The Devil in the Details

Polls reinforce reporters’ stereotypes about evangelicals.

From The Columbia Journalism Review, May/June 2008.

My New York friends congratulated me for my “bravery” when I headed off to cover evangelical supporters of Mike Huckabee’s presidential campaign in Iowa shortly before Christmas. I grew up in Virginia at a time when the state’s Christian right was gaining strength, but have spent most of my adult life in liberal circles where evangelicals—if there were any—kept their faith largely to themselves.

During the days I spent following Huckabee’s campaign swing, I met some Christians who conformed to my friends’ expectations: home-schoolers, knee-jerk fundamentalists, voters for whom “family values” trumped all other issues. But I seemed to meet just as many evangelical voters who defied the stereotype. In Ames, there was the engineering grad student who was concerned about energy independence and was choosing between Huckabee and the libertarian Ron Paul. In Des Moines, a sixty-something woman whispered to me behind her husband’s back that she was uncomfortable with the hard-right line on abortion and gay unions. In Waterloo, I spoke by phone with a member of Huckabee’s “Pastors Council” who mentioned he was African American. At stop after stop, Christian voters—along with a good number of Huckabee supporters who said they were not regular churchgoers—cited economic concerns as often as social ones. And when I stepped off the trail to cover Christmas services at a Charismatic church, I even met evangelical Democrats.