THE BOOK: Evangelicalism and the Decline of American Politics
PUBLISHED IN: 2017
THE AUTHOR: Jan G. Linn
THE PUBLISHER: Cascade Books, the academic imprint of Wipf & Stock Publishers
SUMMARY: Beginning in the 1970s evangelical Christians decided to become involved in our nation’s political life by becoming Republican partisans. Today they are widely considered the Republican Party’s most reliable constituency. During this same period American politics has become more bitter, chaotic, divisive, and dysfunctional. There is a significant bipartisan consensus that the Republican Party bears the most responsibility for this state of our nation’s politics. This is not an endorsement of Democratic policies, only an assessment of why our government no longer gets anything done and why bitter disagreement is more common than cooperation.
What is often ignored, though, is the role evangelicals are playing in what is happening. This book connects the dots between evangelical theology and evangelical politics. The key factor in both is their “no compromise” attitude that sees negotiations as a betrayal of moral principles, confident as they are that they are doing God’s work here on earth. The result, as this book shows, is bad politics and bad religion, both of which are out of step with the views of most Americans. It concludes with suggestions for what evangelicals can do to abandon political partisanship and theological exclusivism that will help both Christianity and the nation.
THE BACK STORY: The relationship between religion and politics has been a point of controversy since our nation was founded. In recent years both seem to have become toxic as the line between them has become more and more blurred. My research led to me to see a link between partisan evangelicalism that began to emerge in 1979 and our nation’s political divisions. The book seeks to identify, explain, and examine that link.
Writing this book was an experience different from anything I have written previously. The nature of the subject and the required research led me into an intensive writing period of six months, literally seven days a week, with some days lasting twelve plus hours. One thing would lead to another and I was so engrossed in the research and fascinated by my findings that I could not stop writing.
WHY THIS TITLE?: The book’s title was intentionally self-explanatory to alert readers to the nature of the subject.
WHY WOULD SOMEONE WANT TO READ IT? We are living in serious times as a nation. We are divided as a people, our federal government is dysfunctional, and state governments are passing laws that fit into the category of what is called “morals regulations,” that is, seeking to legislate morality. Evangelicals are playing a major role in these efforts, doing damage to the image all Christians bear and damage to the nation’s political life.
REVIEW COMMENTS: “In this provocative book, Jan Linn argues that the evangelical theological movement is responsible for the extremism of right wing politics, and the incivility that characterizes so much of contemporary public life. Linn does not take potshots. He writes from the perspective of a former insider who grew up in evangelicalism and who understands many of its dynamics. Linn points to a way forward: partisan religio-politics giving way to respectful dialogue in a context of critical thinking in which participants are informed by education and are willing to compromise. This volume is excellent for individual reading and as a resource for group study.” Ronald J. Allen, Professor of Preaching, and of Gospels and Letters, Christian Theological Seminary
“With deft analysis and an impressive command of the contemporary political and religious scene, Jan G. Linn lays bare the cultural captivity of evangelicalism to the Republican Party. The consequence, as he demonstrates, has been detrimental to both, as well as to the public good. Evangelicalism and the Decline of American Politics provides a cautionary tale about the dangers of conflating religion and politics.” Randall Balmer, John Phillips Professor in Religion, Dartmouth University
AUTHOR PROFILE: Jan G. Linn has served as chaplain and a member of the teaching faculty at Lynchburg College in Virginia, and was Professor of the Practice of Ministry at Lexington Theological Seminary in Kentucky before giving up tenure to become co-pastor with his wife of a new church start in Minnesota. After fourteen years he retired to write fulltime. He is the author of fifteen books, and has a widely read blog, “Thinking Against The Grain,” at linnposts.com.
Jan’s primary interest has been the intersection of religion and politics. In 2004 he wrote the groundbreaking book, What’s Wrong With The Christian Right, the first if its kind at the time to explore the role of the Christian Right in American life and American politics.
This book is about people I know, people in my family, people I grew up with, went to school with, went to church with, people who believe things I once believed, people who are still friends of mine. I was teaching and serving as chaplain in my hometown of Lynchburg, Virginia in 1979 when Jerry Falwell founded the Moral Majority.
For several years I got calls from reporters looking for information on Falwell they could use for a scoop of some sort. I was a prime choice for interviews because I grew up the neighborhood where he did. Some of his family attended the same church where my family belonged, and some of my family, uncles, aunts, and cousins on my mother’s side, attended his church.
But I didn’t learn evangelicalism by knowing Jerry Falwell. I was raised in it. My home church was the largest evangelical church in our city, actually the largest church period, long before Thomas Road Baptist Church came along. Falwell himself attended my church as a teenager though he never acknowledged that in public as far as I know. I have heard evangelical theology all my life, that God loved me and that Jesus came to save me from my sins, that I needed to accept Jesus into my heart and walk the straight and narrow way to get to heaven. I did as I was told and spent my adolescent and teen years singing gospel songs and trying my best to be good.
This was the evangelicalism of my youth and it is evangelicalism today. For some of us, though, as children we spoke like an evangelical child, thought like an evangelical child, and reasoned like an evangelical child, but when we became adults, we put away evangelical things (1 Corinthians 13:11). Others did not, ending up becoming members of a collective evangelical constituency of the Republican Party. In short, they moved from the pew to ballot box, bringing the certainty of their religious beliefs into partisan politics to the point where the federal government is virtually dysfunctional.
There is, as I will show, a very real and dangerous connection between Republican obstructionism in Washington and evangelical theology. Evangelicals do not consider any possibility that what they believe may be wrong. There is no shade of gray in their religious convictions or their worldview. There are right and wrong beliefs and they know which is which. After years of hearing recalcitrant Republicans in Congress talk the same way about their political views as I heard people in my home church talk about their religious beliefs it became quite apparent that there is an uncanny parallel attitude and tone between the two that is hardly coincidental.
It is this partisan political reality that is the focus of this book, partly to expose the fact that evangelicals have played no small role in pushing the Republican Party to the far right, which in turn has resulted in our federal government being in a state of political dysfunction.
Thus far evangelical Republicans have basked in their political power. But in the process they have also stirred the waters of controversy to the point where our political, racial, and social differences have evolved into divisions, our public discourse has become more uncivil, and our government has become dysfunctional in being able to bring differing political views to the table to make laws that work for the common good. Evangelicals are not the only reason for this state of affairs, but they have been a major player in it.
That they have been involved at all in creating the worst political conflict and division we have seen in generations is enough to indict evangelicalism for its undermining of Christian values and Christian morals.
LOCAL OUTLETS: The book is available at all bookstores and online through Amazon, Barnes & noble, etc.
CONTACT THE AUTHOR: firstname.lastname@example.org