Jeff Sharlet reviews Frances FitzGerald’s new book, The Evangelicals for the New Republic, and his analysis is itself an excellent history of Evangelical Christianity’s influence on society and politics. Although a lot about Donald Trump seemed antithetical to conservative Christianity, he got a larger percentage of the Evangelical vote than George H.W. Bush, Ronald Reagan, or then-Southern Baptist Jimmy Carter. Why?
Before its current obsession with the body, as FitzGerald observes, evangelicalism expressed itself politically through extreme and often paranoid anti-communism. My favorite example is the 1958 horror film The Blob, which told of a carnivorous mass of red Jello. Conceived at the Presidential Prayer Breakfast in 1957 by Shorty Yeaworth, an evangelical filmmaker, the movie was widely viewed as either pure kitsch or an anti-communist metaphor free of religious overtones. American evangelicalism before the 1980s was no less political in its theology; its theology just happened to align with the anti-communist beliefs of the secular sphere.
Today, the political expression of evangelicalism seems strongest in its opposition to Islam. In this sense, it may be aligning, once again, with widely held secular anxieties.