The DNA of a Teavangelical
By David Brody
CBN News Chief Political Correspondent
CBN.com- Taken from The Teavangelicals: The Inside Story of How the Evangelicals and the Tea Party are Taking Back America by David Brody. Copyright © 2012. Used by permission of Zondervan. www.zondervan.com.
Chapter 1 (pages 13-19)
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 stayat- 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.”1
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:
• fiscal responsibility
• constitutionally limited government
• free markets2
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.3
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 Christians” 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.4
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.”5
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.6 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.
Taken from The Teavangelicals: The Inside Story of How the Evangelicals and the Tea Party are Taking Back America by David Brody. Copyright © 2012. Used by permission of Zondervan. www.zondervan.com.
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