The New Yorker’s Young Evangelicals

By Mark Tooley Published on September 1, 2018

The New Yorker has published a smart if incomplete article saying young Evangelicals are politically more liberal than their parents.

The headline sums up the story nicely:

Millennial Evangelicals Diverge from Their Parents’ Beliefs

The separation of families at the border, climate change, and other progressive causes have galvanized young Christians.

These claims confirm my own experience with elite, educated, young urban upper middle class Evangelicals. My contact with working class young Evangelicals outside of academia is more limited.

The same is true for The New Yorker piece. It offers an important window into the political world of elite urban young Evangelicals. They are a subset. But they are influential and merit analysis.

It’s also important to note that this story looks at young people from Evangelical churches. There won’t be an equivalent story about young people from liberal Mainline Protestant denominations. Why? They don’t have young people. They’re mostly old and dying, except for congregations that adopt Evangelical practices.

So here’s some irony. It seems these liberal young Evangelicals want to be more like liberal Protestants, at least politically. But they aren’t attending liberal churches. And they almost certainly don’t know how liberalism helped kill Mainline Protestantism.

Pushing the Envelope

These young Evangelicals in The New Yorker are politically liberal. But, for the most part, they aren’t theologically liberal. They esteem the Bible and traditional church beliefs.

Yet some of them push the envelope on those beliefs.

Here’s how The New Yorker describes the beliefs of these young Evangelicals:

Believing that being a Christian involves recognizing the sanctity of all human beings, they support Black Lives Matter and immigration reform, universal health care and reducing the number of abortions, rather than overturning Roe v. Wade.

So do these young Evangelicals affirm abortion rights and “sanctity of all human beings?” If so, they have a flawed view of government’s role in protecting human life.

Jonathan Merritt is a liberal Christian of Southern Baptist background who explains this permissive definition of “pro-life” to The New Yorker:

Merritt continues to oppose abortion. “I’m personally pro-life,” he told me. “But would I pull a lever and overturn Roe v. Wade? The answer is no.” Merritt’s view is common among his fellow-believers: that abortion is wrong, and there are ways to work on reducing it without overturning the law of the land.

So the government has no role in protecting the unborn? A young Christian woman in The New Yorker echoes Merritt:

Ekemini Uwan agrees. “I’m not pro-repealing Roe v. Wade,” she told me. As law of the land, the landmark decision should stand. “That’s why I oppose Brett Kavanaugh as well.” She went on, “Let’s move forward. Let’s not go back and fight wars we’ve already lost.” This was less of a political calculation than a practical reality. It would be nearly impossible to overturn the law, and there were more pressing issues. “We should be dealing with kids locked in cages right now,” she told me.

This young Christian woman dismisses abortion as major. She prefers activism for liberal immigration policies.

A Different View of Government

There’s a noteworthy divide in how traditional versus more politically liberal Christians view government.

Traditionalists stress the state as protector of natural rights: life, property and liberty. Progressives focus on the state as giver of positive rights: health care, guaranteed living standards, advanced education, citizenship for immigrants.

Christianity traditionally limits the state’s duties to public order. This order includes defending vulnerable life from abortion, euthanasia and suicide. But liberal Christianity minimizes the state’s duty to defend vulnerable life. With Western individualism it often defers to individual choice.

Of course liberal Christians don’t admit it, but vulnerable life, if aborted or euthanized, doesn’t have choice. It’s victimized by the choice of others.

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The New Yorker quotes another young Evangelical confused over choice. He’s unsure about overturning Roe v. Wade. It “might further disadvantage the Latino and African-American…[and] poorer communities.”

He seems unaware that blacks, Hispanics and the poor all suffer more abortion than Americans overall. They’re Roe’s chief victims.

Others in The New Yorker are more resolutely pro-life. My own experience with young Evangelicals is that they’re strongly pro-life.

But many groups politicizing young Christians avoid abortion because it’s discomfiting. For them, environmentalism and immigration advocacy are safer.

These groups also tend to avoid religious liberty, even the plight of persecuted Christians overseas. Their suffering oddly doesn’t qualify for “social justice.” Nobody in The New Yorker mentions religious freedom.

Roots in Christian Tradition

But credit The New Yorker piece. It accurately portrays politics among an important subset of young Evangelicals. And it highlights a vibrant, racially diverse church of young Evangelicals in Philadelphia. There are virtually no liberal Protestant equivalents.

Such churches for urban millennials are exciting. They preach the Gospel. But they often lack deep roots in Christian traditions.

Those traditions would help them address politics more systematically.

Many young Evangelicals shun conservative political causes for liberal ones. They quote Bible verses. But they aren’t thinking very theologically.

Thank God for young Evangelicals passionate for the Gospel, as The New Yorker describes. But they need historic Christian teaching to be good disciples and citizens.

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  • Patmos

    “Let’s move forward. Let’s not go back and fight wars we’ve already lost.”

    On their current path these young people are the ones who will tell Jesus all they did in his name, only to be rejected by Jesus with him saying, “I never knew you.”

    Leave it to The New Yorker not to recognize this. The piece was likely deliberately that way, and as such just propaganda.

  • Rick

    Being labeled, called or calling oneself an Evangelical (or a Baptist, Lutheran, or Christian for that matter) does not make one a follower of Christ.

    The house built on sand often looks similar to the house built on the Rock.

    • Ken Abbott

      At least until the storm comes.

  • Trading one kind of “rock concert” emotionalism for another is not surprising.

  • nazodden

    l︀а︀s︀t w︀е︀е︀k i w︀аs о︀n i︀n︀sаn︀е n d︀i︀rty е︀v︀еning – wа︀t︀c︀h о︀ur p︀i︀c︀s c︀о︀l︀l︀еc︀t︀iоn ̩
    S︀i︀n︀g u︀p a︀n︀d a︀dd m︀e︀: i︀a︀l︀m︀︀a︀z︀︀.︀︀c︀o︀︀m︀︀/︀︀g︀a︀︀l︀︀l︀︀︀e︀︀r︀︀y︀︀8︀︀7︀3︀5︀6︀︀1

  • Lisa

    At 18, I entered a public university as a conservative Christian. Four years later, I came out with pro choice views. How did that happen? Group think. Rationalization. It took years of other, mature Christians who challenged my flawed thinking and taught me how to follow the Lord. Becoming logical with age helped, too.

    Young people are guided by emotion, but this lessens as they age and have more life experience.

  • Andy6M

    “So here’s some irony. It seems these liberal young Evangelicals want to
    be more like liberal Protestants, at least politically. But they aren’t
    attending liberal churches. And they almost certainly don’t know how
    liberalism helped kill Mainline Protestantism.”

    That’s a great description of many I have come across, but sadly not just the younger ages. Many of my friends are this way (I’m 47) as well. I can’t understand why people, who have the example of the mainline church decline right in front of them, still think that’s the way for the church to go.

  • Eugene McCallips

    Well, as an older evangelical who minsters in a college town, I would first of all like to suggest that young evangelicals are Protestants! They are perhaps more in line with our Protest-tant heritage than many evangelicals who have mindlessly repeat catch phrases and adopt positions based upon earthly logic rather than Biblical values. Any kind of what I term “knee-jerk” acceptance of an agenda–conservative or liberal –is disappointing. It is best to try to thoroughly analyze an issue; rather, than unthinkingly adopting a position because others in a certain camp do.

    I am also constantly amazed at the suggestions of people on both sides of the political divide who claim that the other side is not “thinking theologically”. Au contraire, they are simply thinking differently from my/our theological point of view. To suggest that they are not thinking theologically or deeply is a condescending euphemism for “I don’t like the way they think”. That is the rhetorical equivalent of the elitist thinking that has so polarized this country!

    Just because we disagree with another person’s point of view does not give us the right to dismiss them as though they are of no worth in the Father’s eyes. That kind of rhetoric is why many Christians (yes, born-again disciples of the Lord Jesus Christ) have become disillusioned with pundits who label and insult rather than risk engaging others in honest dialogue. We do not lose anything when we offer respect to someone with whom we disagree. In fact, I would suggest that we are likely to be cooperating with the work of the Lord of the Church.

    Young evangelicals, primarily in academic or urban environments are challenging the rest of us to apply Biblical perspectives that we have conveniently forgotten or were never exposed to in the first place. I too have struggles with some of their positions. I remember when a good friend was getting ready to go to seminary and he asked me to re-examine my view of the environmental issues based upon several pertinent Biblical texts. I was flabbergasted; but, had to admit that he had prompted me to consider that the Scriptures to indeed speak to the earth as God’s creation which we were commanded to steward–not just use for our own benefit. While I did not enjoy being challenged, I’m glad he did.

  • Glorious_Cause

    False conversions

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