National Association of Evangelicals

Thinking 'evangelical,' again: As always these arguments pit theology against politics

Thinking 'evangelical,' again: As always these arguments pit theology against politics

Like many bitter dodgeball contests linked to religion these days, the fight began on Twitter.

On one side was a historian who has written several books on the roots of evangelicalism — defining the term (a) in doctrinal terms and (b) in a global context. When you put those two things together, you end up with lots of people, in lots of places, throughout Protestant history, who are “evangelicals.” It helps that the word is used this way around the world in many different church settings.

On the other side were other historians, as well as woke, post-evangelical voices. The key here? You guessed it: that famous 81 percent number, as in the percentage of white, self-identified “evangelicals” who — gladly or reluctantly — voted for GOP candidate Donald Trump (or against Democrat Hillary Clinton). Thus, “evangelicals” are white, conservative Republicans with racist roots (and lots of homophobia).

In other words, “evangelical” has evolved into semi-curse word that cannot be separated from contemporary American culture and Trumpian-era politics. We know this is true, because this is the way the term is used in most elite media coverage of politics.

The argument focused on an article at The Gospel Coalition website by Thomas Kidd of Baylor University with this title: “Phillis Wheatley: An Evangelical and the First Published African American Female Poet.”

The problem is that Wheatley is a black, heroic figure. Thus, it is wrong to identify her as an “evangelical,” even in an article that is striving to get modern evangelicals to pay more attention to the lives and convictions of evangelicals in other cultures and in other times. The piece ended by noting: “Evangelicals, of all people, need to remember her today.”

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Election day drinking game? Maybe. But here's another evangelical politics stat for news stories

Election day drinking game? Maybe. But here's another evangelical politics stat for news stories

Hey, it’s election day.

Want to have a drinking game? Most evangelicals and Baptists can use Dr Pepper or some other appropriate beverage.

Take a drink tonight when, during cable-news gabfests, you hear a reference to white evangelical voters and their love of Donald Trump.

You can take a DOUBLE SHOT if someone quotes the magic “81 percent” number from 2016.

Oh, wait. I am making an assumption here. So let me say this: You have heard, I assume, that 81 percent of white evangelicals voted for Trump and that they still just love that man more than life itself?

The reality, of course, is more complex than that.

Thus, those who love nuanced, accurate journalism can only hope that editors and producers will hand out copies of the recent Christianity Today essay by Ed Stetzer, director of the Billy Graham Center at Wheaton College, that ran with this headline: “Why Evangelicals Voted Trump: Debunking the 81%.” The survey info in that essay is important.

Here is some additional information to toss into the mix, care of the National Association of Evangelicals and Baptist Press. The big numbers are right at the top:

WASHINGTON (BP) -- Most leaders of the National Association of Evangelicals identified as independents in an NAE poll preceding the 2018 U.S. midterm elections. …

Two-thirds of those surveyed, 66 percent, described themselves as independents rather than a member of a major political party in the NAE poll of its 106-member board of directors, the NAE said. While the sampling is narrow and not scientific, the NAE said the results "track with" those of a 2017 Gallup poll of the general U.S. population.

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Horror on the border: Some journalists starting to spot old cracks in Trump's support

Horror on the border: Some journalists starting to spot old cracks in Trump's support

Remember that "lesser of two evils" theme in some of the coverage of Donald Trump's run for the White House?

The whole idea was that there were quite a few religious believers -- evangelicals and Catholics alike -- who were not impressed with The Donald, to say the least. However, they faced a painful, hellish decision in voting booths because the only mainstream alternative to this bizarre GOP candidate was Hillary Rodham Clinton, someone whose record on religious liberty, right-to-life issues, etc., etc., was truly horrifying.

Thus, that lesser-of-two-evils equation or, as a prophetic Christianity Today piece put it: "Most Evangelicals Will Vote Trump, But Not For Trump." Here at GetReligion, I addressed this pre-election trend here: "Listen to the silence: It does appear that most evangelicals will reluctantly vote Trump."

Now, ever since, I have urged journalists to look for the old cracks inside the evangelical and Catholic support for Trump. Yes, lots of white evangelicals were part of Trump's early base during the primaries. But just as many voted for him on election day while holding their noses (or while carrying a barf bag). At some point, I have argued, journalists could look for these cracks and find important stories.

This brings me to that New York Times headline the other day: "Conservative Religious Leaders Are Denouncing Trump Immigration Policies."

Conservative religious leaders who have long preached about the sanctity of the family are now issuing sharp rebukes of the Trump administration for immigration policies that tear families apart or leave them in danger.

The criticism came after recent moves by the administration to separate children from their parents at the border, and to deny asylum on a routine basis to victims of domestic abuse and gang violence.

Some of the religious leaders are the same evangelicals and Roman Catholics who helped President Trump to build his base and who have otherwise applauded his moves to limit abortion and champion the rights of religious believers.

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When First Amendment conflicts erupt at U.S. Supreme Court, it's time to ask WWDD?

When First Amendment conflicts erupt at U.S. Supreme Court, it's time to ask WWDD?

Over a three-day period, 47 “friend of the court” briefs suddenly clogged the inbox at the U.S. Supreme Court regarding the most important religious liberty case of this term -- if not of the coming decade. This is a crucial First Amendment showdown.

Almost all these briefs opposed Colorado’s use of an anti-discrimination law against Masterpiece Cakeshop for refusing to provide the cake for a same-sex wedding.

The immediate issue is the fate of certain religious bakers, florists, photographers, Orthodox Jewish catering halls and the like. In a parallel case, Oregon fined a bakery $135,000, demonstrating government’s power to penalize dissenters or put them out of business. Beyond that lie important rights claims by  conscientious objectors that the Supreme Court did not address when it legalized gay marriages nationwide in 2015 (.pdf here).

The Cakeshop’s pleas for freedom of religion, conscience, and expression are backed in briefs from the Trump Administration, 11 Republican U.S. Senators and 75 House members, 20 of the 50 U.S. states led by Texas, a host of social conservative  and “parachurch” agencies, and America’s two largest religious bodies (Catholic Church, Southern Baptist Convention).

Yet to be heard from are “mainline” Protestant and non-Orthodox Jewish groups that support the gay cause.

This past week the court received briefs from the American Civil Liberties Union (.pdf here) on behalf of the gay couple and from Colorado officials (.pdf here). Repeating past contentions, the briefs contend that religious liberty claims cannot justify exemptions from anti-discrimination laws that are “neutral” and “generally applicable,” whether religious or secular in motivation. As Colorado sees things, the Constitution offers no support for a business “to treat a class of people as inferior simply because of who they are.”

Whenever news about the First Amendment erupts, The Religion Guy first asks WWDD? That is, What Will Douglas Do? -- referring to Douglas Laycock, distinguished professor of law at the University of Virginia and a prime source on our beat.

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Time to work up those walkups to the Supreme Court’s big transgender moment

Time to work up those walkups to the Supreme Court’s big transgender moment

On March 28, the U.S. Supreme Court hears arguments in the Gloucester County School Board case, its first encounter with the growing transgender rights movement.

Journalists, it's time to work up those walkups.

The basics: The Obama administration’s Departments of Education and Justice notified all U.S. public schools last May that to qualify for continued federal funding they need to follow each student’s sense of personal  “gender identity,” as opposed to birth biology, regarding access to “sex-segregated restrooms, locker rooms, shower facilities, housing and athletic teams (.pdf document here)."

That change redefined  “sex” under Title IX of the anti-discrimination law in question. For 44 years before that, the government thought “sex” meant  biological gender, not an identity that may conflict with it. In the current case, an anatomically female Virginia high schooler who is transitioning wants to use boys’ toilets instead of unisex facilities the school provides. Local school districts are caught between transgender rights appeals and community concerns about privacy and security.

The case’s significance is not ended by the February 22 decision of the incoming Donald Trump administration to rescind the Barack Obama directive for now. Access to locker rooms and showers are also part of this hot-button debate.

With gay marriage legalized throughout the United States by the Supreme Court, the LGBTQ movement is focusing all its moxie on transgender rights. The belief that gender is “assigned” at birth but flexible, rather than fixed by biology, gains cultural clout from important segments of the Democratic Party, big business, the academic world, the entertainment industry, professional and college athletics, and the like.

That poses a major challenge for advocates of religious liberty, already on the defensive with other issues.

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Think piece after crazy week: Two logical experts strive to define the term 'evangelical'

Think piece after crazy week: Two logical experts strive to define the term 'evangelical'

Any short list of topics that your GetReligionistas have been harping about from Day 1 of this weblog, 12 years ago, would have to include the mainstream news media's struggles to understand the already vague term "evangelical" (and its more conservative cousin, "fundamentalist").

In other words, this whole "Donald Trump is an evangelical" and/or "Donald Trump is the savior of the evangelicals madness" is just a more intense version of a journalistic problem that has always been around.

Here at GetReligion, this is not our first rodeo. Take it away, Bobby Ross Jr.! Also, I have written three national, "On Religion" columns about this issue as well. The headlines on those pieces are as follows: "Define 'evangelical' -- please," "Define 'evangelical' -- again" and "Define 'evangelical' -- 2013 edition."

Anyway, the evangelical pros at Christianity Today ran a very timely essay the other day with a totally logical double-decker headline:

Defining Evangelicals in an Election Year
A new research method could help us get beyond political stereotypes.

This is a must-read think piece for this weekend, in part because it was written by a highly qualified duo, if you are looking for authoritative voices on this subject. The Rev. Leith Anderson is president of the National Association of Evangelicals and pollster Ed Stetzer is executive director of LifeWay Research in Nashville. Here is a key slice of this essay, containing the thesis:

... Who is an evangelical? Many pollsters and journalists assume that evangelicals are white, suburban, American, Southern, and Republican, when millions of self-identifying evangelicals fit none of these descriptions. ... We think there is a more coherent and consistent way to understand who evangelicals are -- one based on what evangelicals believe.

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Big question: Falwell Jr. is so mad at (fill in the blanks) that he's ready to hug Donald Trump?

Big question: Falwell Jr. is so mad at (fill in the blanks) that he's ready to hug Donald Trump?

I had a strange flashback this week, as I was watching the long, long introduction by the Rev. Jerry Falwell Jr., as he welcomed New York City billionaire and reality-television icon Donald Trump back to the campus of Liberty University.

This flashback took place when Falwell spoke the following words (as I framed them in my "On Religion" for the Universal syndicate):

Trump used blunt words crafted for populists angry about losing and tired of watching politicians break their promises. Claiming outsider status, Trump endorsed their anger.
Yes, Trump is not a Sunday school candidate, admitted Falwell. Then again, he said, "for decades, conservatives and evangelicals have chosen the political candidates who have told us what we wanted to hear on social, religious and political issues only to be betrayed by those same candidates after they were elected."

Read that quote again. Is this tense, even angry Falwell quote aimed at President Barack Obama?

No way. It is aimed at the GOP mainstream. This brings me to the topic of this week's "Crossroads" podcast, with host Todd Wilken. Click here to tune that in.

That Falwell anger reminded me of what I heard long ago -- 1997 to be precise -- when I served as a commentator for MSNBC during the network's daylong coverage of the "Stand in the Gap" Promise Keepers rally that covered the National Mall in Washington, D.C.

The mainstream journalists who covered that event, as a rule, framed it as a protest against the lifestyle left and President Bill Clinton (and, yes, they thought it may have had something to do with fathers, husbands, families and racial reconciliation).

Seriously? It was news that some cultural conservatives were upset with Clinton?

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New York Times explores Trump and those 'evangelicals,' whoever or whatever they are ...

New York Times explores Trump and those 'evangelicals,' whoever or whatever they are ...

As you would expect, variations on the word "evangelical" appear quite a few times in a New York Times news feature that appears under this headline -- "Evangelicals See Donald Trump as Man of Conviction, if Not Faith."

Yes, it does appear that issues of religion and culture will play some role in the GOP side of the contest to win the White House, in spite of that other recent Times feature that left religion totally out of that equation. I know that's hard to believe, so click here for more info.

So the evangelicals are back and some love Trump while others do not. Surprise!

As I read the new Times piece, a familiar question entered my mind: What do these journalists, the elite of the news elite, think that the word "evangelical" means? GetReligion has dedicated quite a bit of attention to the meaning of that word, as have I as a columnist.

So the goal, in this post, is to look for clues as to what the Times people think this term means. At the end, we will actually look at a set of characteristics used to define "evangelical" endorsed by the Southern Baptist Convention and the National Association of Evangelicals.

Ready? Here is our first passage:

Buford Arning, a retired building-supply executive in Statesville, N.C., went to church each week until a pinched nerve made it hard for him to leave his house. He believes in living a faith-filled life. But he does not demand piety of his preferred presidential candidate, Donald J. Trump.
“Am I a Bible toter that gets out and preaches on the side of the street and tries to convert everybody? No,” said Mr. Arning, 62, who calls himself an evangelical voter. He said he believed that Mr. Trump was “a Christian man,” and that was good enough.

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