By Bob Smietana, The Tennessean
In the beginning was the Moral Majority.
Then came the Christian Coalition.
Now there's a new incarnation of politically active conservative Christians - the Tea Party Evangelicals.
Or, as David Brody nicknamed them, the Teavangelicals.
Moral Majority of the 1970s and early 1980s has morphed into a fiscally
disciplined, tea party conservative, evangelical movement," said Brody,
the chief political correspondent for the Christian Broadcasting
Network and author of the new book "The Teavangelicals."
These politically active believers helped Rick Santorum beat Mitt Romney in
the Tennessee primary and have fueled the campaigns of former
presidential candidates such as Herman Cain and Michele Bachmann along
with local candidates such as Lou Ann Zelenik. They hope to reshape politics in Tennessee and around the country.
It's a group that opposes President Obama but also is suspicious of incumbents of any party.
go to Washington, drink the Potomac water, and you don't do anything
for the people," Brody said. "They are fed up with everyone."
J. Lee Douglas, organizer of the 912 Project Tennessee, considers himself an evangelical Christian and a tea party activist.
He'd not heard of the Teavangelical label before but said that it fits. His faith shapes many of his political views.
The Tennessee 912 Project, which has about 2,000 members, was inspired by conservative talk show host Glenn Beck.
said he and other group members believe there are absolutes when it
comes to right and wrong, both in religion and in politics.
said it's immoral for the federal government to run up debt because the
Bible teaches that a borrower is a slave to the lender. He opposes gay
marriage because the Old Testament calls homosexuality sinful. He wants
to see health-care reform reversed because he believes it is
Because of those absolutes, Douglas doesn't want to support candidates who will compromise on any issue.
heard Republicans say, 'Let's keep the good parts of Obamacare,' " he
said. "The absolutist in me says, no, get rid of it all because the
government has no right to do that. We want candidates who won't
All faiths welcome
Still, Douglas said that Christian faith isn't a requirement for
being a tea party member. He said the group is open to people of other
religions or those who no faith at all - as long as they have the same
values. Brody said one of the major ideas driving the evangelicals is a
belief that government is getting too big while God is getting too small
in American life.
That idea resonates with Katherine G. Hudgins, a tea party activist from Rutherford County.
"Our rights come from God, not from the government," she said.
Hudgins said she wasn't looking for a Christian group when she joined the tea party.
she was just fed up with the direction the country is going and wanted
things to change. As she met more tea party members, she learned that
they shared her faith as well as her political beliefs.
Evangelicals are more likely than those of other faith groups to embrace the tea party, at least among Republicans.
percent of Republicans who identified as evangelicals said they agree
with the tea party, according to polling from the Pew Research Center
for the People & the Press.
Only 42 percent of mainline
Protestants in the GOP - and 45 percent of Republican Catholics - said
they agree with the tea party, according to Greg Smith, a senior
researcher with the Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life.
Lessons from rival
Jay Heine, campaign manager for Lou Ann Zelenik, has worked on evangelical outreach for Republicans for years.
He says he doesn't think the Teavangelicals represent anything new.
said conservative evangelicals always have been interested in smaller
government and lower taxes - along with issues such as abortion and gay
marriage. He says they've gotten more active since the economy went
"The values haven't changed and the people haven't
changed," he said. "But the direction of the country has changed, and
that's what has made people more active."
Brody said previous
incarnations of the movement - such as Jerry Falwell's Moral Majority
and Pat Robertson's Christian Coalition - were driven more by their
opposition to abortion and homosexuality.
This new movement still cares about those issues, but it has added more emphasis on fiscal and small government concerns.
Teavangelicals have brought more energy to the Republican Party, Brody
said. But they face challenges in trying to turn that enthusiasm into
He said that, so far, candidates such Cain,
Bachmann and Santorum, who appeal to Teavangelicals, haven't been able
to raise the money or build the organizations needed to compete with
more established candidates such as Mitt Romney.
"Rick Santorum had the Teavangelical message," Brody said. "But he just didn't have the ATM to go with it."
unwilling to compromise also is a challenge for Teavangelicals. They
tend to be independent thinkers and not play well with others.
That can hurt when it comes to winning elections.
Hudgins said that tea party groups have a love-hate relationship with more established Republicans in the party.
have the money," she said. "We have the ground game. It's not that we
don't want to work with them. But they don't like outsiders coming in
with new ideas."
In order to win elections, Hudgins said, they need to take a lesson from liberals.
one thing that I do admire about liberals is that, regardless of what
their differences are, they all work together," she said. "That is
something we can learn from."