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Boisi Center for Religion and American Public Life

Redeeming Freedom: Evangelicals and Democracy, Around the World and Across Time


Event Recap

Timothy Samuel Shah, Adjunct Senior Fellow for Religion and Foreign Policy at the Council on Foreign Relations, spoke on March 18 about the role of global evangelicalism in democracy around the world and across time. Shah began with the illuminating statistic that 600 million evangelicals, of the 700 hundred million evangelicals worldwide, live in the global south. This has major implications for social dynamics and political action.

Having recently completed a massive multi-year study of global evangelicalism, Shah argued that five definitive conclusions that can be made regarding evangelicalism and democracy. First, evangelicals are generally not very good at direct political activism and involvement because of ineffectiveness in idea and institution building, which is necessary for effective and sustainable political activism. Second, direct evangelical political involvement and activism has often been detrimental for evangelical Christianity’s reputation; it has spurred division and occasionally undermined religious authority. Third, contrary to conventional wisdom, evangelicalism is consistently at home with liberal democratic modernity. The primary principle for evangelicalism is the necessity and legitimacy of free choice in religion; one must choose to become a Christian. As a result, there is a deep and heartfelt affinity with evangelicals and modernity. Shah pointed out that both modernity and evangelicalism share an historical time period of formation. Fourth, evangelicalism has also characteristically deepened and strengthened liberal democratic modernity, not through formal political engagement but by empowering otherwise marginalized peoples. This is sometimes an indirect byproduct of evangelicalism rather than an intentional, politically motivated action. Finally, evangelicalism has avoided involvement in theocratic political projects designed to impose some kind of comprehensive Christian political society.