Nearer My God To Thee
Their distinctive faith aside, evangelicals are acting more and more like the rest of us
The Clausens' concerns echo those expressed in the U.S. News /PBS survey. Predictably, evangelicals worry about "family values," but not in the overwhelming numbers some might expect. About 34 percent identified declining morals as their top concern, compared with 21 percent of Americans in general. Another 72 percent said they are "very worried" that children are not learning values and respect, versus 63 percent in the total population. "Faced with a culture they see as debased and debasing, evangelical parents are devoting more attention to their families," observes W. Bradford Wilcox, a sociologist at the University of Virginia. "They are trying to ensure that their children acquire the values they worry other children don't have."
Remote control. The Clausens try to shield their kids by closely monitoring their TV and movie viewing habits. Steve wields the remote control, zapping shows with foul language or sexual innuendo. And movies are preselected by both parents based on reviews at a Christian Web site. According to the U.S. News /PBS poll, three fourths of evangelicals have prevented their children from watching shows with objectionable content, compared with just 54 percent of nonevangelicals.
On other "morality" issues, the divide between evangelicals and the rest of the population is more striking. Two thirds say abortion should be illegal in most or all cases, versus 45 percent in the general population. Nearly two thirds of white evangelicals are "very worried" that the institution of marriage is under attack, as opposed to 42 percent among all Americans.
More than any other factor, concern over issues like these, says John Green, a political science professor at the University of Akron in Ohio, explains the partisan ties evangelicals choose to make. "If we could remove these issues from the table," he says, "then this community would not be a strong constituency of the Republican Party. There'd be many more Democrats."
Still, evangelicals aren't always the aggressive conservative force they're made out to be. The Clausens vote but otherwise are not politically active. Neither is their church. Their pastor, Jim Nicodem, says he never talks about politics in the pulpit. "The kind of impact that I hope we have," Nicodem says, "is the kind that meets real needs. Jesus said, `Let your light so shine before men that they will see your good works and praise your Father in heaven.' That's our desire, that we will walk the walk and demonstrate the love that Christ calls us to."
The U.S. News /PBS survey found that a slightly higher percentage of white evangelicals go to the polls than in the general population (65 percent compared with 61 percent). However, only about a third have ever given time or money to political candidates or causes--roughly the same percentage as nonevangelicals. "I suppose we should be more involved," says Sharon Clausen. "But frankly, we don't see politics and government as the solution. We try to be involved in our kids' school and in our community. We may not be changing things nationally, but we're making a difference right here in St. Charles."