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By James L. Guth & Lyman A. Kellstedt

The New Bully Pulpits

When the Christian Right made their first assault on the political process during the 1980 election, they had ambitious plans for conservative clergy. The Religious Round-table invited thousands of ministers to campaign rallies to arouse enthusiasm for Ronald Reagan, while Jerry Falwell implored pastors to "urge people to vote, tell them how to vote, right there in the pulpit." In fact, despite the media image of a broad-based grassroots movement, the early Christian Right organizations consisted largely of fundamentalist and Pentecostal pastors.

After this initial foray, however, the Christian Right shifted the focus to evangelical laity, often neglecting or even circumventing the pastor. Indeed, organizers and scholars alike soon argued that evangelical ministers were an unlikely political base: their emphasis on soul-winning, devaluation of the "things of this world," and fear of congregational resistance often neutralized them politically.

As it turns out, this conventional wisdom was far too pessimistic. Bit by bit, evangelical clergy have been "born again" to political activism--as can be seen in the 80,000 or more ordained ministers of the nation's largest Protestant denomination, the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC). Here we draw on surveys of Baptist pastors during the past four presidential elections to assess changes in their politics.

What do the surveys show? First, Baptist clergy certainly seem drawn toward politics. In 1992, over 75 percent claimed to have more than a "mild interest" in governmental affairs. And, as the accompanying table shows, a growing contingent wants to be more active politically (rising from 25 percent in 1980 to 48 percent in 1992). In addition, those thinking that the SBC should be more involved in vital social and political issues grew from 40 percent in 1988 to 52 percent by 1992. Clearly, Southern Baptist clergy no longer automatically reject a role in the governance of "this world."

In "The Prophetic Clergy" (1974), political ...

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