If you follow faith and politics, you have no doubt heard of cultural movements like the “religious right” and the “Moral Majority.” Well, let me introduce you to the latest incarnation of those movements. “The teavangelicals” are poised to pack a wallop in the 2012 general election.
I coined the phrase after the midterm elections in 2010 when I realized that the tea party movement was chock-full of conservative Christians. Indeed, surveys show a strong majority of them comprise the tea party. If you “raptured” them from the ranks, you wouldn’t have a serious and full-fledged tea party movement in the first place. Many of them are evangelicals (hence the new term) who believe our debt calamity is immoral and our federal government is obnoxiously unconstrained. They want a return to constitutionally limited government just like tea party Libertarians. They just happen to call it something different. They see it as a return to Judeo-Christian principles based on the belief that our Founding Fathers envisioned a country with limited federal power and the belief that an Almighty God was central to it all.
Teavangelicals see America’s fiscal crisis through a biblical prism, citing numerous passages in the Bible that view fiscal responsibility as a virtue. They point to the gospel of Luke where Jesus says, “Suppose one of you wants to build a tower. Won’t you first sit down and estimate the cost to see if you have enough money to complete it?” Sounds like the federal government might want to consult the Bible on federal bureaucracy.
Furthermore, teavangelicals see a federal government that is getting too enormous, leading to a deeply held and scary conviction that people are beginning to rely on the government rather than God for their needs. Obamacare is the perfect illustration of this view. According to teavangelicals, it’s an example of government overreach as well as tapping into a fear that citizens will begin bowing to federal bureaucrats as regular practice. All of these perspectives led them to break bread with tea party Libertarians during the 2010 midterm elections, sending President Obama and the entire country a strong and resounding message.
You may ask, “But what about the social issues? Aren’t conservative evangelicals mostly concerned with abortion and marriage just like their predecessors before them during the big heydays of the Moral Majority and Christian Coalition?” Of course they care just as passionately about these issues but right now we live in a time of potentially perilous fiscal consequences. They understand the severity of what’s going on here. Let’s also not forget that conservative evangelicals are not only socially conservative but most of them are also very fiscally conservative and so the tea party’s austerity message is a perfect fit for conservative Christians who have always been true believers. It should also be duly noted that teavangelicals are not out to co-opt the Tea Party as a whole and turn it into some sort of social issue reincarnation of the Moral Majority. After all, if that was going to happen don’t you think it would have begun already considering that a good majority of the tea party is made up of conservative Christians and 59 percent of the people in the movement consider themselves socially conservative?
So where does all of this leave the teavangelicals? They didn’t get their perfect teavangelical type presidential nominee in 2012. That’s what happens when you have many different candidates splitting the teavangelical vote and one candidate (Mitt Romney) who had the organization and money to beat back all challengers. But let’s be clear: Rick Santorum became a serious contender because he was able to weave a teavangelical message into his campaign narrative. He just forgot the ATM part.
As for Romney, he needs teavangelicals now more than ever. It’s unknown whether he can get more of them to the polls in 2012 rather than just relying on the anti-Obama sentiment. Will he get the politically astute teavangelicals who voted for other candidates during the primary? Yes, of course. That’s not the issue or even the right question to ask. The real question is will those teavangelicals bring a friend and organize for Romney? Beating President Obama will require all hands on deck and the teavangelicals are the worker bees. Increased turnout from this crucial voting block will go a long way to determining whether Romney will be the next president of the United States.
Whatever happens in November, teavangelicals will soldier on, fighting the good fight and holding politicians accountable. This is not a clash that teavangelicals expect to win in four-year election cycles. Rather, this is a generational battle and that’s why this teavangelical movement isn’t going away anytime soon.
David Brody is chief political correspondent for CBN News and author of “The Teavangelicals: The Inside Story of How the Evangelicals and the Tea Party are Taking Back America .”