A Texas Democrat Is Running as a Champion of Political Christians. She Pans Them in Her Book.

'American evangelicals are not a mighty army of culture warriors, but they vote like one'

Lydia Bean / Twitter screenshot
March 13, 2021

A Texas congressional candidate running in a special election is promoting herself as a faith-first Democrat, even though she wrote a book that pans evangelical voters.

Dr. Lydia Bean, a Harvard-trained sociologist and community organizer, is the Democratic frontrunner in a special election in Texas's Sixth Congressional District. Bean touts herself as a religious progressive, having founded a nonprofit organization devoted to faith-based political engagement.

"My faith and my family taught me to stand up for what's right," Bean said in her campaign kickoff video.

Bean, however, roundly criticized evangelicals in her 2014 book, The Politics of Evangelical Identity, which studied the voting and political decisions made by members of evangelical churches. In her introduction, she wrote, "There is some evidence for the view that right wing activists co-opted evangelical institutions." She called the rhetoric used by one church she attended "combative" and wrote that it could seem "violent," though she also listed some positives about the church. And she accused the broader evangelical community of putting politics on the same level as their faith.

"American evangelicals are not a mighty army of culture warriors, but they vote like one," Bean wrote.

Such rhetoric may alienate evangelicals, who make up 31 percent of Texas's population. The sixth district skews white and suburban, making the concentration of evangelical voters all the more likely.

In her book, Bean wrote that, during and after the 1960s, white evangelicals acted in a racist manner.

"White evangelicals were fighting to shield their children from secularism, but also from cultural influences they associated with downward mobility: drugs, countercultural youth movements, and contact with racial minorities," she wrote.

In the conclusion of her book, Bean says her study of evangelical political behavior was helped by both her own Christianity and her ability to maintain a critical distance from her subjects.

"In many ways, I was very much an outsider to the evangelical subculture of all four of the congregations that I studied," she wrote. "On many doctrinal and political issues, I hold very different views than many of the research participants."

For Texas pastor Brian Gibson, Bean's remarks about and treatment of evangelical culture are incorrect.

"Remarks like that are a wild framing of the evangelical world as something that was created for a political purpose," Gibson told the Washington Free Beacon. "The church has held these views for thousands of years. … [T]o come in and say in political terms that this is something that is being done to hold on to political power or to hold to a certain part of the culture is just not true."

Bean's community organizing might also draw concern for Texas voters. Bean founded and previously chaired Faith in Texas, a grassroots political and religious organization that now hawks a bailout fund as one of its services. In Minneapolis and other places, bailout funds have been used to release violent criminals in the wake of protests in August 2020.

Faith in Texas did not return a request for comment on how it manages its bailout fund.

Bean also couches her positions on immigration in language about human dignity and Christianity. In a 2018 article, the Texas Democrat compared former President Donald Trump's immigration policy to "carpet-bombing" and cast her understanding of Trump's brutality in biblical terms.

"In Egypt, Pharaoh ordered the killing of all the Hebrew boys because he feared the demographic power of the Hebrew people. In modern Texas, our Pharaoh is just a bit more subtle," Bean wrote. "He doesn't order the midwives to kill baby boys. He just changes the rules to make it harder for Hispanic babies to obtain birth certificates, to keep babies from growing up into voters."

Author and religious commentator Lucas Miles said Bean's language hijacks religious terminology for her own political ends.

"I think that Dr. Lydia Bean is a perfect example of what is known as the Christian left," Miles said. "As I read her statements, what I see her doing is purposefully hijacking the terminology that's familiar to the Christian Texan base, in order to deceive them into thinking that she shares the values of the state of Texas."

Without addressing any of her remarks about evangelicals in her 2014 book, Bean told the Free Beacon that faith guides her immigration policy, with an eye toward human dignity.

"Treating all people with dignity and respect is a core obligation of my faith, as Jesus teaches in Matthew 25," Bean said. "Too often some see Dreamers, who came to this country as children and have known no other home, as a weapon to score political points. I see them as people who contribute to this country and deserve respect. It's unfortunate the Free Beacon seems to disagree."

The special election in Texas's sixth district will take place on May 1. The seat opened in February when Rep. Ron Wright (R.) died from coronavirus complications.