Charles Murray

With elections looming, let’s freshen up that old evangelicals-and-Trump theme

With elections looming, let’s freshen up that old evangelicals-and-Trump theme

Time for reporters who cover politics, or religion, or both, to start planning those big-picture election analyses.

If they’re like The Religion Guy, desks and files are all a-clutter with clippings about why oh why so many evangelicals voted for President Donald Trump and why so many still support him.

Pardon The Guy for once again griping about media neglect of why, oh why, non-Hispanic Catholics also helped deliver the states that gave Trump the White House. Exit polling showed Trump was backed by 81 percent of white evangelicals (with 40 percent casting those votes reluctantly), but also 60 percent of white Catholics.

These numbers are very close to both groups’ Republican support in 2012, but increases from white Catholics’ 52 percent and evangelicals’ 74 percent in 2008.

The fresh angle to exploit is accumulating evidence of broad change across America, with today’s Trumpublican Party as a mere symptom. Presumably Nov. 6 will tell us more about alienated white Americans who resent elitists in education, economics and cultural influence. Here’s some material journalists should ponder.

Recall that in 2012 Charles Murray analyzed five decades of data in “Coming Apart: The State of White America” to profile the growing gap in behavior and values between a thriving upper class that he contrasted with an emerging lower class that suffers eroding family and community life, religion included.

That same year, University of Virginia sociologist W. Bradford Wilcox and colleagues issued a less-noticed but important academic study on the decline of religious and family life for the white working class, under the snappy headline “No Money, No Honey, No Church.”

In April, 2017, pundit Peter Beinart wrote a prescient piece for The Atlantic titled “Breaking Faith.” He contended that a secularized America with so many citizens lacking involvement in religious groups (yes, that much-discussed rise of the “nones”) means many identify the politics of “us” versus “them” in increasingly “primal and irreconcilable ways.”

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Concerning 'evangelicals,' dogs, pick-up trucks, Southern 'stuff' and, yes, Donald Trump

Concerning 'evangelicals,' dogs, pick-up trucks, Southern 'stuff' and, yes, Donald Trump

When you grow up as a Southern Baptist in Texas, you hear lots of good preaching and you hear lots and lots of what can only be called "Southern stuff."

Every region has its share of off verbal twists and turns, but I'll put the Deep South at the top of the list when it comes to off-the-wall sayings and wisecracks. There are plenty of blunt Southern grandmothers who are funnier -- intentionally or otherwise -- than some comedians I could name.

So listen now as World magazine scribe Warren Cole Smith -- author of the book "A Lover's Quarrel with the Evangelical Church" -- tries to sum up the whole "Donald Trump is the savior of evangelical voters" debate with one deep-fried expression that I am sure he stole from some older member of his family. This is from an essay called "10 Things I Wish Everyone Knew About Evangelicals" at OnFaith.

We have an old saying in my part of the South: “Just because my dog sleeps in the garage, that doesn’t make him a pick-up truck.” Just because a blogger calls himself (or herself) an evangelical doesn’t make it so. You don’t have to vote Republican or go to a particular church, but you gotta believe in that stuff in #1 above, or you’re something else.

Ah, but there is the rub. What is the doctrinal content of his #1 reference? And who gets to case a so-called "evangelical" into outer darkness?

We could argue about all that 'til the cows come home (and your GetReligionistas have been spilling digital ink on that topic for 12 years) and not agree on the fine details.

But, journalists, here is the key once again: The term "evangelical" must be defined in some way by belief and behavior (again, read Ed Stetzer and the Rev. Leith Anderson), more than the political issues of the day. (Yes, there are ancient doctrines linked to marriage, abortion, adultery and other issues that often affect political debates.) So where does Smith start?

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