It is now a common refrain among liberals that Christian Right pastors and television pundits have hijacked evangelical Christianity for partisan gain. The Politics of Evangelical Identity challenges this notion, arguing that the hijacking metaphor paints a fundamentally distorted picture of how evangelical churches have become politicized. The book reveals how the powerful coalition between evangelicals and the Republican Party is not merely a creation of political elites who have framed conservative issues in religious language, but is anchored in the lives of local congregations.
Drawing on her groundbreaking research at evangelical churches near the U.S. border with Canada—two in Buffalo, New York, and two in Hamilton, Ontario—Lydia Bean compares how American and Canadian evangelicals talk about politics in congregational settings. While Canadian evangelicals share the same theology and conservative moral attitudes as their American counterparts, their politics are quite different. On the U.S. side of the border, political conservatism is woven into the very fabric of everyday religious practice. Bean shows how subtle partisan cues emerge in small group interactions as members define how “we Christians” should relate to others in the broader civic arena, while liberals are cast in the role of adversaries. She explains how the most explicit partisan cues come not from clergy but rather from lay opinion leaders who help their less politically engaged peers to link evangelical identity to conservative politics.
The Politics of Evangelical Identity demonstrates how deep the ties remain between political conservatism and evangelical Christianity in America.
Lydia Bean is senior consultant to the PICO National Network, the largest multiracial network in the United States bringing low- and moderate-income faith communities into public life.
"Bean’s work is refreshing. Not only does she offer a persuasive alternative to prevailing theories on the relationship between evangelicals and politics, she does so in a clear and compelling way, drawing on a trove of original evidence obtained via diligent, on-the-ground research. The Politics of Evangelical Identity is required reading for anyone looking to make sense of the connection between evangelicals and politics in North America and should be part of this conversation for the foreseeable future."--Daniel Bennett, Journal of Church and State
"The Politics of Evangelical Identity is a bracing corrective to the perception of evangelicals as theological stooges mesmerized by the spell of conservative masterminds. Bean persuasively argues that the appeal of conservatives in the evangelical base has far more to do with how they connect the political to everyday spiritual and religious practices. Her path-clearing and transformative book brilliantly engages the political perspectives, moral passions, and religious beliefs of evangelicals from a practical, grounded perspective."--Michael Eric Dyson, Georgetown University
"The Politics of Evangelical Identity is a very important book, a truly original and deeply insightful exploration of why America's white evangelical Christians allied with the political Right to a degree that evangelicals in other countries have not. Writing with flair, respect, and understanding, Bean shows how American evangelicals have woven political conservatism into the fabric of everyday religious life. This book should permanently alter how both its friends and its critics view the Religious Right."--E. J. Dionne, Jr., author of Souled Out and Our Divided Political Heart
Table of Contents:
Preface and Acknowledgments xi
Chapter 1 Comparing Evangelicals in the United States and Canada 20
Chapter 2 The Boundaries of Evangelical Identity 45
Chapter 3 Two American Churches: Partisanship without Politics 62
Chapter 4 Two Canadian Churches: Civil Religion in Exile 88
Chapter 5 Evangelicals, Economic Conservatism, and National Identity 112
Chapter 6 Captains in the Culture War 133
Chapter 7 The Boundaries of Political Diversity in Two U.S. Congregations 166
Chapter 8 Practicing Civility in Two Canadian Congregations 193
Conclusion Politics and Lived Religion 221
Methodological Appendix: Ethnographic Methods 227