Some observers and insiders say evangelicals are less politically conservative than they used to be. Others say evangelicals have the same political views that they have had for years.
The answer may be that both assertions are correct.
In a recent survey of 1,200 megachurches, church leaders at 33 percent of the congregations characterized their church as "predominately conservative." In 2005, 51 percent of the congregations used the term.
"They aren't going liberal by any means," said Scott Thumma of the Hartford Institute for Religion Research, who conducted the survey with Warren Bird of the Leadership Network. "I do think that it's moderating somewhat."
Leaders at 44 percent of the congregations called their church "somewhat conservative," up from 33 percent in 2005, while congregations who say they are "right in the middle" went from 11 percent in 2005 to 17 percent in 2008.
The political identification trend does not translate to theology, however. Only 6 percent of megachurches identified themselves as theologically moderate, down from 12 percent in 2000. Identification as evangelical, meanwhile, went from 48 percent in 2000 to 65 percent in 2008.
David Sheaffer, a 34-year-old Pennsylvanian who works at the Institute on Religion and Democracy, says many of his fellow evangelicals are calling themselves "independent" or "moderate" out of a desire to be considered a swing vote rather than a party base.
They are not changing out of a significant shift in political ideology, he says, though some opinions have changed. President Bush's approval ratings among evangelicals, for example, dropped from 75 percent in 2001 to 47 percent, according to the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life. But Pew surveys also found that evangelicals' ...1
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