Compassionate Conservatives? Evangelicals, Economic Conservatism, and National Identity


  • Lydia Bean

    Corresponding author
    1. Baylor Interdisciplinary Center Core, Baylor University
    • Correspondence should be addressed to Lydia Bean, Baylor Interdisciplinary Center, Baylor University, One Bear Place, #97350, Waco, TX 76798-7350, USA. E-mail:

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  • Acknowledgments: For helpful feedback, the author would like to thank Jason Kaufman, Theda Skocpol, Robert Sampson, Nancy Ammerman, Michele Lamont, Daniel Carpenter, Jerry Park, Kyle Irwin, and participants in Harvard University's Qualitative Methods Seminar. Previous versions of this article were presented at annual meetings of the American Sociological Association.


In the United States, white evangelicals are more economically conservative than other Americans. It is commonly assumed that white evangelicals oppose redistributive social policies because of their individualistic theology. Yet Canadian evangelicals are just as supportive of redistributive social policy as other Canadians, even though they share the same tools of conservative Protestant theology. To solve this puzzle, I use multi-sited ethnography to compare how two evangelical congregations in the United States and Canada talked about poverty and the role of government. In both countries, evangelicals made sense of their religious responsibilities to “the poor” by reference to national identity. Evangelicals used their theological tools differently in the United States and Canada because different visions of national solidarity served as cultural anchors for religious discourse about poverty. To understand the political and civic effects of religion, scholars need to consider the varied ways that religious groups imagine national community within religious practice.