We the Purple
A few weeks ago, as I was reading David Kinnaman's book unChristian-a look at the way late teens to 30-year-olds perceive Christianity-I found myself nodding in agreement. Not only did I fully understand this younger generation's negative attitudes, I've also harbored many of those same opinions over the years. And today, in no arena of life is this more evident than in the political sphere, where partisanship in the church has repelled younger people and compelled me to leave more than one faith community.
I am so far outside the book's demographic, and that of a recent Pew Research Center poll on younger evangelicals, that I might be tempted to feel like a loner, an isolated, older evangelical and the bane of every partisan politician-an independent voter. But I know better. I am not isolated. I am not alone. There are plenty of evangelicals in nearly every age group who cannot in good conscience embrace either major party, and for that reason they have become independents. And their numbers are growing.
I know this because I have spent the last 18 months researching and writing about independent voters, including those whose faith informs their politics. I had been a closet independent in a semi-evangelical world, and once I went public, I became something of a magnet for evangelicals who felt they couldn't admit to their independent status in their GOP-saturated congregations (and the stray mainliners who felt the same way in Democratic churches). There were more of us than I realized. From early conversations with independent evangelicals that prompted the research, to personal encounters at independent voter events and phone interviews with political activists, to e-mails and comments on my independent voter blog, I've found a great many kindred spirits.
It's difficult to find accurate data on the percentage of Christians, evangelical or otherwise, who are independent; although last year a Barna Group survey indicated that born-again Christians represent one-third of all independent voters. Therefore, depending on which statistics you believe-estimates of the number of independent voters nationwide range from 32 to 43 percent-born-again independents make up roughly 10 to 14 percent of the electorate.
Given those percentages, it's clear that it's not just young people who have abandoned partisan politics. Many of us who are over 30, and way beyond, have done the same. Going independent is a matter of conscience-not age.
Marcia Ford, author of We the Purple: Faith, Politics, and the Independent Voter, maintains an independent voter blog at marciaford.blogspot.com.