Republicans should take note, because they have growing problems among the post-religious-right generation of evangelicals. An analysis by the Pew Research Center found that 55 percent of white evangelicals ages 18 to 29 identified themselves as Republican in 2001. By 2007, that figure had dropped to 40 percent. This generation is not turning into liberal Democrats -- it is more pro-life, for example, than an older generation of evangelicals -- but it has become more loosely moored to the GOP.
These trends highlight a simple fact: Many evangelicals are center-right voters who respond to a message of social justice and community values, not only to a message of rugged individualism and unrestricted markets. Over the years, religious conservatives have made common cause with movement conservatives within the Republican Party -- but they are not identical to movement conservatives.
Sometimes religious conservatives are understandably more sympathetic to one party than to another. For Northern abolitionist evangelicals in the 1850s, the Republican Party of Abraham Lincoln was a more natural home. For my Nazarene preacher grandfather in Kentucky, the Democratic Party of Franklin Roosevelt stood for God and the common man. Since the 1980s, evangelicals have returned to the Republican fold, largely because Democrats embraced abortion on demand, moral relativism and intrusive, bureaucratic government.
But there is something essentially countercultural about Christianity that should make evangelicals restless in any political coalition. Christianity indicts oppressive government -- but also the soul-destroying excesses that sometimes come in free markets and consumerism. It teaches enduring moral rules -- and an emphasis on justice for the least and the lost. It is often hard where liberalism is soft, and soft where conservatism is hard.
If evangelical Christianity were identical to any political movement, something would be badly wrong. It is supposed to look toward a kingdom not of this world, one without borders, flags or end. And by this standard, homelessness is a natural state.