The Common Good

The Evangelical Renaissance Is Over

Date: June 8, 2014

In 1976, pollster George Gallup, Jr., famously announced the “Year of the Evangelical.” Jimmy Carter, a self-described born-again Christian, was on his way to the White House. Soon, Larry Flynt and Bob Dylan would join the evangelical club, too, however fleetingly.
The narrative of evangelical relevance far outlasted those celebrity conversions. In a 2003 analysis of American religion, scholar Alan Wolfe considered “a sense in which we are all evangelicals now.”…

A similar cycle occurred in the political arena, which (fairly or not) shaped popular impressions of American evangelicalism more than megachurches or The Purpose Driven Life. One can thank Jerry Falwell for this. Yet without a Carter to oppose, Falwell never would have received so much air time. The political turn in modern American evangelicalism was a bipartisan phenomenon, as the electoral strategies of Barack Obama and, before him, Bill Clinton, demonstrated. Each protected his right flank by cultivating ties with progressive evangelicals, such as Tony Campolo or Jim Wallis.