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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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Sen. Ben Sasse stands out politically, and religiously, in the post-election GOP

Sen. Ben Sasse stands out politically, and religiously, in the post-election GOP

When journalists have sifted through the tea leaves and the ashes left by campaign 2018, they'll doubtless be watching a singular Nebraskan, Sen. Ben Sasse, 46. He'll be the intellectual leader of Donald Trump-wary conservatives in Congress who embrace the Republicans' 1856-2015 heritage. Sasse will be up for re-election in 2020 (unless he retires).

Though a Republican or independent presidential run seems most unlikely, Sasse bids for a voice on the nation's future with his October book "Them," subtitled "Why We Hate Each Other -- and How to Heal" St. Martin's Press). Showing off his chops as a Yale Ph.D. in American history (his dissertation treated President Ronald Reagan and the "religious right"), Sasse analyzes massive disruptions in the economy and the culture that he says will continue to erode Americans' confidence and sense of shared purpose.

As a remedy, he proposes reviving old-fashioned local communities. He also wants Americans to shun destructive media and decries the partisan furies that characterize the Trump era, though the book barely mentions the president or their disagreements. He appeals for vigorous public policy debates that respect the dignity of opponents as fellow citizens. The book’s handling of religious liberty disputes is especially important.

Future media write-ups should emphasize that Sasse is also the most interesting evangelical Protestant in Congress. He previewed “Them” in a 2017 commencement address when The Guy’s daughter graduated from Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary (for the good stuff, skip ahead to 9:40). Sasse also spoke that year to the Gospel Coalition and in 2016 at Westminster Seminary — California. And here’s what Sasse said on the Senate floor about #MeToo and Judge Brett Kavanaugh.

Journalists will want to peruse his religiously-pitched 2016 interview with World, a Christian newsmagazine. Secular outlets have portrayed Sasse as sort of impressive but lamentably conservative, as in Mother Jones just before the 2016 election when Sasse declined to vote for Trump, slate.com in 2017 and Vanity Fair last month.

“Them” barely mentions a theme The Guy considers essential for a Sasse interview: What’s the role for religion, especially local congregations, in the healthy restored culture Sasse yearns for?

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Here we go again: U.S. Supreme Court gains even more power in America's culture wars?

Here we go again: U.S. Supreme Court gains even more power in America's culture wars?

The day after election day is, of course, a day for political chatter. Let’s face it: In Twitter America, every day is a day for political chatter.

This doesn’t mean that it’s impossible to see a few religion ghosts in all of this media fog — hints at the religion/politics stories that will soon return to the headlines. Let me start with a few observations, as a Bible Belt guy who just spent his second straight national election night in New York City.

* I didn’t think that it would be possible for the U.S. Supreme Court to play a larger and more divisive role in American political life than it has post-Roe v. Wade. I was wrong. Do you see big, important compromises coming out of the new U.S. House and Senate?

* Maybe you have doubts about the importance of SCOTUS in politics right now. If so, take a look at the U.S. Senate races in which Democrats sought reelection in culturally “red” states. Ask those Democrats about the heat surrounding Supreme Court slots.

* So right now, leaders of the religious left are praying BIG TIME for the health of 85-year-old Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg and, to a lesser degree, 80-year-old Justice Stephen Breyer. After two battles with cancer, activists inside the Beltway watch Ginsburg’s every move for signs of trouble. What will conservative religious leaders pray for?

* If Ginsburg or Breyer exit, one way or the other, what will be the central issues that will surround hearings for the next nominee? Do we really need to ask that? It will be abortion and religious liberty — again.

* If the next nominee is Judge Amy Coney Barrett (a likely choice with GOP gains in the U.S. Senate), does anyone doubt that her Catholic faith (“The dogma lives loudly in you”) will be at the heart of the media warfare that results?

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Thinking politics, and pop culture, on July 4th in this today's tense and wired America

Thinking politics, and pop culture, on July 4th in this today's tense and wired America

Stop and think about the following question: During the upcoming apocalyptic war over the empty U.S. Supreme Court seat, which group of public intellectuals (and I use that term very loosely) will play the larger role shaping public opinion among ordinary Americans?

(a) Scribes who write New York Times editorials.

(b) Law professors at America's Top 10 law schools.

(c) The writers and hosts of late-night comedy/news talks shows.

(d) The latest blasts from America's Tweeter In Chief, who is a former reality TV show star.

Now, if you've been around for a half century or so, you know that politicians have always paid close attention to the satirical offerings of Saturday Night Live and the late Johnny Carson always had way more political influence than he let on. Who was more skilled when visiting a late-night television show during pre-campaign work, former B-movie actor Ronald Reagan or whoever tried to knock him out of the headlines?

The power of pop culture in politics is nothing new -- but it's on the rise.

With that in mind, let's look at a special 4th of July think piece written by DC Beltway think-tank scribe Mark Rodgers, a former high-ranking GOP staffer in the U.S. Senate. He is probably one of the few people I know with U2's Bono in his smartphone favorites list.

The headline, featuring a popular active verb:

Has (Pop)Culture Trumped Politics?

You need a thesis statement? Here it is the overture:

It’s been a long time coming.

Almost 20 years ago, while working on the Hill and hosting a conversation with UVA sociologist James Davison Hunter over lunch, I recall waking up to the growing impact of the popular culture, and its inevitable trajectory to surpass education, family, faith and journalism as the dominant worldview shaping force in 21st century America, and possibly the world.

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A young GOP star's double life cracks, after evangelical leaders failed to call him out

A young GOP star's double life cracks, after evangelical leaders failed to call him out

If I have learned anything in my 40 years working on the religion beat (and studying it), it's this: Repentance is really hard, even for the leaders of religious institutions.

Some would change that to say "especially" for the leaders of religious institutions.

This is true, I have found, for leaders on both the theological left and right (as anyone knows who has covered sex-abuse scandals among Catholic clergy). And many evangelicals choose to hide the sins of leaders. Ditto for leaders of liberal Protestant flocks.

As we are finding out during the current American tsunami of ink about sexual harassment and assaults, this trend is also found in Hollywood, inside the D.C. Beltway and elsewhere. That's rather obvious. It's also obvious that religious leaders should do a better job of handling sin than other folks. Some do. Many do not.

This brings me to an important Washington Post headline that many GetReligion readers made sure that I saw over the weekend: "How a conservative group dealt with a fondling charge against a rising GOP star." Similar stories ran elsewhere.

So how did Family Research Council leaders deal with the sins of Ohio Republican Wesley Goodman? They tried to shut him down, while seeking to keep things private and -- in the age of easy-to-copy emails -- got caught. This journalism truth is also clear: Many evangelical leaders, like their liberal-church counterparts, would rather line up for anesthesia-free root canals than cooperate with mainstream news reporters.

Here's the top of the Post story, which features tons of references to emails and documents to support key points:

On a fall evening two years ago, donors gathered during a conference at a Ritz-Carlton hotel near Washington to raise funds for a 31-year-old candidate for the Ohio legislature who was a rising star in evangelical politics.

A quick aside: Yes, I winced at the reference to "evangelical politics."

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Moore church-state wars: Can political reporters cover legal clashes between God and man?

Moore church-state wars: Can political reporters cover legal clashes between God and man?

So, you thought that members of the national political press had problems doing balanced, accurate coverage of wild-man candidate Donald Trump?

Get ready for the Handmaid's Tale 2.0 coverage of U.S. Senate candidate Roy Moore, the controversial (that overused term applies here) former Alabama chief justice. This guy can turn Acela zone reporters into pillars of salt just by standing at a podium and smiling.

Now, I realize that in this day and age many reporters have little or no journalistic incentive to listen to Moore and to try and understand what he is saying, from his point of view and that of his supporters. Frankly, this man makes me nervous, too.

However, I do think there are steps journalists can take in order to provide coverage of his candidacy that escapes the boundaries of Acela zone group-think. With that in mind, here is the thought for the day.

One may well ask: "How can you advocate breaking some laws and obeying others?" The answer lies in the fact that there are two types of laws: just and unjust. I would be the first to advocate obeying just laws. One has not only a legal but a moral responsibility to obey just laws. Conversely, one has a moral responsibility to disobey unjust laws. ...
Now, what is the difference between the two? How does one determine whether a law is just or unjust? A just law is a man made code that squares with the moral law or the law of God. An unjust law is a code that is out of harmony with the moral law.

No, that isn't Moore. That's the Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr., in his famous "Letter from a Birmingham Jail."

No, I am not comparing Moore with King. I am also not saying that Moore's understanding of moral, just and, dare I say, even "natural" law is the same as that of King. However, don't be surprised if, during his campaign, Moore reads that Birmingham passage and praises it, big time. Reporters should get ready.

Thus, what I am saying that it might be good to get professional religion writers involved in this story. Thus, what I am saying that it would be good to get professional religion writers involved in this story. Right now. Why? Because arguments about conflicts between God's law and the laws of the state have been going on for centuries (including this famous First Things package in 1996) and this is a topic worthy of serious reporting. It would be good to have a reporter involved who (a) speaks that church-state language, (b) has solid contacts with articulate Moore supporters and (c) knows liberal and conservative church historians who are up to speed on this topic.

The bottom line: It's time to transcend shallow stereotypes.

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Parade of 2016 yearenders: tmatt tweaks the official RNA poll results, saying ...

Parade of 2016 yearenders: tmatt tweaks the official RNA poll results, saying ...

While Donald Trump's crusade to win the White House was the top story of 2016, journalists in the Religion News Association saluted the brash billionaire's opponents by giving their top honor to the Muslim parents who made headlines by denouncing him.

Khizr and Ghazala Khan, the Gold Star parents of U.S. Army Captain Humayun Khan, who died in Iraq, shared the Religion Newsmaker of the Year honor. The Khans made a dramatic Democratic National Convention appearance to proclaim that Trump's proposed temporary ban on Muslims entering the country would be unconstitutional.

The RNA description of the annual poll's No. 1 story stressed that Trump received "strong support from white Christians, especially evangelicals. … Many were alarmed by his vilifying Muslims and illegal immigrants and his backing from white supremacists. GOP keeps majorities in Congress."

The No. 2 story continued: "Post-election assaults and vandalism target Muslims and other minorities. Some assailants cite Donald Trump's victory as validation. Critics denounce the appointment of Stephen Bannon as White House strategist over his ties to white supremacists." News related to Trump appeared in three other RNA Top 10 stories.

While white evangelical votes were crucial, I would have stressed two other religion trends linked to Trump's stunning win.

The first was captured in a mid-summer Christianity Today headline that, citing Pew Research Center polling, stated, "Most Evangelicals Will Vote Trump, But Not For Trump." Pew found that more than half of white evangelicals were upset about 2016 White House options and said their aim was to defeat Hillary Clinton, not support Trump.

Election Night plot twists also showed that Clinton lost because she lacked support from Rust Belt working-class Democrats, many from Catholic, labor-union homes that twice backed President Barack Obama.

The RNA Top 10 selections did not include items linked to bitter battles over religious liberty, Obama White House orders on transgender rights or the Supreme Court opening caused by the death of Justice Antonin Scalia.

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Who went insane? BuzzFeed editors or the Greek Orthodox believer who leads the GOP?

Who went insane? BuzzFeed editors or the Greek Orthodox believer who leads the GOP?

What happens when you mix Christmas, politics, Twitter and the ongoing emotional meltdown on the cultural left in the wake of the 2016 presidential race?

Trust me, the answer to that question is a bit crazy.

So was anyone else on Twitter enough in the past day or so to catch the latest mini-media storm about Christians in the Republican Party and the ugliness of their love affair with Citizen Donald Trump?

That's one way to spin this crazy mess. You could also simply note that we are dealing with another case of a major newsroom -- wait, is BuzzFeed a major newsroom? -- failing to contain even one or two people who have any idea how ordinary Christians out in Middle America use language when talking about matters of faith?

For those out of the digital feedback loop, here is the dramatic double-decker headline atop the BuzzFeed "story" that is in the middle of all this:

People Are Arguing About Whether Republicans Just Compared Trump To Jesus
A Republican spokesman said Christians view only Jesus as king and to ask otherwise was “frankly offensive.”

What does it mean to say that "people are arguing about" something? Does that mean a few activists on the left served up a bunch of wisecracks and then people responded by noting that they were out of their minds? 

If you want to look at this as a journalism case study, then the former GetReligionista Mark Hemingway put it best in this tweet:

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Those acidic Gallup numbers about the news: CNN blames it on Trump and Trump alone

Those acidic Gallup numbers about the news: CNN blames it on Trump and Trump alone

Donald Trump's campaign for the White House has not been friendly to the American model of the press, that old-school approach in which journalists strive to offer balanced, accurate coverage of both sides in public debates and contents.

For starter's, Citizen Trump's approach to debates and to the concept of verifiable facts is a unique one, to say the least. Saying that Trump struggles with logic, truth and facts is something like saying that, for several decades, Hillary Clinton has struggled with basic questions of law, ethics and accountability. #DUH

But let's focus on Trump, as we take a second look at those stunningly depressing Gallup Poll numbers about the public's increasingly acidic view of journalism. Is there a religion -- or moral and social-issues -- angle in there somewhere? That's the question I asked yesterday.

Also, we're going to look at Trump, because that's precisely what CNN did when considering the Gallup numbers. Check out this headline: "Fueled by Republicans, Americans' trust in media hits all-time low."

The report starts out like this, logically enough (in light of that headline):

In a climate of bitter political partisanship, anti-media rhetoric and diversified media options, just 32% of Americans now say they trust the media "to report the news fully, accurately and fairly" -- the lowest level since 1972, when Gallup began polling. ...
While Americans' faith in media has been in decline for over a decade, this year's findings represent a sharp drop from the previous eight years, when between 40 and 45 percent of Americans expressed trust.
The change is largely fueled by the aggressive anti-media rhetoric of Donald Trump and other Republicans, Gallup said.

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