do it in the media.

Here’s one of Kirkpatrick’s conclusions:

The 2008 election is just the latest stress on a system of fault lines that go much deeper. The phenomenon of theologically conservative Christians plunging into political activism on the right is, historically speaking, something of an anomaly. Most evangelicals shrugged off abortion as a Catholic issue until after the 1973 Roe v. Wade decision. But in the wake of the ban on public-school prayer, the sexual revolution and the exodus to the suburbs that filled the new megachurches, protecting the unborn became the rallying cry of a new movement to uphold the traditional family. Now another confluence of factors is threatening to tear the movement apart. The extraordinary evangelical love affair with Bush has ended, for many, in heartbreak over the Iraq war and what they see as his meager domestic accomplishments. That disappointment, in turn, has sharpened latent divisions within the evangelical world — over the evangelical alliance with the Republican Party, among approaches to ministry and theology, and between the generations.

But is it correct to deal with evangelicals as a political force first?

Jeff Sharlet, who critiques media coverage of religion at “The Revealer,”:http://www.therevealer.org/archives/main_story_002888.php writes that evangelicals have been fighting a cultural war first and that they are doing quite well — even if they’re faring less well on the political front. He writes:

That there’s a crack-up in political evangelicalism’s old guard is indisputable, but the movement, the evangelical idea of what America is and should be, is stronger and more widespread now than it ever was in the 20th century.

Gary Stern

Gary Stern covered education in the Lower Hudson Valley for several years during the early 1990s. Now's he back on the beat. He believes that schools are one of the main reasons that people live around here and that educational issues -- from curriculum to financing -- are among the most challenging things that journalists can write about. He continues to be amazed by the complexity of educational jargon. Gary got his B.A. at SUNY Buffalo and his M.A. from the University of Missouri Journalism School (where his master's thesis was about the best ways to cover education). He lives in White Plains with his wife and two sons, who attend public schools.