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The GOP Doubles Down on Evangelicals in a Misguided Attempt to Strengthen the Party

So the GOP has released what seems to be their first big digital effort, and it appears to be as misguided as ever, completely misses the lessons apparently not well learned from 2012, and chooses to shrink, rather than grow the tent by doubling down on religious issues.

“Now is the time of righteous indignation,” [said Chad Connelly, director of faith engagement for the Republican National Committee], “a time to be the ‘turn-the-tables-over-Jesus’ and not the ‘meek, turn-the-other-cheek Jesus.'”

Sure, because what we need is more pandering to evangelicals.

Honestly, if you are looking to gin up base turnout in 2014, that probably makes sense as a strategy. If you are trying not to hamper the GOP’s chances in 2016, not so much.

Evangelicals made up 27% of the electorate in 2012, and Romney got 80% of them. So our best idea for winning elections is to get the other 20%? I’m guessing the 20% that voted Obama did so not because of their faith, but because their personal interpretation of that faith puts them at odds with the other 80%. So you are not very likely to eat into those numbers. The best you could do is get that 27% number up, which seems to be what this effort is all about.

The aim of the website is, as it says, “to build an army of conservative pro-faith activists” — sympathetic believers of all faiths, but in particular conservative Christians. The plan is to identify 100,000 believers who will spread the word at the grass roots, especially in churches.

in 2012, candidate Romney got as much of the evangelical vote as candidate Bush in 2004. Yet he lost the election by 4.7 million votes while Bush won by three million. To counter that, each of those 100,000 believers will need to attract/convert 47 people. But not just any 47 people. 47 evangelicals who are not already voting GOP. Given that their suggested target market is in evangelical churches, that becomes a rather daunting task.

The number of evangelicals in the US is in decline, and evangelicals under 30 are leaving churches in droves. John Dickerson, an evangelical who studies the movement, summed up the problem just after the 2012 election:

“As a contemporary of this generation (I’m 30), I embarked three years ago on a project to document the health of evangelical Christianity in the United States. I did this research not only as an insider, but also as a former investigative journalist for an alt weekly.

“I found that the structural supports of evangelicalism are quivering as a result of ground-shaking changes in American culture. Strategies that served evangelicals well just 15 years ago are now self- destructive. The more that evangelicals attempt to correct course, the more they splinter their movement. In coming years we will see the old evangelicalism whimper and wane. … [W]hile America’s population grows by roughly two million a year, attendance across evangelical churches … has gradually declined, according to surveys of more than 200,000 congregations by the American Church Research Project.

“How can evangelicalism right itself? I don’t believe it can … We evangelicals must accept that our beliefs are now in conflict with the mainstream culture. We cannot change ancient doctrines to adapt to the currents of the day. But we can, and must, adapt the way we hold our beliefs — with grace and humility instead of superior hostility. The core evangelical belief is that love and forgiveness are freely available to all who trust in Jesus Christ. This is the “good news” from which the evangelical name originates (“euangelion” is a Greek word meaning “glad tidings” or “good news”). Instead of offering hope, many evangelicals have claimed the role of moral gatekeeper, judge and jury. If we continue in that posture, we will continue to invite opposition and obscure the “good news” we are called to proclaim.”

Yet the political expression of evangelicalism continues to be exactly that described – “moral gatekeeper, judge and jury.”  And the RNC’s suggestion for solving their problems is to become the “turn-the-tables-over-Jesus.”

Yes, let’s double down on that. It seems like a solid plan. … or maybe not.

A better plan would have been to announce, a website to appeal to people who simply believe in the freedom to do as they please (including worship) without interfering with others. Rather than focusing on specific faiths (or specific expressions of faith, like opposition to SSM and abortion), maybe we could focus on protection of religious liberty. Rather than pointing the finger of blame at others for destroying the culture, why not establish an outreach coalition based on constitutional protections like freedom of speech, association, and religion.

It seems the GOP is fixated on the idea that they can get an ever-larger share of the religious voter market without ever bothering to notice that a) the market is shrinking, and b) that appealing to the market moves the GOP ever further from the cultural mainstream of America.

Written by Turk