Join us and Jeff Satterwhite, a founding member of the Clergy Project, as he will talk about his journey in and out of both religion and ministry and then move on to look at why same-sex marriage and abortion are the key political issues for the evangelical right. Jeff brings in his dissertation research that involves the fields of religious studies, sociology, and political science to look at the moral worldview of the evangelical subculture and how this worldview influences and restricts their political choices.
Jeff Satterwhite is a founding member of The Clergy Project and served as an adult education minister in Baptist churches in Texas and Colorado until 2008, when he deconverted from Christianity. He brings a lifetime of experience with evangelical theology and the evangelical movement. Jeff is a doctoral candidate in the Joint Doctoral Program in Religious and Theological Studies (ABD) at the University of Denver and Iliff School of Theology. He is currently writing a dissertation on the Evangelical Right entitled “Honor, Shame, and Redemption: Explicating the American Evangelical Right’s Moral Worldview Regarding Same-Sex Marriage and Abortion.” Jeff has been published in the Humanist Network News and has been featured on The Sex, Politics, and Religion Hour radio broadcast with Jamila Bey on Voice of Russia radio (American edition).
Freethought Views Article:
The Embattled World of the Evangelical Right By Jeff Satterwhite
Driven by conviction in the righteousness of their cause and a sense of cultural besiegement, Christian conservative leaders have mobilized countless people for social and political causes over the last three decades into a movement known to academics as the New Christian Right. The Evangelical Right provides much of the political force of this movement, motivating evangelicals at the pew level to engage in cultural battle against key issues: same-sex marriage, abortion rights, accurate science education in public schools, the separation of church and state, and secular humanism. Recent examples of the Evangelical Right’s influence abound: from public school groups like the Good News Club proselytizing elementary school children across the nation – to fastfood chicken moguls crusading on issues of same-sex relationships – to major conservative male political candidates pontificating about the reproductive processes of women who are victims of sexual violence.
Why are evangelicals so deeply invested in particular political issues? What fuels this moral worldview? Sociologist Christian Smith has written extensively on what animates the psychology of the Evangelical Right. He has proposed a theory called subcultural
identity theory that explores how conservative evangelicals construct symbolic boundaries with the outside world that 1) reinforce their theological and political beliefs within the community, and 2) designate outsiders that must be opposed at all costs.
Evangelical leaders constantly create an embattled “tension” within the evangelical subculture through their rhetoric – a tension that mobilizes adherents to invest themselves in an existential struggle against forces that threaten their faith and their very existence.
Inside this worldview, evangelicals see themselves as constantly under attack; they are persecuted victims of continually menacing forces. Regardless of the enemy’s label – Satan, demonic forces, the secular media, the liberals, the atheists, the homosexual
agenda, public schools devoid of God’s presence, rebellious America, enemies of God, or some other constructed adversary – the Evangelical Right always sees itself (and God’s will) as under siege.
Whether or not a large-scale culture war truly exists in America, it certainly exists in the evangelical mind. The rhetoric of cultural embattledness is what gives the Evangelical Right strength. It produces and reinforces a collective identity that is durable and
transferable to the next generation of young people. The stark distinctions made with the outside world give evangelicalism a wall to keep enemies out and proselytes in. By wrapping the gift of social acceptance and esteem into the requirement of theological
conformity with their community, evangelical churches make it extremely difficult for members to question the theology. The threatened psychological and emotional costs of the system frequently make it too costly for adherents to ask the intellectual questions necessary to break free from the fold.
By better understanding the key theological tenets and moral worldview of the Evangelical Right, both progressive and secular Americans can come together in opposing evangelical political influence in the United States. While the embattledness of the Evangelical Right makes dialogue difficult, conversation around moral convictions can still take place. From my perspective as a former evangelical believer and Baptist minister, evangelicals express deep sincerity in their principles, but are misguided in their obsession with external authority and their application of moral values. Through a focus on consistent, progressive common values based in reason and logic, we can find a moral rhetoric that moves America forward and not backward.