Has Trump Destroyed Evangelicalism?

EVANGELICALS LOVE TRUMP!

This media narrative refuses to die. For conservative outlets, it’s followed by handwringing and calls for fire and brimstone. For liberals, it’s followed by laughing and pointing at evangelicals and their moral hypocrisy.

There’s only one problem with the narrative: it isn’t true.

The “evangelicals love Trump” stories tell us nothing about evangelicals. They only show that the “evangelical voter” is a meaningless concept.

Here’s what I mean:

Evangelicals’ Trump support is overblown.

I have some polling data for you. But that’s boring, so I’ll start with a personal anecdote. As my blog makes clear, I grew up “an evangelical of evangelicals,” and have spent my life in the world of evangelicalism.

And I don’t know a single evangelical who supports Trump. Neither do most of my evangelical friends and family.

So where are all of these pro-Trump evangelicals coming from? It’s simple. To count evangelicals, most pollsters just ask the respondents if they’re an evangelical. This is ridiculous for two reasons.

First, there are certain parts of the country where it’s polite to say you’re evangelical. That’s how it was in Arkansas, where I went to college. On a phone survey, pretty much everyone would claim to be an evangelical–even if they hadn’t been to church in thirty years, they don’t believe evangelical teachings, and they’re answering the survey from a strip club. These sorts of people don’t really exist on the West coast, the Northeast, or even here in Colorado. But in the Deep South, Appalachia, and the rural Midwest, nominal evangelicals are very real.

And they love Trump.

Second, there are plenty of voters who hold evangelical beliefs, but don’t consider themselves “evangelicals.” This is especially true of African-American and Hispanic Christians, two voting demographics who…aren’t exactly pro-Trump.

It’s not hard to correct for this. And when you do, support for Trump plummets.

So evangelicals who go to church, believe evangelical doctrine, and whose faith informs their politics are unlikely to support Trump. The nominal “evangelicals” who do support Trump are the ones who don’t go to church, don’t believe evangelical teaching, and whose faith doesn’t impact their politics.

It’s hard to see how any of this should count against evangelicalism.

The support is only from “certain types of evangelicals”

Of course, there are evangelicals who go to church, believe the right things, and still support Trump. These are the people the media has in mind when they write about “evangelical voters.” To them, evangelicals are all white, working class, uneducated, cranky, and over sixty. They watch Joel Osteen and fear immigrants and love the Donald.

These people do exist, and I don’t mean to trash them. But they’re not “typical evangelicals–they’re a sub-group. Evangelicals, you see, are diverse. They span pretty much every race, education level, and age group. And, as this CNN article explained, their politics are diverse, too.

And that leads to my final point:

Talking about the “evangelical voter” is useless

Russell Moore, fed up with these silly “evangelical voter” narratives, recently said that he didn’t want to be called an evangelical anymore. At least not until the election is over. I get the sentiment. In some ways, “evangelical” is a useful term. In other ways, it’s not. And for politics, “evangelical” is useless.

“Evangelical” is like “European”–it’s a broad word that covers a wide variety of people. “European” covers everyone from from Greeks to Swedes, from Portuguese to Russians. Those cultures have chasms of differences, and wouldn’t consider themselves as having much in common. “Evangelical” is the same way. It applies to James Dobson and TD Jakes, to Jim Wallis and Jerry Falwell, Jr.

Nevertheless, there’s a certain amount of utility for both terms. “European” gives some information about genetic origin, geography, and a vaguely-defined Western heritage. “Evangelical” gives information on a person’s view of the Bible, and their emphasis on a personal relationship with God.

But in other ways the terms aren’t helpful. Say you’re going to a “European food” restaurant. What would that mean–Italian pasta? English bangers and mash? That purple Russian soup? The word has too much variety to be useful.

“Evangelical voter” is the same way. There is so much variety among evangelicals and politics that the term doesn’t really say anything at all. It’s also heavily dependent on other factors like age, education, race, and geography. Saying that a voter is “evangelical” conveys about as much information as saying that a restaurant is European.

Phew, I’m done writing about Trump. Can we all agree to roll our eyes at self-serious think pieces about “evangelical voters”? That’d be great, because then I wouldn’t have to write about Trump again.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I think I’ll take a nice walk or something….

Anybody notice any voting trends among your own evangelical sub-group?

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