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'Teavangelicals' Stronger Than Ever, Author Says


I'm Michel Martin and this is TELL ME MORE from NPR News. Coming up, some updates on some of the recent stories we covered, including one of the Olympic contenders we met on this program. Here's a hint. He's got something new to wear around his neck.

But first, it's time for Faith Matters. That's the part of the program where we talk about faith and spirituality, and fairly often on this program we find ourselves talking about the nexus between faith and politics.

Today, we're talking about the Tea Party, that political force that has been credited - or blamed, depending on your point of view - with playing a major role in shaping the current Congress and choosing many of the Republican Party's rising stars, including this recent victor, Rafael Cruz, who's known as Ted, who staged a come-from-behind victory in the Republican Senate primary in Texas last week.

RAFAEL: Wow. When we started, we were at two percent, and they said I couldn't do it. They were right. I couldn't do it, but you could.

MARTIN: But our next guest says that the power behind this new political force comes from an old source, the Christian evangelicals. That, according to David Brody. He is the chief political correspondent for the Christian Broadcasting Network, or CBN. He is the author of the new book "Teavangelicals: The Inside Story of How the Evangelicals and the Tea Party Are Taking Back America." And he's with us now.

Thanks so much for joining us once again.

DAVID BRODY: Glad to be back, Michel.

MARTIN: Well, obviously you wrote a whole book about this, but what is a Teavangelical?

BRODY: Well, they are evangelical Christians that are breaking bread with Tea Party libertarians. In other words, they believe in what the Tea Party believes in, which is a return to constitutionally limited government. You know, evangelical Christians call that Judeo-Christian principles. I know a lot of people freak out when you hear a return to Judeo-Christian principles. What does that mean exactly?

Well, you know, in evangelical world, it really just means a strict constructionist view of what our founding fathers had in mind when they formed this country, if you will, and so - more than 50 percent of the Tea Party are conservative Christian. No doubt about it.

MARTIN: One of the points you make in the book is you explain why conservative Christians feel that small government is important to their kind of Christian beliefs.

BRODY: Well, just like progressive evangelicals see the Bible one way, conservative evangelicals see it in a completely different way, honestly. And one of the reasons that they see - if you go through - whether it be Old Testament or New Testament, they look at a lot of Bible verses that talk about how the borrower is a slave to the lender. A good person leaves an inheritance to their children's children, and Jesus talks about how - look, if you're going to build a tower, don't you want to know how much money it's going to cost to build it to make sure you have enough in the end?

And so there are a lot of fiscal austerity principles as it relates to the Bible, but...

MARTIN: I just want to quote a certain passage from the book.

BRODY: Sure.

MARTIN: You say that conservative Christians recognize that humans are sinful and fallible, thus centralized power can be dangerous. Additionally, if government gets too big, there's an increased chance of dependency, and that's scary for evangelicals who believe that people should rely on God, not the government.

BRODY: Yeah, absolutely. And that's something that Mitt Romney actually just started talking about on the campaign trail. He says our rights come from God. They don't come from government. And I think there's a feeling among conservative evangelicals in this country, and what's powering a lot of the Tea Party movement, is that government is getting too big. God is getting too small, and when I mean too small, I'm not talking about in people's lives, per se, but that government, if you will, is in essence somewhat replacing God in people's lives because they're becoming subservient to government rather than subservient to God.

MARTIN: If you're just joining us, this is TELL ME MORE from NPR News. I'm Michel Martin. We're talking about connections between the Tea Party and conservative evangelicals with David Brody. He's written a new book about this. It's called "Teavangelicals."

What do you make of the fact, David - new numbers from the Pew Research Center, for example, that show that even as the Tea Party's influence within the Republican primaries has risen - I mean, again, Ted Cruz's victory in Texas last week is seen as an example of that, had strong Tea Party support - the number of people that have a negative perception of the Tea Party has risen in the general population, and I wonder what you think that means for the Tea Party's continued influence in politics.

BRODY: Well, it is definitely an issue, for sure, and I bring it up in the last chapter of the book, where I lay out all of the challenges, and believe me, Michel, there are a lot of challenges here. The one thing I didn't want to do with this book is to be some sort of cheerleader.

A) I'm a journalist, so I'm not going to be cheerleader, but B) that wasn't my role, to be a cheerleader for the movement. I'm not a cheerleader for the movement as much as I am a realist about what's going on there. And part of the reality here is that they need to be visible with victories. In other words, the only way they're going to be able to turn those poll numbers around, if you will, is to start not being against everything on Capitol Hill.

So, for example, you know, we're against the debt ceiling. We're against this. We're against that. Well, what are you for? And not only what are you for, but how are you going to not sacrifice your principles but work within the construct of Capitol Hill? You have the Tea Party that really needs to get victories with the independents out there, so you have to look at the polling as it relates to what independents believe.

So for example, independents believe - 70 percent of independents believe that term limits are a great idea in this country. Well, guess what? The Tea Party believes that too. So where is the common ground between what the Tea Party believes and what independents in this country believe? You can start to build at that point.

MARTIN: One issue I wanted to ask you about - well, there's one issue you address in the book and one issue you really don't. I'll start with the issue you address in the book, and that is that inherent tension between people who are attracted to the Tea Party for the small government, you know, fiscal conservative message who are, in fact, libertarian who really believe that the government shouldn't play a role in people's personal lives on matters such as defining marriage or, for example, abortion rights, and conservative Christians who believe the opposite. And what about that tension?

BRODY: It is not a schism that really is going to make an indelible dent, if you will, in the movement, and here's why. Look, 60 percent of the Tea Party is socially conservative, so if the social conservatives were going to have their way in the Tea Party, it would have already happened by now. It definitely would have progressed in a certain direction in terms of a more socially conservative direction, but it hasn't. It pretty has stayed true to that message.

MARTIN: One point I did want to ask you about - in the book you are careful to specify white evangelical Christians because that's what the data shows. But there are also African-American evangelical Christians who may agree with white conservatives on issues like same-sex marriage, but who have a very different view of the role that the government should play in ensuring fairness and equal opportunity and the criminal justice and things of that sort.

So why do you think these Christian evangelicals have not been able to persuade more of their African-American co-religionists - with the exception of a few very high profile people like Tim Scott and Allen West, who are the two black Republicans in Congress - why is there such a difference of opinion about this?

BRODY: It's obviously a difference of opinion, but that white evangelical crowd or maybe some of even the presidential candidates that we saw in 2008 and 2012, they're not actually spending time within the African-American community and explaining why their belief system would be good, if you will, for African-American folks within that community, and they're just not going there. They're not explaining it. They're not taking the time. And it's really a shame. It's something that I've talked about for years in a lot of my journalist reporting and my analysis.

MARTIN: David Brody is the author of the recently released book "Teavangelicals: The Inside Story of How the Evangelicals and the Tea Party Are Taking Back America." And he was kind enough to join us at our studios in Washington, D.C.

David Brody, thanks so much for joining us once again.

BRODY: Thank you, Michel. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.