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Strength of US evangelicals one of the big myths of our time
Christine Wicker is a former religious reporter for the Dallas Morning News. She was "saved" at the age of nine in an Oklahoma City Southern Baptist Church, and these days she's a Christian, but not an evangelical. In "The Fall Of The Evangelical Nation" (HarperOne), she set out to count America's evangelicals. What she found surprised even her.
The standard story is that there are 54million adult and 21million child evangelicals. In political terms they are sometimes known as "the religious right" or "value voters". Their leaders have the capacity and the will to tell them how to vote and get them to the polling booths (important in a country with voluntary voting). The leaders have used this influence to affect government policy on matters such as abortion, gay marriage and the teaching of creationism in schools.
There is some truth in this picture, but not nearly as much as has been claimed. First, the numbers. The figure of 25 per cent comes from people identifying themselves as evangelicals in opinion polls.
But once you dig further you find the figure has little significance, either religiously or politically. The respected pollster George Barna found that when you start to ask these people if they agree with specific evangelical beliefs (such as the literal accuracy of the Bible), the numbers drop away. A large proportion of evangelicals are not conservative or fundamentalist. They're so-called "progressive" evangelicals such as Jimmy Carter, Bill Clinton and Al Gore.
When you look at behaviour, you find the average member of a congregation is far more typical of the average American than of any fundamentalist bogy figure. Going through the data systematically, she concludes that the actual number makes up just 7 per cent of Americans.
A big part of the myth has been that the number of evangelicals has been growing. In fact, the movement is in decline. That figure of 7 per cent is down from 12 per cent in 1991.
In truth, Wicker points out, the fastest-growing belief category in America is not evangelicalism, but the group to which so many on the left belong: non-believers. From 1990 to 2001 in America, their numbers increased from 14 million to 29 million.
I posted a link to a Sydney Morning Herald article for more details ... really interesting stuff. I heard the author interviewed on Radio National in Australia but see also website www.christinewicker.com which has other interviews she's given, as well as reviews of the book.
There's also a really good article in Mother Jones: http://www.motherjones.com/arts/feature/2008/05/the-myth-of-the-moral-majority.h...
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