The Teavangelicals: The Inside Story of How the Evangelicals and the Tea Party are Taking Back Americaby David Brody
Belonging neither to red states nor blue states, the Tea Party movement erupted onto the national scene with a mission to reclaim America. In the span of one election season, the Tea Party gained popularity and notoriety seen only a few times in our nation’s history. At this pivotal point in our development as a nation, the Tea Party has come to represent
Belonging neither to red states nor blue states, the Tea Party movement erupted onto the national scene with a mission to reclaim America. In the span of one election season, the Tea Party gained popularity and notoriety seen only a few times in our nation’s history. At this pivotal point in our development as a nation, the Tea Party has come to represent individual freedom and the American spirit. Committed to values and integrity and aligned with most social conservatives, the Tea Party found a partnership in the evangelical movement, drawing in Christians from all corners of conservatism. Now, these Teavangelicals are poised to draw a line in the sand. In his trademark, award-winning journalistic style, author David Brody introduces Americans to the history, issues, and main players of the Teavangelical movement. Through powerful and engaging stories Brody reveals the scope and magnitude of the movement and how Teavangelicals aim to restore the American Dream to its original glory.
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By David Brody
ZondervanCopyright © 2012 David Brody
All right reserved.
Chapter OneThe DNA of a Teavangelical
Sitting alone in his apartment with an open Bible and a racing heart, Kellen Guida was thinking seriously about giving his life to Jesus Christ. On a cold Washington, DC, winter night in January 2010, one of the original cofounders of the New York City Tea Party group found himself ready to take the plunge. But would he? After all, growing up Irish Catholic hadn't exposed him to discussions about a personal relationship with the God of the Bible. That sort of chatter was left to evangelicals. Yet after what he had experienced the week before, he knew it was decision time.
Just a few days before this heart-pounding moment, Kellen had sat enthralled at a Tea Party retreat in Jacksonville, Florida. Guida's successful launch of the New York City's Tea Party 365 group had led to his being invited to be a board member of the newly formed powerhouse group the Tea Party Patriots. This Tea Party libertarian joined a dozen others at this exclusive meeting devised to plot Tea Party strategy for the upcoming midterm elections. The meeting turned into more than a strategy session for Kellen.
During this two-day gathering, Kellen met an affluent businessman named Jack (his real name is being withheld for privacy reasons) and a Tea Party leader from the Jacksonville area by the name of Billie Tucker. Both were vocal about their faith. Kellen describes them as "wearing it on their sleeves." While it made some in the room uncomfortable, Kellen was intrigued. Jack, a successful businessman, not only helped Tea Party Patriot board members with adroit tactics, but he also led prayers, asking God for direction and the skill to get through all the upcoming hurdles that the Tea Party members were about to encounter. Jack had discussions with Kellen about how it was God, not himself, who was in control of his life. The fact that this insanely rich businessman was ultimately relying on God and not his own strong skill set was a foreign concept to Kellen, but it got him thinking about this God of the universe. Jack continued to talk to Kellen throughout the next two days, and before Kellen left Jacksonville, Jack gave Kellen a few Bible verses to think about on the way home.
After a few hours on the airplane, Kellen landed at the airport, and under a spell of excitement and confusion, he called Jack and asked, "What the heck is going on?" Thoughts of an omnipotent personal God were consuming his mind. His experience in Jacksonville was feeling more like revival than retreat. He was experiencing the power of God in a way he never had before. Jack encouraged him to open his Bible, and that's exactly what Kellen did on that cold winter night.
A couple of days later, as Kellen sifted through Bible verses with enthusiasm and curiosity, he began to realize that the feelings he was experiencing weren't fleeting ones. "This is real," Kellen told himself. He knew he needed to calm down. The moment was exciting and overwhelming. He slowed down and just talked to God. He then went to his computer and found the Sinner's Prayer of Repentance. And then it happened. From his heart, Kellen Guida recited that prayer by acknowledging that he was a sinner and needed Jesus Christ to be Lord and Savior of his life. Kellen Guida, a Tea Party libertarian in search of God, had embraced Christianity. At that precise moment, he became a born-again Christian. Politically speaking, he became a Teavangelical.
What in the World Is a Teavangelical?
Kellen Guida is just one of millions who call themselves Teavangelicals. So what does that mean? Despite what you might think, a Teavangelical is not an evangelical who likes tea. That person is called a "small group Bible study leader." How can I best describe a Teavangelical? Think of it this way. Pretend you're a Mormon, and you buy into the libertarian movement. You'd be called a "Mormonarian." If you were a Baptist who also happened to be an abolitionist back in the 1860s, you would have been called a "Baptistionist." Or how about an old-time Pentecostal who embraced the disco era in the 1970s? This person would be called an "outcast." Sorry, I digressed there a little bit. But you get the idea, right?
Don't bother looking in Webster's. You won't find the definition there. It can only be found here. Webster's, take note:
Teavangelical: (noun) a conservative Christian (typically evangelical) who strongly supports the Tea Party agenda or is active in the Tea Party movement (pronounced "TEE-van-GEL-i-cal")
Teavangelicals come in all shapes and sizes. They may be stay-at-home moms or representatives or senators on Capitol Hill. Some may be more active than others. Whatever the form and whatever the level, they are roaming across this land of ours with one purpose: restoring America to greatness.
Now, it's vitally important to understand that Teavangelicals are not trying to take over the Tea Party movement or co-opt their agenda. Just because evangelical Christians are heavily involved in the Tea Party movement doesn't mean that they are ready to storm the gates and change the stated goals. If you think that, you're missing the point entirely. These are evangelicals who are breaking bread with the Tea Party. They are part of the Tea Party. Think of Teavangelicals as a large subset of the Tea Party movement. The truth of the matter is that Tea Party libertarians cannot win consistently and consequentially without evangelicals by their side. Conversely, evangelicals can't do it alone either.
Are there differences between libertarians and evangelicals? Yes, of course, and we will address the challenges of their coexistence later in this book. For now, though, and for the foreseeable future, they have a common bond and are riding shotgun together in the front seat of American politics. They are partners in this effort to take America back to its founding constitutional principles.
The New Hybrid (and It's Not a Car)
Admit it. You're a little skeptical. You're saying to yourself, "Cute little word. Teavangelical. I give you credit for thinking of it, but there's no real movement like this in America. You've been watching too many reruns of The Brady Bunch. You've gone a little loopy." Well, you're right. I have watched my fair share of Brady Bunch episodes (my favorite one is when they travel to Hawaii and Greg wipes out on his surfboard), but I have not gone loopy. This Teavangelical movement is backed up with cold, hard facts.
When talking about Teavangelicals, it's important to understand their hybrid nature. Just as a hybrid car is powered fully by both gas and electric power, Teavangelicals are fully evangelical yet staunchly Tea Party – esque.
First, let me define what I mean by evangelical. The Barna Group, a nationally respected research organization that concentrates on the connection between faith and culture, identifies evangelical Christians as those who have made "a personal commitment to Jesus Christ that is still important in their life today and who also indicated they believe that when they die they will go to Heaven because they had confessed their sins and had accepted Jesus Christ as their savior." They also believe that "they have a personal responsibility to share their religious beliefs about Christ with non-Christians; that Satan exists; that eternal salvation is possible only through grace, not works; that Jesus Christ lived a sinless life on earth; that the Bible is accurate in all that it teaches; and that God is an all-knowing, all-powerful, perfect deity who created the universe and still rules it today. Being classified as an evangelical is not dependent upon church attendance or the denominational affiliation of the church attended."
Now that we have that out of the way, let's make sure we understand exactly what the Tea Party stands for. TEA stands for "Taxed Enough Already" but their core values are as follows:
constitutionally limited government
With that established, let's start to look at the crossover between these groups.
One of the most respected polling companies in the country is the Pew Research Center's Forum on Religion and Public Life. Their survey, conducted from August 2010 through February 2011, shows the following:
69% of registered voters who agreed with the religious right also said they agreed with the Tea Party.
White evangelical Protestants are roughly five times as likely to agree with the Tea Party movement as to disagree with it (44% versus 8%).
64% of Tea Party supporters oppose same-sex marriage.
59% of Tea Party supporters say abortion should be illegal in all or most cases.
Before moving on to some other convincing data, let's make an important distinction. Did you notice that the survey above referred to "White evangelical Protestants"? When we refer to a Teavangelical, we are typically (but not always) referring to these types of people. That, however, doesn't mean that Protestants, Catholics, or other religious denominations, races, and ethnicities aren't Teavangelicals. Needless to say, there are many "saved, born-again Chris tians" that may not identify themselves as evangelical yet still agree with the Tea Party agenda. What about the saved Catholic, Lutheran, Methodist, and so on? Hey, if you follow Jesus Christ and are into the Tea Party movement, you're a Teavangelical! To prove the point, that same Pew research study found that 31% of Protestants agree with the Tea Party agenda (compared to 21% who don't) and 29% of Catholics agree with the Tea Party while 23% don't. So please keep in mind when we talk about Teavangelicals in this book, it really is a simplified term for a broader set of born-again Christians.
Let's move on to more evidence of the overlap. In September 2010, the American Values Survey conducted a survey about how Americans view religion and politics. The Teavangelical trend shows up in spades. Take note:
Nearly half (47%) of the self-identified Tea Party members say they are part of the religious right or conservative Christian movement.
81% identify as Christian within the Tea Party movement and of that number, 57% also consider themselves part of the Christian conservative movement.
63% say abortion should be illegal in all or most cases.
Only 18% support allowing gay and lesbian couples to marry.
The authors of the important study, Robert P. Jones and Daniel Cox, conclude that "on nearly all basic demographic characteristics, there are no significant differences between Americans who identify with the Tea Party and those who identify with the Christian conservative movement."
Poll after poll shows virtually the same stat line on evangelicals. For example, Public Opinion Strategies found that 52% of all self-identified members of the Tea Party movement are conservative evangelicals. Think about that figure for a moment. More than half of Tea Party members are conservative Christians. In other words, more than half are Teavangelicals. What if all the evangelicals inside the Tea Party decided not to participate? What if they took their "Don't Tread on Me" flags and their NIV Study Bibles and said they were done and going home? What would you be left with? Well, let me give you a visual.
Close your eyes, breathe slowly, and picture this. I'm a big New York Mets fan. Every September the baseball team is typically eliminated from playoff contention so they play to just a few thousand fans in a huge fifty-thousand-seat stadium. In other words, it's pretty lonely. There are not many people there. Can you visualize it? A huge stadium with not much of a crowd. Welcome to what the Tea Party would be like without the conservative Christians. They are vitally important. They make the difference between playing to sellout crowds and advancing to the playoffs or going home with nothing to play for. Tea Party libertarians may be vocal and active, but they simply don't have the numbers if evangelicals stay home. That's the plain hard truth.
The Teavangelical Daily Double
It's time for a game of Jeopardy. Are you ready? Here we go (cue the music).
Me: Alex, I'll take Emerging Political Movements for $1,000.
Alex: The answer is: The Daily Double!
Me: I'll bet it all, Alex.
Alex: Good luck, David. You're a gambler. Here goes: This group of voters sees a direct link between fiscal issues and social issues to form the essence of the pro-family movement, an aspect often misunderstood by the mainstream media.
Me: Who are Teavangelicals?
Alex: That's right, David. Have I told you you're the best player ever on Jeopardy?
Okay, I got a little carried away, but you got the point, right? Here's the dirty little secret: if you're a social conservative, you're most likely a fiscal conservative. As Ralph Reed told me, "There aren't many social conservative voters who are economic liberals.... I think a society that honors God and honors marriage and family is also unlikely to run up ten trillion dollars in bills on a credit card and hand it to their children and grandchildren."
The Link Between Fiscal and Social Issues
We began by asking, "What in the world is a Teavangelical?" Well, this link between fiscal and social issues is key to understanding the answer to that question. The reason many evangelicals morph into Teavangelicals is because the fiscally conservative message of the Tea Party resonates with them. We often hear about how the Republican Party is made up of social conservatives, fiscal conservatives, and national security conservatives, as if somehow these are three distinct groups. Hogwash! Just like the symbol of the Olympic rings, they are intertwined. This really shouldn't come as a surprise to anyone, yet it does. Just because social conservatives might put more emphasis on social issues doesn't mean they don't care deeply about fiscal issues. To use a food analogy, ice cream may be my favorite dessert, but I like apple pie too!
When former presidential candidate and current Fox News contributor Mike Huckabee walked into our CBN News bureau in the spring of 2011, I knew he'd have an opinion on this topic, considering that he's been scratching his head for years about why regular people with capable brains can't fathom this idea that pro-family conservatives can be passionate about both ice cream and apple pie. "If you really drill into the Tea Party, what you find is that the Tea Party is overwhelmingly dominated by people who are not only fiscally conservative but they are also people who are principally pro-life as well as pro – traditional marriage," Huckabee told me.
The Pew Research Forum once again provides the facts for this convergence of fiscal and social conservatives. Their survey in May 2011 came to the following conclusion:
The most visible shift in the political landscape since Pew Research's previous political typology in early 2005 is the emergence of a single bloc of across-the-board conservatives. The long-standing divide between economic, pro-business conservatives, and social conservatives has blurred. Today, Staunch Conservatives take extremely conservative positions on nearly all issues — on the size and role of government, on economics, foreign policy, social issues, and moral concerns.
By the way, if you go inside those numbers, Pew says 72% of those staunch conservatives (who have conservative positions on social and economic issues) are Tea Party members, and 57% of these staunch conservatives attend church every week. Sounds like a Teavangelical crowd to me.
This fiscal/social conservative message resonates everywhere, especially in places like Greenville, South Carolina, where a Teavangelical makes this case on the radio airwaves. While I run into Teavangelicals all over the country at rallies, large conferences, and in small homes, I must say I had never before met one in the bathroom. That is, until I met Josh Kimbrell.
Kimbrell is the CEO of the Round Table of South Carolina, a group devoted to bringing economic conservatives and social conservatives together on public policy. He's also the host of the daily radio show Spiritual Cents, which airs on Christian Talk 660 in Greenville. I first met Josh when I went to interview him in a downtown hotel on a trip to Greenville in May of 2011. I was supposed to interview him in the lobby. Instead we met prematurely.
"David Brody?" Josh inquired at the bathroom urinal next to me.
"Josh Kimbrell?" I answered.
"Yep," Josh answered. "I recognized your face from TV."
Oy vey! How embarrassing! But with those bathroom pleasantries out of the way, Josh and I moved on to more substantial matters. Kimbrell has built much of his career out of this fiscal issue/social issue connection among people of faith. He studied economics at North Greenville University, and after graduating in 2007 he went on to Gardner Webb University to complete his masters of business degree. He and his wife, Kacy, were part of a group that formed the first Tea Party rally in Greenville back in 2009. The Kimbrells believe that without a Judeo-Chris agenda, America simply will not be successful. In the lobby of that downtown Greenville hotel, Josh told me, "Ultimately a good economic policy and a good social policy are one and the same. There is a direct correlation between our economic crisis and our cultural crisis."
Excerpted from The Teavangelicals by David Brody Copyright © 2012 by David Brody. Excerpted by permission of Zondervan. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Meet the Author
David Brody is the Chief Political Correspondent for the Christian Broadcasting Network and his interviews with the top political figures in America can be seen nationwide on The 700 Club. Brody hosts a one-of-a-kind TV show called The Brody File, which features his interviews with top newsmakers and takes a deeper look into the intersection of faith and politics through a Christian worldview. Brody is a graduate of Ithaca College and lives in Rockville, Maryland with his lovely wife of 22 years and his three children. Visit: http://blogs.cbn.com/thebrodyfile/
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