As I write in the article, conservative evangelical homes must confront the same problems as their nonevangelical counterparts: the erosion of real wages, the rising costs of necessities like health care and education, the ubiquity of electronic media, and the declining rights of workers, to name a few. This explains why, for example, rates of teen sex and divorce are not significantly lower in these homes. In fact, divorce is especially high in Bible Belt states, due at least in part to higher unemployment.
In an interview, the sociologist W. Bradford Wilcox, who studies the impact of conservative evangelical faith on the behavior of both men and women, urged that I distinguish “between what elite evangelicals [like James Dobson] say and what average people are doing.” While elites may rail against the social and economic changes of recent decades, Wilcox said that “your average evangelical takes all that with a grain of salt.” That’s in part because most evangelical wives work. “Part of that is a class issue,” Wilcox said. “Evangelicals are more working class, than, for example, mainline Protestants, [and] they have less economic flexibility. And so the reality on the ground, with gender issues, is more flexible than some might expect.”
I immediately thought of Wilcox's point when I stumbled across this recent broadcast transcript from right-wing blowhard Rush Limbaugh. In it, Rush grumbles against fathers cooking for their families and parents buying toy kitchens for boys. "This is not men reshaping and rethinking their roles," says Rush. "That's being done for them with various sorts of pressure being applied if the behavioral model that is demanded isn't met"--and the pressure, he says, is coming from "feminazis."
This is all par for the course, and not really worthy of comment. But then the calls start coming in from listeners. Here's the first:
RUSH: To the phones, to Fort Wayne, Indiana. This is Steve. Nice to have you on the program, sir.
CALLER: Mega dittos, Rush. I absolutely love you.
RUSH: Thank you.
CALLER: I'm a stay-at-home dad. I run a small business out of my home, and my boys -- I got two boys -- are great cooks. Now, I haven't bought 'em a kitchen set, and it's not on my short list of toys to buy, but they can make a mean batch of cookies, but they're in wrestling, and they'll kick somebody's tail with a sword -- playing swords with them -- and I wouldn't have a problem with them cooking at all. That's not a... I cook every meal in our house.
RUSH: How old did you say that these two boys are?
CALLER: My boys are eight and five.
RUSH: Eight and five, and they bake cookies?
CALLER: They do. They buy a brand-name mixer and...
And so on. As he listens, Rush is obviously confused. It's hilarious, ironic--and a perfect illustration of Wilcox's research. It's also a measure of the degree to which conservative ideologues are being left in the dust by their followers--who must, after all, live in the same 21st century as the rest of us.