BROOKE GLADSTONE: Regardless of what pundits say determined the election, there is now a potentially decisive voting bloc to reckon with -- a religious conservative voting bloc. But what to call it? ABC's Peter Jennings. [TAPE PLAYS]
PETER JENNINGS: I just want to make one observation about, about terminology. I'm not sure that you're going to hear a lot of new terminology this year you haven't heard before, but evangelical Christian is what people used to call, unfortunately, the Christian right. [TAPE ENDS]
BROOKE GLADSTONE: Why unfortunately? As Tim Noah recently asked in Slate, "What's wrong with calling the Christian Right the Christian Right? It's unquestionably Christian and invariably conservative." According to Steven Waldman, editor in chief of Beliefnet.com, the problem isn't with the word Christian; it's with the word "right."
STEVEN WALDMAN: The Religious Right was a term that the religious right was fine with when it was created in the late '70s, and then liberals counter-attacked, by pointing out certain negative aspects of the movement and started to make conservatives feel like maybe they didn't want to be called the religious right any more. And so now conservatives are trying to re-define it in a different way to remove some of the baggage.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: Dr. Richard Land is president of the public policy arm of the Southern Baptist Convention, the largest Protestant denomination in the country.
RICHARD LAND: For instance, I don't consider myself a member of the Christian right, although I certainly would be considered by many neutral observers as a member of the Christian right, because I am a person of traditional religious values and I am a Protestant, evangelical Protestant.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: He, like apparently Peter Jennings, prefers the word evangelicals to describe the voting bloc in question. The problem is that more than a quarter of self-described evangelicals did not vote for Bush. Among them, liberal white evangelicals and many of the black ones. I put the question to Dr. Land: There is a certain amount of political diversity within the evangelical movement. You would still prefer that term to be applied to the voting bloc of observant Christians who voted for President Bush and his conservative agenda rather than the term Christian right.
RICHARD LAND: Yes. I think 3 out of 4 is sufficient to make it the term of definition.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: Mmmmm. Really?
RICHARD LAND: Yeah.
BOB GARFIELD: Three out of four of whites.
RICHARD LAND: Well, African-Americans make up about 12 percent of the population, so it would still be about two thirds of evangelicals.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: Recently, a woman named Sarah called NPR's Talk of the Nation to complain about misrepresentation. [TAPE PLAYS]
SARAH: Yeah. I'm an evangelical Christian, and I did not vote for Bush in this election, and if we have a concern as evangelicals about the environment, well Kerry was a much more promising candidate as far as that's concerned. [TAPE ENDS]
STEVEN WALDMAN: Evangelical Christian is a religious term; not a political term.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: Beliefnet's Steven Waldman.
STEVEN WALDMAN: It's obviously gotten a bit confusing, because most evangelicals are conservative, and so they all tend to get lumped together now as one political movement.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: What to do, what to do? Reporters want to be politically correct, but they also want to be accurate. Some point to the succession of words like Negro, Black and African-American to describe a group that has carried a lot of baggage-laden terminology over the years, but in the shifting political winds, we still knew who we were talking about. With "evangelicals," the current term of choice, it's not so clear exactly who we mean. Waldman says that Beliefnet applies different terms to different evangelicals.
STEVEN WALDMAN: We talk about traditional evangelicals, and then we invented a whole new term called "freestyle" evangelicals who are theologically evangelical, meaning they have a personal relationship with Jesus Christ, they have declared that he is their savior and often have had a born-again experience, but they're politically more moderate. And that is a whole different kind of political dynamic than the conservative evangelicals, the ones that we used to call the religious right.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: John Green, director of the Bliss Institute for Applied Politics, says that context should dictate the terminology.
JOHN GREEN: I think if one is trying to describe a group of people as objectively as possible, then it's useful to not use their language, but rather to use external language that is descriptive and would be easily understood by everyone. On the other hand, if one is trying to explain their position and their understanding of themselves, then perhaps their own language is very useful.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: In quotes.
JOHN GREEN: Yes, in quotes. Right. [LAUGHS]
BROOKE GLADSTONE: Dr. Richard Land of the Southern Baptist Convention.
RICHARD LAND: Religious Social Conservatives is probably the best and most inclusive and most accurate term. Religious Social Conservatives.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: He's almost certainly right; that describes who these people are and what issues -- for example, abortion and gay marriage -- motivate them to vote for certain candidates. But the phrase is a bit cumbersome, as is Waldman's suggestion.
STEVEN WALDMAN: Maybe we should borrow from Prince, and instead of calling them evangelicals, we can call them the group formerly known as the religious right.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: Meanwhile, in place of the out-of-favor Christian Right, the media are opting more and more for the broader term, "evangelical," and Land prefers. It's appeared in the Los Angeles Times and the Washington Post, and you'll keep hearing it on ABC. The fact is, as Waldman notes, most reporters live in a bubble and don't really know who this group is. So they're permitting its most vocal members to set the terms and the political message that comes with them. [MUSIC]
BOB GARFIELD: Coming up, how CIA malcontents feed the media beast, and how movie spies and real spies feed off each other.