Miller, Lisa, Newsweek
Byline: Lisa Miller
As recently as 2004, when evangelicals were credited with reelecting George W. Bush, sexual mores defined the culture wars. But as the economy has become the political priority for liberals and conservatives alike, traditional culture-war issues--abortion, gay marriage--have been blunted as weapons in the political theater. What motivates religious conservatives now, says Tony Campolo, who prayed with Bill Clinton after the Monica Lewinsky affair, is a vision of America as God's own special country and a belief that free-market capitalism is crucial to its flourishing. "The marriage between evangelicalism and patriotic nationalism is so strong," says Campolo, "that anybody who is raising questions about loyalty to the old laissez-faire capitalist system"--by, say, supporting bailouts"--"is E unpatriotic, un-American, and, by association, non-Christian."
Even moderate conservatives agree that the old-guard religious right and their social priorities don't hold much sway in Washington, D.C. If the economy does not recover, "social issues may not be E 'wedge' issues as in the past," John Green, a political scientist at the University of Akron, emails. "However, patriotism could be a classic wedge issue in 2012, creating Republican votes among groups with liberal or moderate economic views." Christian conservatives, of course, still care about abortion. But in August, when the Barna Group asked evangelicals what their top concerns were (without prompting), 52 percent said the economy--almost the same percentage as the larger population. Only 1 percent said gay marriage; abortion didn't make the list.
Generally, evangelicals see themselves as a persecuted group whose values are under assault by the mainstream. The enemy is no longer moral relativism. It's a kind of "global relativism" that makes no distinction between America and the rest of the world. …