Just who are those evangelical voters anyway?

Design by Doug Puller/Bread for the World.

Editor’s note: Ahead of the presidential November election, Bread Blog is exploring faith and elections through the lens of different faith perspectives. The blog posts will be written by members of Bread’s church relations staff and friends of Bread for the World.

By Jared Noetzel

Probably the single most-identified type of voter – at least by the media – in this election season is the seemingly ubiquitous “evangelical.” Do evangelical Christians actually behave in an election like the media says?

Evangelical politics in the U.S. is full of contradictions, disappointments, and opportunities.

A rough adaptation of John Richard Neuhaus’ saying applies: The first thing to say about evangelical politics is that for evangelicals, politics isn’t the first thing. In fact, for evangelicals, politics isn’t often the second, third, or fourth thing either.

Rather, the most important thing about evangelicals is what they believe. Leith Anderson, president of the National Association of Evangelicals, and Ed Stetzer, executive director of LifeWay Research, recently pointed out in Christianity Today that the best broad definition of evangelicals centers on four theological beliefs. Those who support all four can confidently be called evangelical.

This definition seeking is necessary because, unlike our Catholic, Methodist, or Episcopal friends, there is no central authority in evangelicalism. That means it’s difficult to say much with confidence about the “evangelical” approach to elections.

Nonetheless, evangelicals do bring their values into public life. Consider this from Dr. Ronnie Floyd, current president of the Southern Baptist Convention: “My primary allegiance isn’t to political ideology but to Jesus Christ himself and to the Bible as God’s final authority.” So the “first thing” to say about evangelical politics is that Jesus Christ as revealed in Scripture is the first thing.

The electoral process gives a lot of attention to evangelicals, much of it deserved. However, for evangelicals, elections are just part of an on-going process of speaking and demonstrating Christian conviction grounded in the life, death, and resurrection of Christ. Voting, as important as it is, isn’t the most important thing we’ll do this year.

This is a position largely embraced by Bread for the World as a whole. Passing real legislative changes takes long-term commitment. Elections are part of the political process, but they’re not the whole of it.

And here, as in every other part of our political engagement, evangelicals will step into the conversation with a deep-seated conviction about Christ’s reigns over the world and a passion to work together for the common good.

Jared Noetzel is a project coordinator in the church relations department at Bread for the World.

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