Ethics and Public Policy Center

Evangelicals and Trump, again: Alan Cooperman says journalists should ponder four myths

Evangelicals and Trump, again: Alan Cooperman says journalists should ponder four myths

This just in: It appears that 81 percent of white evangelicals voted for Donald Trump and, thus, totally embrace his agenda to destroy all of humanity.

Or something like that. Also, it doesn’t matter that evangelical voters aren’t all that powerful in several of the key purple or blue states in which Hillary Clinton received way fewer votes than Barack Obama, thus costing her the election.

But let’s return to the great 81 percent monolith again, a number that hides complex realities among morally and culturally conservative voters. For more information on that, check out this survey by LifeWay Research and the Billy Graham Institute at Wheaton College. Also, click here for a GetReligion podcast on that topic or here for a “On Religion” column I wrote on this topic.

I bring this up because of interesting remarks made during a recent Faith Angle seminar, an ongoing religion-news education project organized by the Ethics & Public Policy Center in Washington, D.C.

The topic this time: “America’s Religious Vote: Midterms and New Trends.” Clicking that link will take you to a website containing a video of the event and, eventually, a transcript. I heard about this through Acts of Faith at The Washington Post, specifically its must-get online newsletter. In a recent edition, religion-beat veteran Michelle Boorstein pointed readers to remarks at that event by Alan Cooperman, director of religion surveys at the Pew Research Center (and a former Post reporter). The Christian Post offered a summary of what Cooperman had to say — focusing on four myths about evangelical voters.

This is interesting stuff, although it doesn’t really explore key fault lines and mixed motives inside that massive white evangelical Trump vote (click here for tmatt’s typology of six different kinds of evangelical voters in 2016 election).

… Cooperman outlined what he says are “straw men” arguments, or “myths,” that he hears being asserted in political discussions today. Four of those myths involve some common misconceptions about white evangelical voters.

Myth 1: Evangelicals are turning liberal or turning against Trump

While there certainly are some white evangelicals who are staunch in their opposition to President Donald Trump, he doesn't see any rise in their numbers in Pew data.

Citing aggregated Pew Research Center data compiled from 2017 to 2018, Cooperman stated that there is “a lot of stability” when it comes to Trump’s approval ratings among self-identified white evangelical or born-again Protestants.

“Right up before the election, aggregated data from our polls over the last several months [showed] 71 percent approval rating for the president [among white evangelicals],” Cooperman said. “If anything, party ID among white evangelical Protestants is trending more Republican. This notion that white evangelical Protestants are turning liberal, I don’t see. … I don’t see it anywhere.”

Now, here is the crucial question: Is saying that “party ID among white evangelical Protestants is trending more Republican” the same thing as saying that all of those white evangelical Protestants wholeheartedly support Trump?

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Memory eternal! DC loses Michael Cromartie, who loved both sides of the First Amendment

Memory eternal! DC loses Michael Cromartie, who loved both sides of the First Amendment

I've been saying this in seminary and journalism classrooms for several decades, but let me say it again.

For a long time now, the First Amendment has been a kind of painful blind spot -- a blind spot with two sides. On one side there's the press and, on the other, there's the world of religion. The problem is that these two powerful forces in American life just don't get along.

Yes, there are lots of journalists who just don't "get" religion, who don't respect the First Amendment role (that whole "free exercise of religion" thing) that religion plays in public and private life. We talk about that problem a lot at this website.

However, there's another problem out there, another stone wall on which I have been beating my head for decades. You see, there are lots of religious leaders, and their followers, who just don't "get" journalism, who don't respect the First Amendment role that a free press plays in American life.

Some people can see one side of that two-sided blind spot and some people can see the other.

We just lost one of the rare people in Washington, D.C., who saw these problems on both sides of that blind spot with a clear, realistic and compassionate eye. That would be Michael Cromartie, who for years organized constructive, candid, face-to-face encounters between mainstream religious leaders and elite members of the Acela Zone press. News of Cromartie's death -- at age 67, after a battle with cancer -- spread in social media on Monday.

There will, I am sure, be detailed obituaries in major media. After all, Cromartie had contacts in most of those newsrooms. Right now, the best place to find tributes to his work with the Ethics and Public Policy Center is at Christianity Today. The headline: "Died: Michael Cromartie, the Church’s Ambassador to Washington."

Personally, I think it would have been more accurate to say "mainstream evangelicalism's ambassador" to Beltway-land, since that was the world in which Cromartie had the strongest influence. However, as an evangelical Anglican he worked with leaders and thinkers in a wide range of other pews, as well. Here is a major chunk of a CT tribute:

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Big picture: How can religious traditionalists shift strategies in cultural conflicts?

 Big picture: How can religious traditionalists shift strategies in cultural conflicts?

Big picture, it would be hard to over-state the impact of the U.S. Supreme Court’s legalization of same-sex marriage upon believers who uphold longstanding religious tradition. The resulting soul-searching is a theme worth careful journalistic treatment going forward.

One fruitful avenue would be seeking reactions from prime sources to three future options proposed by a package of articles in the current issue of Christianity Today, the influential evangelical monthly.

The cover offers a degree of optimism: “Have No Fear: How to Flourish in a Time of Cultural Weakness.”

That’s the tone of the lead article by two authors better known for politics than religion, Washington Post columnist Michael Gerson and Peter Wehner of the Ethics and Public Policy Center. Both were speechwriters and then top policy advisors in the George W. Bush White House. Armed with a foundation grant, they interviewed many evangelical writers, academicians and non-profit leaders, with varied reactions, then drew their own conclusions.

Gerson and Wehner scan history, noting how rarely authentic Christians have exercised full political power. Key quote: “When Christians find themselves on the losing side of Supreme Court decisions, it isn’t cause for despair. Nor does it preclude them from doing extraordinary things.”

Realistically, they say, believers must simply adjust to a world of same-sex marriage. Any bids to reverse this culture shift “will be spectacularly unsuccessful.” But “this does not mean they have to endorse gay marriage.” Traditionalists must remain vigilant in protecting “vital religious liberty,” which is a mark of the healthy society.

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