Younger evangelicals still conservative, but trending moderate on many issues

A Pew Survey of evangelical Americans shows that Millennials in the group still identify as "conservative" but differ from their older counterparts on many issues.

More younger evangelicals believe that homosexuality should be accepted by society, that bigger government that offers more services is preferable, and that immigration makes America a better place.

The numbers reflect a change in attitude by Americans generally on many issues.  And younger evangelicals mirror those positions taken by non-evangelical Millennials. 

Millennials are more likely than older adults to take liberal positions on social and political issues. This generation gap exists even among evangelical Protestants – who constitute one of the country's most conservative religious groups – in areas including same-sex marriage, immigration and environmentalism.

The gap between younger and older evangelicals is perhaps most noticeable on LGBT issues. Evangelical Protestants who are Millennials (those born from 1981 to 1996) are considerably more likely than older evangelical Protestants to support same-sex marriage and to say homosexuality should be accepted by society, according to Pew Research Center's 2014 Religious Landscape Study.

In addition, younger evangelicals are more likely than their older co-religionists to favor stricter environmental laws and to say immigration makes the United States better. Similarly, evangelical Protestant Millennials are more likely to favor government aid to the poor and to prefer a bigger government with more services over a smaller one with fewer services. And they are less likely to say they are conservative, while slightly more likely to say they are politically moderate.

That said, by some metrics, including party identification and attitudes about abortion, there is little distinction between young evangelicals and their older counterparts.

I don't think there's much doubt that the acceptance by evangelical youth of homosexuality is a direct result of a change in attitude by mass media toward gays.  Acceptance is preached in every media program, at every grade level of school, and in popular culture.  If you have grown up in America over the last 30 years, you can't escape it.

But something similar could be said about the pro-choice movement.  Evangelical Millennials are almost twice as likely to believe that abortion should be illegal in most or all circumstances than their secular counterparts (65%-36%).  Young evangelicals have resisted being  swayed by mass media on the abortion issue, which may reflect the intensity of belief by all evangelicals on the issue.

One thing is certain: those liberals who have been warning us that America could easily become the kind of country portrayed in The Handmaid's Tale should look at the growing acceptance of gays and support for women's rights among young evangelicals and breathe a sigh of relief.  The kind of theocracy imagined in THT would require committed cadres of evangelicals who don't believe in women's rights.  For the younger generation, that simply isn't the case – which makes their hysteria all the more laughable.

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