Post-Trump rise of religious left: Real trend or wishful thinking? We'll find out soon

Stories about moral concerns — beyond the typical ones — prompting some evangelicals to consider voting Democratic in the midterm elections seem to be on the rise.

But will Democrats actually bite into the 81 percent support from white evangelicals that Donald Trump got in 2016?

That’s the big question.

As we noted earlier, the New York Times recently delved into whether white evangelical women might push Democratic challenger Beto O’Rourke over the top in his bid to unseat Texas Republican Sen. Ted Cruz.

Meanwhile, a group of progressive evangelicals called Vote Common Good is touring the country in a bus and generating a number of headlines in its quest to persuade fellow Christians to abandon Donald Trump’s GOP.

Religion News Service and my local newspaper here in Oklahoma City — The Oklahoman — have given interesting coverage to the group. Vote Common Good has an active media relations team and actually contacted me by email and telephone before the group’s Oklahoma event. However, I was headed out of the state to report on Hurricane Michael in Florida.

I bring up Vote Common Good because NPR’s Sarah McCammon (relevant background about her here) caught up with the group in Texas and has an informative news-feature out today:

On a recent evening in Houston, under the heavy branches of live oak trees, Doug Pagitt stood before a couple dozen people gathered on blue folding chairs on the Rice University campus.

"You've heard it said that to be a true Christian, you must vote like a Republican," he said. "But we are here to be reminded that just ain't so."

Pagitt, 52, describes himself as a progressive evangelical. He pastors a church in Minneapolis and has been traveling the country by bus, preaching a message that juxtaposes Trump campaign slogans against quotes from the Bible.

"You have heard it said, 'America First,' but we are here to be reminded to 'seek first the Kingdom of God,' on behalf of all those everywhere in the world," he said, quoting the words of Jesus in the Gospel of Matthew.

Pagitt's organization, Vote Common Good, is focusing on evangelicals and other Christian voters who feel out of place in President Trump's Republican Party. It's an uphill battle, given that more than 8 in 10 white evangelical voters supported Trump in 2016.

Keep reading, and McCammon offers important context on the group’s private funding — nearly $1 million — and gives supporters an opportunity to explain their thinking.

But I especially appreciate two things about this NPR report:

1. It hits head-on the big issue for many evangelical borders: abortion. (For much more insight on that topic, be sure to read Terry Mattingly’s post from earlier today on “Big religion ghost: Would a 'blue dog Democrat' win Tennessee's U.S. Senate race?”)

From McCammon’s story:

Kristan Hawkins, who runs the anti-abortion-rights group Students for Life, is a former evangelical who converted to Catholicism. She said she has heard this argument before and doesn't think most conservative Christian voters will buy it because of how they view abortion.

"There are certainly a lot of issues that Christians care about when they go to vote," Hawkins said. "But at the end of the day, we know there is a human rights atrocity happening inside of our country — and that atrocity is abortion."

2. It asks directly the question I highlighted at the top: Will this outreach actually work?

NPR’s source isn’t seeing it:

However the issues are framed, pollster Robert Jones of the Public Religion Research Institute said moving white evangelicals away from the GOP will be an uphill battle.

"Once you have several generations that are voting 80 percent Republican, it's less that they're doing that because of one particular issue, and more that it has become, in many ways, a kind of tribal identity that's just inextricably tied to evangelical identity," Jones said. "And I think that is the tie that binds much more than any single issue."

Please don’t misunderstand me. We at GetReligion think progressive believers are an important area for news coverage, and we’ve been saying this for 15 years. Along those lines, I enjoyed Jack Jenkins’ RNS profile this week of New Jersey Sen. Cory Booker, a potential Democratic presidential contender in 2020.

Going farther back, I remember doing a “How would Jesus vote?” story for The Associated Press featuring a left-leaning group during President George W. Bush’s 2004 re-election campaign. So in some ways, this is an evergreen subject.

But the bigger story, as always, will be in the hard numbers of how evangelicals actually vote on Nov. 6.

Stay tuned.

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