Anglo Evangelicals in Southern California
The growth of Evangelicals was first noticed in the 1970s (Kelly 1977). The influence of the Christian Right as a political force that began with the Reagan election in 1980 resonates in the twenty-first century. As of this writing, states
CHART 17.5 Religious intermarriage. White, non-Hispanic (Anglo) respondents.
TABLE 17.1 Religion by region. Anglo Evangelicals
with large Evangelical populations have recently passed strong anti-LGBT and anti-abortion laws. Moreover, Evangelical churches are “strict,” making the most demands on their adherents (lannaccone 1994). To what extent have Anglo Evangelicals in Los Angeles, Southern California, and/or California been influenced by where they live?
Anglo Evangelicals were most prevalent in the South where they accounted for almost half (45%) of all Southern respondents in 2007 as compared with 30% of all Anglos nationwide (Table 17.1). Anglo Evangelicals were proportionately represented in the Midwest (29% of Anglo respondents in the South were Evangelical as compared with 30% of all Anglo respondents in the Religious Landscape Survey). If not numerically over-represented in the Midwest, however, Anglo Evangelicals have outsized cultural impact in this region. At the 2017 Republican National Convention Vice President Mike Pence, who had previously served as Governor of Indiana declared “I’m a Christian, a conservative, and a Republican, in that order.” Kansas has banned the teaching of evolution in its public schools, more than once, most recently in 2013. Toward the end of 2017, Christian Conservative Minnesota Congresswoman, Michelle Bachman, declared that she would wait for a sign from God as to whether she should run for the Senate in 2018.
The Central Valley provides an excellent case study for the California effect on evangelicals because it has deep Anglo roots in South and is also heavily Evangelical. John Steinbeck immortalized the plight of “Okie” Dustbowl migrants to California in The Grapes of Wrath, as did Woody Guthrie in his song, “Dough Re Me” in which he advises, “... you better go back to beautiful Texas, Oklahoma, Kansas, Georgia, Tennessee.” Historian Darren Dochuk (2010) has documented the ongoing religious and political influence of Southern Dustbowl migrants who came to California from Oklahoma, Texas, and Arkansas in the 1930s. The Dustbowl
TABLE 17.2 Birth cohort and median age for Anglo Evangelicals
migration left its cultural mark in California’s contribution to Nashville. Alvis “Buck” Owens’ family left Texas in 1937 and by the mid-1950s he had established “the Bakersfield Sound’ in country music. Merle Haggard’s parents left Oklahoma for Oildale, near Bakersfield, during the Depression, a migration he would drew upon for “California Cotton Fields,” a song that describes of the hardships faced by the “Okie” migrant workers in California. The heavily rural Central Valley and “other NorCai” region are also heavily Evangelical: 40% of the Anglo respondents in the Central Valley identified as Evangelical as did 30% in the largely rural “Other Northern California” sub-region. By contrast, only 11% of respondents in the Bay Area and 17% in Los Angeles County identified this way. The Midwest and South, along with the Central Valley and Other Northern California sub-regions, then, provide excellent comparison geographies by which to identify a Southern California influence on Evangelicals, starting with demographic differences and moving on to behaviors and beliefs.
A number of studies have established demographic differences among religious groups, starting with Neibhur in 1929 (Niebuhr 1929/2004). These differences were still evident in the late twentieth century (Smith 2005, Kosmin and Keysar 2006) and into the twenty-first (Pew 2008). This analysis takes a different approach by asking if there are differences by region and sub-region within major religious
TABLE 17.3 Educational attainment for Anglo Evangelicals
groupings. Table 17.2 presents an age breakdown of Anglo Evangelicals by birth cohort, along with average age. Anglo Evangelicals are the oldest in Los Angeles with a mean age of 51.7 years, followed by the SoCal Ring (mean age of 51.2). Los Angeles has the highest percentage of Anglo Evangelicals in the Silent Generation at 30%, compared with 25% for Anglo Evangelicals overall. These differences are not great and were statistically significant only at the P=0.05 level, the lowest generally acceptable in social science research. Anglo Evangelicals in Los Angeles County stand out as being by far the most educated, with 37% completing college as compared to 20% nationwide (Table 17.3).
Marriage is strongly encouraged within the Evangelical community. The Evangelical based organization, Focus on the Family,2 for example, strongly promotes marriage and their website offers numerous publications for how to strengthen marriage within a Christian context. Anglo Evangelicals in Los Angeles County are distinctly non-normative with regard to marital status (Table 17.4): they are the least likely to be currently married (48%) and the most likely to never have been married (26%). Their high percentage never married is not explained by age, since they are the oldest group of Anglo Evangelicals as shown in Table 17.1. Nor is it explained by education; the percentage never-married remains highest for Anglo Evangelicals in Los Angeles County in all three categories of educational attainment (data not shown). They are influenced by the surrounding culture with regard to norms around marriage.