The television series Sex and the City was well known for tackling a wealth of taboo topics, the kind that make us uncomfortable to talk about, but in one episode they tackled the ultimate conversational taboo. No not some obscure sexual technique, but religion.
The show's lead protagonist Carrie Bradshaw discovered that unbeknownst to her, her boyfriend the perennially elusive Mr. Big had a secret: He was a closeted churchgoer. Of course this revelation leads to others, then hilarity ensues, there's a dramatic emotional climax and credits then roll -- you know pretty much like every other episode. But this episode did tap into a fundamental truth, namely that while religious practice and spiritual faith is something extremely personal and private to most of us, it remains a tool that others use to judge us by. I was reminded of this of course while watching the recent forum on faith featuring presidential candidates John McCain and Barack Obama.
By many accounts the forum was John McCain's to lose. After all for years the GOP has allegedly had a lock on the faith based vote. But that appears to be changing. Though for years the religious right has successfully characterized progressives as caricatures of sin-reveling refugees from Sodom and Gomorah, younger white evangelicals are increasingly moving away from the Republican Party. According to a study released by Pew last year, "In 2001, 55% of younger white evangelicals identified as Republicans - nearly three-and-a-half times the number who identified as Democrats, and more than double the number of Americans overall in this age group who identified as Republicans. Throughout Bush's first term, party identification among younger white evangelicals remained relatively stable, but since 2005 the group's Republican affiliation has dropped significantly -- by 15 percentage points."
The study goes on to note that these numbers have not resulted in automatic gains for Democrats, with many young evangelicals now identifying as Independents. But this presidential election that small shift could be enough to put a Democrat in the White House.
The declaration of independence that has begun to take place among young evangelicals has been years in the making. Many of them grew up in a political climate that was paralyzed by partisanship, divisiveness and name-calling -- all in the name of good Christian values. As someone who is from the largely conservative suburbs of Houston, Texas (specifically Tom Delay's former district), it never ceased to amaze me how the parents of some of my classmates could tell their kids that they could never vote for Bill Clinton because of his travails within his marriage, but could sing the praises of Newt Gingrich for leading a moral crusade of sorts with his Contract with America -- all the while enjoying a colorful personal life of his own. It never ceased to amaze me how those who claimed to be people of faith (and even attended anti-abortion protests wearing shirts that said "God gave woman a womb not a tomb" as proof) could then use some of the most hateful, non-Christian rhetoric in the English language to discuss the Democratic president and frankly any Democrat period. But most of all, it never ceased to amaze me how people who claimed to have the lock on family values could also be anti-sexual education, anti-abortion rights and anti-welfare. In essence, anti-family.
As we watched the legions of young people, many of them young people of faith, help rebuild in New Orleans after the Katrina disaster, some of them had to have looked around at the mess that resulted from that shameless response and must have thought to themselves, "I don't think this is what the Bible meant when it said 'Love thy neighbor as thy self.'" The irony is that the aforementioned directive, about neighborly love shows up in the Bible multiple times unlike the multitude of conservative cause celebres that garner the spotlight each election year, from abstinence only education, to gay marriage. Yet over the last several years that directive doesn't appear to have gotten nearly as much conservative commitment, at least not on the political front.
So maybe after years of watching the seemingly endless hypocrisy of those who claimed to be legislating in God's name, younger evangelicals are ready to take matters into their own hands, and as such have begun to reevaluate which party their politics and pews should be colliding in.