Just as there are different degrees and strands of conservatism, so too is there within evangelicalism.
The basics are all the same. They believe in Jesus. They believe in traditional marriage. They believe you must be born again, repent of sins, and have faith. They believe in the resurrection and the second coming and the sanctity of life.
But the dividing line these days is between the old school evangelicals who believe we need to turn the nation toward Christ and the younger evangelicals who have checked out of politics mostly and think saying we need to bring America back to Christ is idol worship of some kind.
Within that dividing line are two groups of evangelicals who are dividing between Marco Rubio and Ted Cruz. Roll Call had a story on this the other day.
“I would say that Ted Cruz is leading in the ‘Jerry Falwell’ wing, Marco Rubio is leading the ‘Billy Graham’ wing and Trump is leading the ‘Jimmy Swaggart’ wing,” Moore said, meaning that Cruz has largely followed the classic Moral Majority model that was the face of the conservative movement — he has received endorsements from figures such as Focus on the Family founder James Dobson — while Trump “tends to work most closely with the prosperity wing of Pentecostalism” which tends to believe that God would financially reward believers.
As far as Rubio’s outreach to the “Billy Graham” wing, this week the presidential hopeful announced a religious liberty advisory board that includes Rick Warren, the founding pastor at the influential Saddleback Church.
I think what is at play here is an ideological break between evangelicals.
Those evangelicals who also identify themselves as social conservative activists have all gone over to Ted Cruz. Those evangelicals who are not really into the political activism for traditional socially conservative causes, even though they may agree with them, have gone to Rubio.
The characterization is difficult because both sides would claim they are being stereotyped, but in both a generational sense and a sense of tone, the older evangelicals who are fighting against cultural shifts in the country on life and marriage through political organizations are with Cruz. The younger evangelicals who are fighting against cultural shifts in the country on life and marriage through explicit church ministries are going to Rubio. Again, that may be a bit broad, but it also tends to be true.
The way this shapes up is that Cruz’s evangelicals are convinced Cruz will fight on their issues and Rubio will not. While the Rubio’s evangelicals are convinced Rubio will make decisions grounded in their shared worldview, while Cruz will just turn people off to their cause.
Both men are Christians and have a case to make. The advantage Cruz has is that his part of the evangelical community tends to turn out and vote with Rubio’s younger voters do not. The advantage Rubio has with is part of the evangelical community is that they are younger and paint a fresh face on social action by Christians. The question for Rubio’s team is whether he can get enough of those younger evangelicals to turn out.