Tag Archives: Evangelicals

The Data Keeps Coming…

Emerging data goes a long way toward explaining the increasing visibility–and acting out–of America’s White Christian Nationalists.

 As commenters to this blog frequently point out, the racial animosity so vividly on display these days is itself not a new phenomenon–far from it. But the visibility–the shamelessness– is new. The willingness to “come out”–to publicly flaunt beliefs and attitudes that had previously been soft-pedaled or hidden–and the virtually complete capture of a major American political party by people who believe that they are the only “real” Americans is a recent (and unwelcome) phenomenon.

Fear often makes people discard the veneer of civility, of course, and these folks are currently terrified. 

It’s bad enough when fear is “ginned up” by propagandists warning of immigrant caravans or computer chips hidden in vaccines, but it turns out that the White Christian Evangelical fear of being “replaced”–of becoming just another thread in a colorful American tapestry–is actually well-founded. 

I’ve recently read several media reports about a study conducted by PRRI , the Public Religion Research Institute. One, by Michelle Goldberg for the New York Times, characterizes PRRI’s findings as “startling.” Goldberg began her column by noting the major role played by the Christian Right in the election and administration of George W. Bush, and she notes that many of the leaders of that movement assumed they were on the cusp of even greater control.

The PRRI results–and others–suggest otherwise.

The evangelicals who thought they were about to take over America were destined for disappointment. On Thursday, P.R.R.I. released startling new polling data showing just how much ground the religious right has lost. P.R.R.I.’s 2020 Census of American Religion, based on a survey of nearly half a million people, shows a precipitous decline in the share of the population identifying as white evangelical, from 23 percent in 2006 to 14.5 percent last year. (As a category, “white evangelicals” isn’t a perfect proxy for the religious right, but the overlap is substantial.) In 2020, as in every year since 2013, the largest religious group in the United States was the religiously unaffiliated.

It isn’t just the shrinking numbers. White evangelicals were also the oldest religious group in the country, with a median age of 56.

“It’s not just that they are dying off, but it is that they’re losing younger members,” Jones told me. As the group has become older and smaller, Jones said, “a real visceral sense of loss of cultural dominance” has set in.

White evangelicals once saw themselves “as the owners of mainstream American culture and morality and values,” said Jones. Now they are just another subculture.

In the Washington Post, Aaron Blake also reported on the “striking”  PRRI findings.

The Public Religion Research Institute released a detailed study Thursday on Americans’ religious affiliations. Perhaps the most striking finding is on White evangelical Christians.

While this group made up 23 percent of the population in 2006 — shortly after “values voters” were analyzed to have delivered George W. Bush his reelection — that number is now down to 14.5 percent, according to the data.

Blake also notes the age disparity and the lack of youth replentishment. While 22 percent of Americans 65 and over are White evangelicals, the number is just 7 percent for those between 18 and 29 years of age.

Goldberg quotes Robert Jones, the Director of PRRI, who connects some bizarre dots.

From this fact derives much of our country’s cultural conflict. It helps explain not just the rise of Donald Trump, but also the growth of QAnon and even the escalating conflagration over critical race theory. “It’s hard to overstate the strength of this feeling, among white evangelicals in particular, of America being a white Christian country,” said Jones. “This sense of ownership of America just runs so deep in white evangelical circles.” The feeling that it’s slipping away has created an atmosphere of rage, resentment and paranoia.

QAnon is essentially a millenarian movement, with Trump taking the place of Jesus. Adherents dream of the coming of what they call the storm, when the enemies of the MAGA movement will be rounded up and executed, and Trump restored to his rightful place of leadership.

These QAnon people are unwell. If I were Christian, I’d consider Trump taking the place of Jesus an unbelievable blasphemy…

Bottom line: the PRRI study, and several others with similar findings, is both good news and bad. The diminished power of a religious sect that has been dubbed (with some accuracy) the American Taliban is clearly very good news. The accompanying rage, resentment and paranoia–and the unrest those passions encourage– is not. 

But as I indicated earlier, it explains a lot.

 

That New Old-Time Religion

The recent behavior of thousands of members of the GOP sent me to Google to read up on collective delusions. One academic has explained such delusions, and differentiated them from mass hysteria. (Hysteria evidently involves physical symptoms.) Collective delusions are defined as the spontaneous spread of false or exaggerated beliefs within a population at large, temporarily affecting a region, culture or country.

I found the term “temporarily” soothing…

What I certainly did not find soothing was an article by Andrew Sullivan, sent to me by a friend. I’ve always found Sullivan thoughtful, although I have philosophical disagreements with him. In this essay, he makes a very persuasive case for the marriage of Evangelical Christianity with Trumpism. I say “persuasive” because his theory offers an explanation for what is otherwise inexplicable: the belief that an election lost decisively in the Electoral College and by over seven million popular votes–an election overseen in many states by Republicans, an election in which down-ballot Republicans did well–was “rigged” against Trump.

In a post-election Marist poll, 60 percent of white evangelicals said they did not believe the 2020 election result was accurate, and 50 percent believed that Trump should not concede.

Sullivan has coined the term “Christianist” to describe the Evangelicals to whom he refers:

In a manner very hard to understand from the outside, American evangelical Christianity has both deepened its fusion of church and state in the last few years, and incorporated Donald Trump into its sacred schematic. Christianists now believe that Trump has been selected by God to save them from persecution and the republic from collapse. They are not in denial about Trump’s personal iniquities, but they see them as perfectly consistent with God’s use of terribly flawed human beings, throughout the Old Testament and the New, to bring about the Kingdom of Heaven.

This belief is now held with the same, unwavering fundamentalist certainty as a Biblical text. And white evangelical Christianists are the most critical constituency in Republican politics. If you ask yourself how on earth so many people have become convinced that the 2020 election was rigged, with no solid evidence, and are now prepared to tear the country apart to overturn an election result, you’ve got to take this into account. This faction, fused with Trump, is the heart and soul of the GOP. You have no future in Republican politics if you cross them. That’s why 19 Republican attorneys general, Ted Cruz, and now 106 Congressional Republicans have backed a bonkers lawsuit to try to get the Supreme Court to overturn the result.

Sullivan says that these beliefs don’t simply characterize a few “fringe nutcases.” He offers examples of what he calls “the fusion of Trumpism with religious fundamentalism,” and Evangelicals’ ahistorical insistence that the United States was founded as a Christian, rather than a secular, nation.

As most Americans, religious or not, recognize, the word “faith” means a belief for which there is no empirical evidence.  Believers who reject science are threatened not simply by this or that scientific conclusion, but by the scientific method itself– by its approach to reality and insistence upon falsification. (They shouldn’t be, of course–many things we all believe in cannot be falsified: beauty, love…but they seem unable to grasp that distinction.)

I suppose if one has been raised in a religious culture that puts primacy on faith in the unknown and unknowable, a culture that insists on the superiority of one’s religion and skin color (because make no mistake, this particular version of “Christianity” incorporates white supremacy, along with male dominance), being forced to confront a reality that challenges those beliefs is intolerable.

I’d love to dismiss members of the cult that was once a political party as inconsequential, but I’ve read enough history to know how much war, devastation and human misery fundamentalisms have caused. (The nation’s founders read that history too–which is why they separated church from state..)

I sure hope this eruption of a “collective delusion” proves temporary.

 

 

A New (Moral) Moral Majority?

My first discussions about sex with my sons as they were entering their teenage years were complicated by my effort to balance arguments for delay and responsibility with an admonition that sexual activity is an aspect of an individual’s general moral behavior.

I wanted them to understand that moral people don’t “use” others for sexual or other gratification. Moral people don’t lie about their feelings or intentions to get something they want. Treating other people the way you want others to treat you is an imperative that includes but is not limited to your behaviors below the waist.

I thought about those conversations when I read an article from the Guardian about “pro-life” voters for Biden, because single-issue voters have always mystified me, in much the same way I’m mystified by people who define morality solely in terms of sexual purity.

Candidate A may be a rotten human being who vilifies his opponents, is intent upon using public office to line his pockets, and espouses numerous policies with which they disagree–but they’ll put all of those concerns aside if Candidate A is “with them” on just one issue. Maybe that issue is abortion, maybe it’s taxes–whatever it is, I’ve never understood narrowing the definition of morality to exclude all but that favored issue.

I was thus pleased to see that at least some “pro life” voters have also concluded that moral behavior–and thus the casting of a moral vote–encompasses more than a single issue. Christianity Today recently reported that Ohio’s Right to Life executive director resigned rather than support Trump in 2020, and the linked article was written by a clearly pious graduate of Liberty University.

What’s so pro-life about forced hysterectomies?” It’s an obvious follow-up question after the revelation that the Department of Homeland Security under Donald Trumpforced unwanted reproductive medical procedures on Immigration and Customs Enforcement (Ice) detainees. And with some rank-and-file anti-abortion workers resigning rather than stomach supporting Trump, it lays open the question of whether the movement, even with its judicial success and the possibility of one more appointment to the supreme court, can survive the damage Trump has inflicted.

During the last election, the desire to overturn Roe v Wade had some holding their noses and voting for Trump. Four years later, the problems of standing with such a deeply immoral president, a string of horrific policy actions and a small but significant change in the voting patterns of religious conservatives all may be combining to hasten the diminishment of the movement even as it reaches a coveted milestone.

In 2008, the author of the article spent some 200 hours interviewing young evangelicals who were leaving the church. He found that the primary reason was the disconnect they saw between the teaching of scripture and the politics of the religious right–politics that bear little resemblance, in their view, to the issues Jesus cared about. What happened to those parts of scripture that demand justice for workers, people of all races and migrant  children at the border?

The essay makes it clear that these young evangelicals are still anti-abortion. But they have enlarged their definition of morality. As the author concludes:

We need to foster ways for faithful evangelicals to act faithfully, to reclaim the moral narrative and provide space to advocate for the election of leaders who reflect a full set of Christian values that will help our nation heal. This is why I am lending my voice to the New Moral Majority and participating in actions to reclaim our sacred story. In the past few weeks, frustrated by the reality that children are still being separated from their families and placed into detention, over 450 faith leaders called upon Trump to change course. To learn now that mothers of the separated children have been forced to have hysterectomies is news that sends shockwaves through communities of faith. It’s the type of government intervention in the family planning process that is not only fundamentally immoral, but against every freedom we claim to protect for all those made in the image of God.

I once asked a younger evangelical who grew up in a Republican and anti-abortion household why he has chosen a life of service among the urban poor. He said: “They blew it, man. Our parents and their generation. They cared more about power than people. We needed to do something new.” Indeed.

Those of us who believe that government should not have the power to compel a woman’s  reproductive choices can work with–and find common ground on other issues of life and death with– a genuinely moral “moral majority” that refuses to limit its definition of “morality” to a single issue.

 

The Art Of The Religious Deal

Reporters who have followed Donald Trump over the years tend to describe his approach to pretty much everything–business, family, charity and now the Presidency–as transactional. (That’s a nicer way of describing the paradigm through which he operates than “what’s in it for me.”)

A recent article from the Guardian suggests that a similarly transactional approach is not only more widespread than we might suppose, but that it explains the otherwise inexplicable support for Trump of those “family values” Evangelical Christians who comprise the majority of his political base.

Before the end of 2016 there was little in Donald Trump’s life, or frequently offensive political campaign, to suggest that as president he would be hailed as God’s appointee on Earth, be beloved by born-again Christians, or compared to a biblical king.

Yet that is exactly what has happened in the three years since Trump took office, as he has surrounded himself with a God-fearing cabinet and struck up an unlikely but extremely beneficial relationship with white evangelical supporters.

It’s a relationship that, for Trump, has ensured unwavering support from a key voter base and for his religious supporters, seen a conservative takeover of the courts and an assault on reproductive and LGBTQ rights.

The Executive Director of Americans United has accurately summed up the transactional nature of this support, noting that Trump continues to confer “unparalleled privilege” on this one narrow religious constituency–and that, in exchange for that privilege, Evangelicals are willing to ignore the numerous behaviors that are blatantly inconsistent with their purported beliefs, and to exhibit loyalty at the ballot box.

In law school contracts class, students learn that enforceable transactions require consideration (promises) from both parties. If you do thus-and-so, I promise to do thus-and-so. If one of the parties breaches, by failing to deliver on those promises, performance by the other will be excused.

Thus far, at least, Trump has lived up to his end of this particular deal. That makes this  transaction unusual: he has stiffed contractors, banks and charities, cheated on wives, broken promises to students enrolled in Trump University…In this case, however, he undoubtedly realizes that failure to perform would doom any chance of re-election.

Trump’s capture by the Evangelical Christian constituency has been widely remarked, and the steadfast loyalty of that community has been the subject of significant commentary–most of which has revolved around the stunning hypocrisy shown by  religious right figures and their transparent efforts to justify support for a man who (if he wasn’t delivering judges) they would call the anti-Christ.

The unlikely alliance between those nominally following biblical interpretations of right and wrong, and a thrice-married man who has been credibly accused of sexual assault and infamously paid off a pornographic actor, has thrown up a rich – and bizarre – cast of characters.

A sustained effort by influential Christian voices to justify Trump’s personal misdeeds and political cruelty has led to the frequent portrayal of Trump as a flawed vessel for God’s will. In particular, Trump has been compared to King Cyrus, who, according to the Bible, liberated the Jews from Babylonian captivity, despite himself being a Persian ruler.

The hypocrisy is certainly there. But what is becoming clear is that it isn’t only Donald Trump who approaches everything as a “deal.” In the Evangelical community, capitalism and market values have rather clearly overwhelmed (trumped?) theological commitments.

Wasn’t there a warning in Genesis about selling one’s soul for a bowl of pottage?

 

 

Trumpers And The Culture War

I love it when research confirms my suspicions.

A few days ago, I posted a rant about the hollowness of claims that de-funding Planned Parenthood was “pro life.” The assault on Planned Parenthood, which provides needed medical care to poor women, and the increasing efforts to limit access to birth control, struck me as far more “anti woman” than “pro life.”

Then I saw this column in The Guardian, reporting on recent survey results that support my thesis.

According to self-identified “pro-life” advocates, the fundamental divide between those who want to outlaw abortion and those who want to keep it legal comes down to one question: when does life begin? Anti-abortion advocacy pushes the view that life begins at conception; the name of their movement carefully centers the conceit that opposition to abortion rights is simply about wanting to save human lives.

A new poll shows that’s a lie. The “pro-life” movement is fundamentally about misogyny.

A Supermajority/PerryUndem survey released this week divides respondents by their position on abortion, and then tracks their answers to 10 questions on gender equality more generally. On every question, anti-abortion voters were significantly more hostile to gender equity than pro-choice voters.

More than half of the “pro life” survey respondents opined that men make better political leaders than women. More than half didn’t want to see equal numbers of men and women in positions of power. (Eighty percent of pro-choice respondents did want to see power shared equally.) “Pro life” respondents disapproved of the #MeToo movement. They disagreed with the proposition that diminished access to birth control has an impact on gender equality. And they didn’t believe that sexism or the way women are treated is an important issue.

That misogyny fits with what social science has found in the wake of the 2016 election.

In the aftermath of the 2016 election, mostly white pundits wondered if Donald Trump’s white male base was motivated by “economic anxiety”. We heard this over and over: Trump voters aren’t the racist deplorables the liberal media (of which those same pundits were a part) makes them out to be. They’re decent people who have been hurt by free trade agreements, increasing Chinese economic dominance, the decimation of unions, a thinning social safety net, and stagnating wages. (Why those same people would then turn around and vote for a party that kills unions, tears up the safety net and blocks minimum wage raises while cutting taxes for CEOs went unexplained.)

Then came the social scientists – and whaddaya know? Trump voters weren’t motivated by economic anxiety as much as fear of “cultural displacement”. White Christian men (and many of their wives) were so used to their cultural, political and economic dominance that they perceived the ascension of other groups as a threat.

To put it in more straightforward terms, they were racist (and sexist), and saw in Trump a kindred spirit who would work for their interests – their primary interest being a symbolic reassertion of their cultural dominance.

The author reminds us that the American anti-abortion movement invented political gaslighting.  (As religious historian Randall Ballmer has documented, Evangelicals hadn’t thought much about abortion until defending their segregated schools became a harder political rallying point.)

Around the same time, women’s social roles were rapidly changing. The birth control pill brought with it an avalanche of opportunities and freedoms, and women, finally fully able to have sex for fun and prevent pregnancy, took full advantage. The ability to delay a pregnancy – and later, the ability to legally end one – meant that women didn’t have to choose between romance and ambition (and it meant women could be choosier about romance, making a more considered decision about who and whether to marry).

The survey confirmed the connection between “pro-life” and “anti-woman”.

More than three-quarters of anti-abortion respondents agreed that women “are too easily offended”. More than 70% of them agreed that women interpret innocent remarks or acts as being sexist. Only 34% of them–as opposed to 82% of pro-choice respondents– said the country would be better off with more women in political office.

It’s hard to disagree with the author’s conclusion:

It’s not about “life.” It’s about the fact that abortion is inexorably tied to women’s freedoms and female power.

It’s about sexism.