18 September 2011


The title of Nicole Asmussen's article intrigued me: Polarized Protestants: A Confessional Explanation for Party Polarization (abstract here). Self-identifying as a confessional protestant, I was surprised to see that my small slice of American Christianity was at last seeing the light of academic day. My hopes were quickly dashed. What Asmussen means by"confessional" is broadly Evangelical and whatever "Evangelical" means, adherence to an historical confession of faith is not what American Evangelicals do. See D.G. Hart's The Lost Soul of American Protestantism.

But what Asmussen concludes is more troubling than her misnomer. Drawing on serious social science research, she argues that "increased [American political] polarization can be attributed to evangelical Christians replacing mainline Protestants in the Republican Party while evangelical Democrats are replaced by more liberal members of other religious traditions." In other words, it's not economics but religious identification that explains why heretofore non-events like raising the debt ceiling have become political causus belli.

This politico-religious confluence may not trouble those who are currently Evangelical and conservative but they might want to remember, as I posted here, that the political elites are only too happy to draw support from energetic religious folks until they are no longer needed. Retention and expansion of political power quickly trumps religious identification for most of the elite most of the time.

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