Ralph Reed’s career has taken him from youthful fresh face of the evangelical movement to wise elder, though he’s still only 50 years old. And as he surveys the landscape today, he sees a religious right that could be doing more to reach out to the young — and a bunch of kids out there who’ll one day get a haircut and start voting Republican.
Reed is chairman of the Faith & Freedom Coalition, whose conference kicked off in Washington D.C. Thursday. FFC has sought in the past to bring tea party conservatives and evangelicals together to build a base Reed has called “the Christian Coalition on steroids.”
FFC meetings are held all over the country and share something in common with tea party rallies and evangelical gatherings: They’re typically devoid of young people. The crowd at Thursday’s kickoff event skewed middle-aged.
This makes it unlike CPAC, another conservative confab packed with party superstars that actively buses in thousands of college students. But CPAC is the exception. Evangelical political meetings just don’t have much of a youthful spark.
This could be because the millennials are abandoning God altogether. According to a Pew study out this week, belief in God “dropped 15 points in the last five years among Americans 30 and under.” Without the grounding in faith, where are the new crop of poltical evangelicals going to come from?
Reed believes they will come around.
“I think it is a failure of the faith community to be more relevant and to be more effective in communicating with I guess what you would call the post-millenials,” Reed said of the decline. “But I’m optimistic because there a lot of good things happening out there.” Reed ticked off a couple youth-focused ministries he said were bringing young people into the fold.
Plus, Reed said, time is on the evangelical conservatives’ side.
“You have to remember that people’s lives are not still photographs, they’re motion pictures,” he said. “So if you were to freeze-frame my life at 22 and you had interviewed me I would not have said that my faith was important to me. But I changed.”
Reed famously went from Marlboro-smoking, heavy-drinking college student to evangelical Christian after an epiphany on a Saturday night in 1983 at the popular Republican Capitol Hill hangout Bullfeathers. He suggested a perhaps less dramatic but nonetheless parallel shift was in the works for modern youth.
“There are three things that will happen that will make them far more receptive to the conservative values of faith,” Reed said. “No. 1, they’re going to get a job — we hope,” he said. “They’re going to start paying taxes and they’re going to be supporting public services. Secondly they’re going to get married, and thirdly, they’re going to have children.”
Reed said it was “empirical fact” and “not a value judgement or a moral judgement” that the squarification of the millenials will boost the ranks of evangelical conservatives.
“If people are employed and they’re married and they have children, it’s game, set, match,” he said. “They’re going to be more conservative.”