Government shutdown may drive more young Christians from GOP

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Federal workers protest the government shutdown. Over 800,000 "non-essential" federal employees have been furloughed. - Photo credit: Cool Revolution (

Federal workers protest the government shutdown. Over 800,000 "non-essential" federal employees have been furloughed. - Photo credit: Cool Revolution (

Federal workers protest the government shutdown. Over 800,000 "non-essential" federal employees have been furloughed. - Photo credit: Cool Revolution (

Federal workers protest the government shutdown. Over 800,000 “non-essential” federal employees have been furloughed. – Photo credit: Cool Revolution (

How does one deem a government worker “non-essential”? It’s difficult to say, but 800,000 of them were sent home last week.

The ripples of the government shutdown are far-reaching, affecting everything from the national parks to the IRS. Even the Centers for Disease Control, the agency tasked with detecting and investigating disease outbreaks, was forced to drastically reduce its workforce and has ceased to monitor flu outbreaks.

But in the face of so much chaos and calamity, the non-essential workers who are racking up IOUs may not be paying the greatest price.

According to recent polls, more Americans blame the Republican Party than the Democratic Party. On this one, it seems the public got it right. Senator Ted Cruz has reached celebrity status among Republicans for leading the charge and the party’s leaders are beside themselves with glee.

“We’re very excited,” House Republican and former presidential contender Michelle Bachmann told The Washington Post. “It’s exactly what we wanted and we got it.”

But the shutdown may be a classic case of getting what you want and then not wanting what you get. The polls indicate that the stalemate may further alienate Hispanic voters from the GOP, but the effects may be more deleterious than that. It may repel young Christians who have struggled to connect with Republicans in the way many of their parents did.

“Big-hearted youngsters looking to ‘do unto others’ won’t find their calling in today’s rancorous politics,” Matt Lewis stated in a column for The Week titled, “The GOP is losing young Christians.” 

He’s right.

As Lewis argues, the name of the game in Washington these days is mockery and relentless “eye for an eye” partisanship, things that repulse young Christians. There was a time when conservative Christians would have rushed headlong into the fray, fighting the culture wars with everyone else. But some of them — particularly the younger ones —seem to be taking a different approach.

In a USA Today column last year, I pointed out that this new crop of Christians is shifting from partisanship to independence, from divisive rhetoric to civil dialogue, and from a narrow agenda focused on only one or two issues to a much broader one. They are still politically active, but they aren’t engaging in quite the same way as those who came before them. (See also my book A Faith of Our Own: Following Jesus Beyond the Culture Wars)

Young Christians and their older, more conservative counterparts both agree with the late Richard John Neuhaus: “Something has gone dreadfully wrong with the world, and with us in the world.” But they don’t find the answer in acquiring political power by all means necessary so as to implement Republican policies.

Young Christians believe the people of God empowered by the Spirit of God must proclaim the gospel of God and embody the principles of God. They know that America’s laws are a function of its people and that the best way to transform a nation is to change the hearts and minds of its citizens through embodying, rather than merely voting, their values. This mission is far more attractive to young Christians than the dumpster fire that is Washington D.C.

No dripping faucet is as maddening as the tit-for-tat bickering of politicians, and it’s even more frustrating given the seriousness of the issues that need to be addressed. From food stamps to healthcare, economic stimulus to education, America is facing some real whoppers. Most Americans recognize that solving such problems will require compromise. But our elected leadership apparently doesn’t share that view, choosing instead to hold the nation hostage until their demands are met.

Christians of various stripes have already expressed their aggravation at the inability of Congress and the President to reach a compromise and end the shutdown. On September 30th, 33 religious leaders signed an open letter addressed to members of Congress saying that defaulting by refusing to raise the debt ceiling was “reckless.” Signatories included Jim Wallis of Sojourners, Mark Hanson, Presiding Bishop of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, and Peter D. Weaver, Executive Secretary of the United Methodist Church.

Displeasure isn’t only flowing from Christians’ left flank. Today, religious leaders gathered in the nation’s capital for a “faithful filibuster.” The group, which included leaders from the National Association of Evangelicals and the U.S. Council of Catholic Bishops, exhorted Congress to act and recited the more than 2,000 verses of Scripture charging humanity to care for the poor.

To be sure, Republicans aren’t the only ones at fault for the mess we’re in. Democratic leadership has been equally petty, vindictive, and unwilling to compromise. But if the polls are correct and the public disproportionately blames Republicans for this shutdown, the GOP can expect to pay more dearly with fed-up Americans and the young Christians among them.

And this will spell “t-r-o-u-b-l-e” for Republicans. The party that is seemingly unable to attract women and minorities simply cannot afford to drive away the youth of its most loyal demographic. If they do, those “non-essential” federal workers may not be the only ones out of work.

  • I don’t think this will make a long term difference. I say that as a Evangelical Democrat. I am not a fan of the shut down. I believe that it is primarily Republican that are responsible, and that it was primarily Democrats that compromised to end the past shut down.

    However, I think it is unlikely to move religiously motivated republicans. Democrats are not changing they stances on most issues that would make a person a Republican for primarily Christian reason. Abortion policy is not changing, nor is Democratic focus on a social safety net and reducing inequality.

    I think this is serious, but unlikely to change many minds.
    That being said, your list of what is being affected is a list of what is not being affected. Mail, Social Security and Medicaid are primarily unaffected.

  • The conduct of the GOP is not only driving young people away but older ones like me as well. I am fed up with the childish behavior among House GOP members in particular and it will not be business as usual for me come election time.

  • Doc Anthony

    I forgot who said it, but one of the Republican congressmen — perhaps a Tea Party type? — pointed out something after Obama’s re-election. It went something like:

    “WE were elected too.”

    Nobody likes the shutdown, and you can “get driven away” from the GOP if you want to, but there’s a significant number of Americans who are already driven away from Obama, Obama’s liberalism, and Obamacare and who don’t want to roll over for him anymore. This demographic is NOT going away, and the congressional candidates this demographic votes for, will not go away either.

  • Thanks for catching that error. It was the result of two sentences spliced in editing. Fixed now.

    Disagree with the premise of the rest of your comment, though. I did not say that this will cause young Christians to become Democrats, only that it may drive them from the GOP. As I stated in the USAT piece, I think the majority of the disillusioned will become independent or “unaffiliated.”

  • Jon q public

    Obama was elected by the ENTIRE nation. The tea party congressmen responsible for this shutdown were NOT elected by the ENTIRE nation. They were elected only by the people in their district. Please don’t equate your congressman to Obama. Your wacko tea party congressman isn’t elected by sane people in other states.

  • Aaron Faulkner

    I left the GOP in 2008 when they claimed McCain was a conservative. I do support the shutdown though, and support Ted Cruz for the excellent job he’s doing in leading the fight against this travesty titled Obamacare.

  • Ben Spurlock

    This kind of dovetails with some of the info that I’ve seen, that more than half of the voters blame both parts- something like 60+% for GOP, about 50% for Democrats. It would seem to me that the electorate is getting fed up with both parties, and I’m willing to bet that your theory is right- most will become unaffiliated or independent.

    Of course, this doesn’t necessarily mean that progress will result. Part of me is truly skeptical, though I do hope that this pivot will result in at least more civility in the public discourse.

  • Dylan

    I support Ted Cruz as well. If anyone looks at his senate race, you will see that he carried around 40% of the Hispanic vote. Ted Cruz is doing exactly what he said he would do when he ran for the Senate. I’m thankful someone is actually fulfilling their campaign promises. The problem seems to be, that there are real conservatives and the nominally conservative, and that creates problems. Too many career Republicans capitulate in the name of tactics to try and win more votes and all they do is kick the can down the road and somehow in the process keep their job. We as Christians need to step up and elect people who will truly represent the conservatism we all know this country needs. People like Ted Cruz and Mike Lee at least have the guts to stand and fight. This go along get along stuff needs to go.

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  • Rain

    1 John 5:19

    “The WHOLE WORLD is lying in the power of the wicked one.”

    Psalms 146:3

    “Do not put your trust in nobles, nor in the son of earthling man, to whom no salvation belongs.”

  • I think we are talking about different things. Rereading, you are suggesting people will become independents. And I was suggesting that they will not become democrats.

    So we are probably both right.

    But here is my point, you can call yourself an independent all you want. But most independents only vote for one party. So are they really independent? It is likely many of the disaffected leaving the GOP are going to either continue to vote republican or not vote at all. I think it is unlikely many will start to vote democrat or for a random third party candidate.

  • False Equivalency

    “To be sure, Republicans aren’t the only ones at fault for the mess we’re in. Democratic leadership has been equally petty, vindictive, and unwilling to compromise.”

    Sorry, but if the mess you’re talking about is the government shutdown (or the debt ceiling), that is an unnecessary and pathetic false equivalency. Why are you afraid to state the facts? It is clear that Republicans planned this strategy. They have manufactured these crises and they deserve to own them.

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  • Fran

    I do not belong to any political party but am a theocrat, or whole-souled supporter of God’s rule through his Kingdom or heavenly government with his son, Jesus Christ, as King. Fortunately, that kingdom is going to put an end to all human governments (Daniel 2:44) and bring real blessings to all meek ones (Isaiah 11:1-9) on earth.

  • Duane Lamers

    Mr. Merritt, I suggest that there’s no such thing as an “Independent” or “unaffiliated” voter. The politico-cultural war of the past several decades–been goin’ on longer than you’ve been around–centers on the very nature of the federal government. The struggle these days has entered the halls of the GOP itself, with conservatives attempting to reshape the GOP into a party that is truly an alternative to the liberal party, the Democrat Party. When one votes for liberals, one votes for the expansion of the federal government, spending beyond our means, and removal of restraints on government that are inscribed in the Constitution.

    When one votes for the GOP, at least until the present time, one is voting for the above at a slightly slower pace. Sometimes nothing slow about it.

    There must be a reformed GOP so that voters will actually have a choice at election time regarding the nature of the government they wish to have.

  • Duane Lamers

    Jon q, whether you like it or not, the Constitution gives the power of the purse to the House, which is the larger body. That your Obama has chosen not to compromise his “principles” (such as they are–do you know his prior legislative history in Illinois as well as in DC?) does not compel the House majority to compromise instead.

    The whole problem with the liberal perspective is its refusal to admit that there are other viewpoints that must be acknowledged. No difference in that perspective from that of a dictator and totalitarian.

    You seem to be upset about the fact that there is significant disagreement in the country with the liberals’ concept of government. Do you believe that the federal Constitution’s words mean what they say and should be honored and followed?

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  • Duane Lamers

    False, so there’s nothing “manufactured” about Harry Reid and Obama saying that they will not negotiate? It is only the GOP that is responsible for the shutdown? Why not come right out and say that you want Obama to get his way entirely, despite the fact that the people elected a GOP House, thereby voting for divided government.

    The danger about liberals is that they refuse to accept that others might disagree with them. One does not find them among the crowd referencing the Constitution–or vigorously singing the national anthem or reciting the Pledge.

  • Harlan

    Haha. That was a funny joke you said there. The one about it being a LIBERAL perspective that refuses to admit there are other viewpoints to be acknowledged.

    I’m pretty sure that’s exactly why we’re in this mess, the GOP’s refusal to allow a differing viewpoint. You know, the one that was voted on, constitutionally passed and ratified, and upheld by the Supreme Court. That one?

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  • bob

    The news is there will be no USA at some point. It was a good country. Maybe still is, for how long. The other news the kingdom of Jesus will outlast all the kingdoms.

  • Fran

    More than that, God’s kingdom will crush and put an end to all these kingdoms (Daniel 2:44), and rule to time indefinite….I can hardly wait!! 😀

  • John

    I was drawn to the message of Christianity, the message of Jesus because of grace. Jesus gave healing, healthcare, for free. It seems the “christian” right wing would condemn Jesus for being a middle eastern liberal with socialistic tendencies. It seems that the “christian” right wing believe that they earn heaven through the law and they are proud of it. The law gives structure but it does not liberate the soul but if one is liberated by the law, they are blind, arrogant, smug, modern day Pharisees. I am a moderate republican who one liked the principle if the tea party but now I am embarrassed by what they have become – people who want to self-righteously crush the “ungodly”. The Good Samaritan would be described as a bleeding heart liberal do gooder by the right wing. I would like to see the republican come back and draw young people back for compassionate conservativism.


    great comments and keen insight.


    Fran, I don’t think anyone doubts that God’s Kingdom is eternal and that HIs is the only one that will ultimately outlast all others, however, we still live in this world and need to do more than wait for Jesus to return. Reminds me of the talents that were given. The one that hid his talent was the one rebuked. Use your talents. Speak, even vote His truth. Of course His truth is hard to find in politics, nevertheless, act!


    One of the things that I hear no one speaking about is the problem that is really going to tank the nation – debt. Cruz’ mistake is to take on Obamacare. We need to reform health care and how it is paid for, but the bottom line is that we will default for real in the not too distant future if we don’t do something drastic about the insane amount of debt that we have accumulated.
    No pointing fingers about who did what. No republican vs democrat name calling, but coming up with some sort of solution to balance the budget and pay off debt. 11 trillion is insane, but when you consider entitlements and other obligations, the number increases to 100 trillion. We are not paying attention to the real problem.

  • Fran

    Jesus and his followers never got involved in the politics of his time nor in wars. He acknowledged that his kingdom was no part of this world and that we should always pursue first God’s kingdom first (and not man’s), and all the things we need in life will be added to us (Matthew 6:33). The politics of the world also do not teach us to live how God, or his son, Jesus Christ, taught us, for our benefit, such as loving our fellowman as ourselves.

  • Ken Duncan


    It befuddles me that people see this as the fault of the Republican party. All that the GOP is doing right now is saying “no” to totally out of control spending until the government goes bankrupt. I’m glad someone is at least trying to slow that down. At the same time,, the House Republicans introduced a bill to restore funding for meals for children and Harry Reid asked, “Why would we want to do that?” I’m hardly blessing the GOP for all that it has or has not done, but in this case, they are doing something in an effort to save our economy from total collapse.

    When the only power you have is to say “no,” what do you suggest the GOP should do?

  • Duane Lamers

    Harlan, I stand by my remark about the liberal perspective. You only need to look at the process by which Obamacare was passed. Liberals know that there is substantial disagreement within the country regarding socialized medicine and that the GOP represents that disagreement. Yet the liberals passed the law without permitting any GOP input in producing it. That’s a fact, not an opinion.

    Harlan, perhaps you overlooked the “mechanics” of this particular example of “lawmaking.” More likely, you got the results you wanted and nothing else matters. We’ll see whether you maintain this same perspective as you watch the implementation of the law. Here’s hoping that implementation affects you as it is already affecting so many other people. Then you will have some different thoughts on the matter, for the pocketbook has the loudest voice.

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