A critique of the claim that American evangelicals are “conservative.”
Exploring a variety of writings, personalities and movements over the past several decades, Hart (Church History/Westminster Seminary California) explodes the conventional wisdom that evangelical Protestant Christians are by and large politically conservative. The author begins with an explanation of the emergence of evangelicalism out of early-20th-century fundamentalism, and the political viewpoints (and lack thereof) of mid-century evangelicals. Battered by the cultural upheavals of the 1960s, evangelicals found 1976 to be a pivotal year as they received impetus through the Bicentennial to re-enter the American political landscape in force, while also producing the first avowedly born-again president, Jimmy Carter. Carter’s political leanings provided evangelical Protestants and the larger populace with the first realization that not all evangelicals are right-leaning. Indeed, after the evangelical heyday of the ’80s, there has been a continual growth in the number and visibility of liberal evangelicals such as Jim Wallis and Tony Campolo. Such left-leaning evangelicals aside, Hart’s main point is that “conservative” Christians rarely understand the tenets of true conservatism, and often subvert conservatism for evangelical purposes. Despite the title, Graham and Palin are hardly mentioned, with far more attention given to evangelical thinkers, kingmakers and established figures such as Pat Robertson and Francis Schaeffer. Erudite and well-researched, Hart’s style is also approachable and often witty. Students of political theory will not be surprised by the author’s work, but many general readers will be taken aback to learn that evangelical Protestantism isn’t always—and perhaps is only rarely—conservative in nature.
Recommended for those interested in the intersection of faith and politics.