nones

Thinking about modern Democrats: There are three kinds and religion may be a crucial factor

Thinking about modern Democrats: There are three kinds and religion may be a crucial factor

As a rule, your GetReligionistas do not post critiques — positive or negative — about opinion pieces in the mainstream press. The exceptions usually run on weekends, when we point readers to “think pieces” and essays on topics linked to religion-news work.

Every now and then, however, a think piece comes along that does a better job of handling an important news topic than most of the “hard news” pieces on the same or similar topics.

In this case, we are talking about the many, many debates we will be seeing in the weeks and months ahead as Democratic Party leaders attempt to thin out the field of 666 or so candidates who want the right to run against Donald Trump in 2020.

That brings me to a very important New York Times piece that ran the other day — written by Thomas B. Edsall — under this wordy, but important headline:

The Democratic Party Is Actually Three Parties

They have different constituents and prefer different policies. Satisfying them all will not be easy.

Now, it is impossible, these days, to talk about divisions in the American political marketplace without running into controversial issues linked to religion, morality and culture. Can you say religious liberty? Oh, sorry, I meant “religious liberty.”

Obviously, one of these Democratic armies is the world of “woke” folks on Twitter. Then you have the left-of-center party establishment. And then you have the world of “moderates” and conservative Democrats, who still — believe it or not — exist. You can see evidence of that in recent GetReligion posts about the fault lines inside the Democratic Party on subjects linked to abortion.

Here is Edsall’s overture, which is long — but essential:

Democratic Party voters are split. Its most progressive wing, which is supportive of contentious policies on immigration, health care and other issues, is, in the context of the party’s electorate, disproportionately white. So is the party’s middle group of “somewhat liberal” voters. Its more moderate wing, which is pressing bread-and-butter concerns like jobs, taxes and a less totalizing vision of health care reform, is majority nonwhite, with almost half of its support coming from African-American and Hispanic voters.

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Since numbers make news, how do we explain America’s religious recession since 2000?

Since numbers make news, how do we explain America’s religious recession since 2000?

Numbers make news. Think of how many articles will report breathlessly on U.S. political polls between now and Nov. 3, 2020. And numbers created “the biggest American religion story of the past decade,” says analyst Mark Silk, referring to the increase in “nones” who tell pollsters they have no particular  religious identity.

This is news: A new Gallup report says a severe religious recession began to build right around 2000.

What explains this turn-of-the-century turn? Journalists with Gallup numbers in hand should run this puzzle past the experts in search of explanations. 

Gallup combines data from 1998–2000, compared with 2016–2018. A topline finding is that Americans reporting membership in a house of worship hit an all-time low of 50 percent by last year, which compares with a consistent 68 percent or more from 1937, when the question was first asked, and all the way through the 1990s. The era since 2000 mingles that loss with declining worship attendance and the  “nones” boom.   

Since your audiences are already transfixed by the 2020 campaign, consider this detail from Gallup’s internals. Comparing 1998-2000 with 2016-2018, church membership reported by Republicans slipped from 77 percent to 69 percent, but among Democrats plummeted from 71 percent to 48 percent, a remarkable 23 percent drop. (Independents went from 59 percent to 45 percent.) How come?

Journalists will find further statistics to ponder in the latest General Social Survey report from the University of Chicago’s National Opinion Research Center. In this account, the “nones” have reached 23 percent. At the same time, however, 34 percent of American adults report “strong” religious affiliation, and similar percentages have held constant across the years since 1973. 

Writing for the interfaith journal First Things, Mark Movsesian of the St. John’s University Center for Law and Religion (who belongs on your source list) joins those who say the U.S. is experiencing “a decline in religious affiliation among people whose identification was weak to begin with.” As with politics, he proposes, “the middle seems to be dropping out in favor of the extremes on either end.”

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Yet again, another take on those evangelicals and Donald Trump, this version from an insider   

Yet again, another take on those evangelicals and Donald Trump, this version from an insider   

Political reporters, pundits, and party strategists trying to understand U.S. evangelicals sometimes seem like David Livingstone or Margaret Mead scrutinizing an exotic jungle tribe they’ve stumbled upon. Analysts especially scratch heads on how those nice churchgoing Protestant folks could ever vote for a dissolute guy like Donald Trump. 

(Standard terminology note: In American political-speak, “Evangelicals” almost always means white evangelicals, because African-American Protestants, though often similar in faith, are so distinct culturally and politically.) 

That Trump conundrum is taken up yet again by a self-described “friendly observer/participant” with evangelicalism, Regent University political scientist A.J. Nolte. His school’s CEO, Pat Robertson, proclaimed candidate Trump “God’s man for the job.” Yet Nolte posted his point of view on Charlie Sykes’s thebulwark.com. This young site brands Trump “a serial liar, a narcissist and a bully, a con man who mocks the disabled and women, a man with no fixed principles who has the vocabulary of an emotionally insecure 9-year-old.” Don’t hold back, #NeverTrump folks.

Nolte, a Catholic University Ph.D. who belongs on your source list, did not vote for the president and remains “deeply Trump-skeptical.” He considers evangelicals’ bond with Trump  “unwise” in the long term and “almost certain to do more harm than good.” He thinks believers’ Trump support “is shallower and more conditional than it appears” and even muses about a serious primary challenge. The Religion Guy disputes that, but agrees with Nolte that evangelical women under 45 are the most likely to spurn the president next year. 

Nolte offers a nicely nuanced version of outsiders’ scenario that “existential fear” on religious-liberty issues drove Trump support in 2016 and still does.

Is this irrational?

Nolte says evangelicals have “a valid concern that religion and religious arguments will be pushed out of the public square altogether.”

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Will the 'God gap' persist on Nov. 6? What else should religion-news pros look for?

Will the 'God gap' persist on Nov. 6? What else should religion-news pros look for?

Election Day 2018 culminates the universally proclaimed “year of the woman” in American politics. The media will be totaling up victors among the unprecedented number of female candidates and checking whether exit polls show a Donald Trump-era widening of the “gender gap” between the customary majorities of women for Democrats and men for Republicans.

Except for pondering evangelicals’ GOP fealty, the media often ignore religious factors that sometimes rival or exceed the impact of that male-female divide.

This time around, will the usual religious alignments persist? Intensify? Reporters should include this in the agenda for post-election analyses.

The related “God gap” came to the fore in 2004 when Democrat John Kerry scored 62 percent with voters who said they never attended religious services vs. churchgoers’ lopsided support for Republican George W. Bush. (Through much of U.S. history there was little difference in basic religiosity between the two major parties, while Protestants leaned Republican and Catholics Democratic.) State-by-state exit polls are unlikely to ask about that and data won’t come till later.

Since 2004, religiously unaffiliated “nones” have increased substantially in polling numbers. Pew Research says they made up fully 28 percent of Democratic voters in the 2014 midterms, outpacing all religious blocs in the party's coalition. Democratic nones neatly balance out evangelicals’ perennial Republican enthusiasm, but pundits say it’s tough for Democrats to organize them on campaign support and turnout.

Now, something new may be occurring.

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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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Monday Mix: Botham Jean, 'nones' in politics, Catholics demand change, black women and more

Monday Mix: Botham Jean, 'nones' in politics, Catholics demand change, black women and more

After taking off last week for Labor Day, we're back with another edition of the Monday Mix.

For those needing a refresher on this new GetReligion feature, we focus in this space on headlines and insights you might have missed from the weekend and late in the week.

We'll mention this again, too: Just because we include a headline here doesn't mean we won't offer additional analysis in a different post, particularly if it's a major story. In fact, if you read a piece linked here and have questions or concerns that we might address, please don't hesitate to comment below or tweet us at @GetReligion. The goal here is to point at important news and say, "Hey, look at this."

Three weekend reads

1. "We will be a better city once we know the truth and once we come together and heal." The Dallas Morning News is providing in-depth coverage of the police-involved killing of Botham Jean, 26, a black man shot by a white officer who entered his apartment after mistaking it for her own.

That coverage includes the strong religion angle, as Jean was a beloved church song leader and Bible class teacher.

I ran into Morning News journalists both Saturday and Sunday at the Dallas West Church of Christ as I reported the story for The Christian Chronicle. In fact, the Dallas paper's photographer — in his first week on the job — confused me for his own reporter. We both enjoyed a chuckle over that while covering this terrible tragedy.

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No God, no worries: This is why a group with no belief in supernatural deities gathers on Sunday

No God, no worries: This is why a group with no belief in supernatural deities gathers on Sunday

Journalists seem to love stories about atheist churches.

That's not exactly breaking news.

In recent years, we at GetReligion have critiqued media coverage of "Atheist churches on the rise deep in the heart of Texas" and "Godless congregations copying Christian churches." In one post, we asked, "How many atheists does it take to form a 'megachurch?'"

Just today, the Buffalo News published a piece on "'a church for atheists' — and everyone else."

In general, the stories I've read on atheist churches have left me underwhelmed. Could it be that I — as a Christian who believes in God — am biased on the subject matter? That's certainly a fair question.

But here's another possible explanation: These stories tend to fall flat because they lack any real edge. Typically, there's no timely news angle. There's no digging below the surface. 

A recent in-depth Denver Post story is the latest example:

By 10:30 a.m., the assembly room has filled with people. They’re four dozen strong, swirling about the long rectangular hall like in a hive, standing and laughing in small clusters, shaking hands and hugging latecomers, finishing coffee and doughnuts in the kitchen, leaning in close to hear a week’s worth of gossip whispered too low for lurking passers-by.
The congregation’s Sunday morning gathering is a cherished communal ritual that brings together newly joined 20-somethings, still groggy from a night on the town, with chatty retirees who have been members since the institution’s founding. They come from across metro Denver to hang out and talk about whatever’s on their mind: Donald Trump, National Public Radio, last night’s Rockies game, the hiking trail du jour.
Inevitably, though, their conversation returns to the supernatural power that unites them: God.
This isn’t church, though.
“It’s atheist church,” jokes Ruth McLeod, who moved to Denver from Louisiana in 2012. “Church doesn’t have a monopoly on community.”

Keep reading, and the Post mentions "contradictions in the Bible" (without giving a Bible defender an opportunity to respond). And there's a reference to the "pervasive contempt" faced by atheists (does that mean religious groups are, on the other hand, beloved?):

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Why is American politics so rancid? One liberal pundit blames the slide in churchgoing

Why is American politics so rancid? One liberal pundit blames the slide in churchgoing

Why has U.S. politics became so rancid in tone and so harshly polarized?

Analysts have pinned the blame variously on talk radio and cable news, social media and the Internet, gerrymandering of U.S. House and state legislative districts, the Supreme Court’s campaign finance ruling, suspicion of authorities and cultural rebellion since the 1960s, a general coarsening of culture, economic woe, and much else.

Now comes prominent liberal analyst Peter Beinart with a striking thesis in the April issue of The Atlantic (which alongside its Web site has emerged as the most interesting source of religion coverage and commentary among general-interest magazine companies). He contends that what ails the fractured republic has much to do with the serious slide in church involvement over recent years.

His scenario deserves major media attention, with  responses from fellow pundits and Christian conservatives who will dislike his anti-Donald Trump slant and  resent any connection with the “race-and-nation” movement.

Beinart, who is Jewish, is an old-school New Republic editor turned journalism professor who writes for The Atlantic and others. He notes that some analysts welcomed the increase of “nones” who lack all religious affiliation, figuring this would foster greater tolerance and social harmony. Beinart’s view is precisely the opposite.

Yes, there’s more acceptance of gay marriages and legalized marijuana, he says. But the slide in organized religion is “making America’s partisan clashes more brutal” and contributes to the rise of the “alt-right,” and  “white nationalism,” pitting “us” against “them” in “even more primal and irreconcilable ways.” The older “culture war over religious morality” has been succeeded by a “more secular, more ferociously national and racial culture war” that is worse.

Beinart piles up survey research to back up that claim.

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Religious questions play no role in this boring Chronicle of Higher Education look at polyamory

Religious questions play no role in this boring Chronicle of Higher Education look at polyamory

One of the questions that your GetReligionistas hear from readers all the time is this: "What is the mainstream press?"

That isn't the precise wording, of course, since readers are usually asking about specific publications. They want to know if The Daily Beast is "mainstream," which is a question that we've been asking for years. They want to know if MSNBC and Fox News are "mainstream." The answer is "yes," but you have to know the difference between news shows and opinion shows.

It also helps to remember that these are strange times. These days, one is just as likely to see a hard-news story from Baptist Press (or the Catholic News Agency) that quotes several qualified, on-the-record sources on both sides of a debate about a hot-button social issue as you are to see that happen in, well, the New York Times. On most religious and social issues, the Times is mainstream -- but with a doctrinal point of view. Sort of like Baptist Press?

This brings me to an interesting feature that ran in a very, very establishment, mainstream publication -- The Chronicle of Higher Education. The doubledecker headline proclaims: " ‘I Have Multiple Loves’ -- Carrie Jenkins makes the philosophical case for polyamory."

Now, this long piece is called a "review," since it sort of focuses on this scholar's book "What Love Is: And What It Could Be." Yet anyone who has lived and worked in the world of higher education knows that, in the format of the Chronicle, this is actually a first-person, reported feature story about an important news topic. What is the topic, in this case? Which word is more important, "philosophical" or "polyamory"? Here is the overture:

Carrie Ichikawa Jenkins and I have plans to meet her boyfriend for lunch. But first we have to go home to walk the dog. Her husband, Jonathan Jenkins Ichikawa, is out of town at a conference for the weekend, and earlier that morning Mezzo, their labradoodle mix, got skunked; Jenkins says Mezzo is still feeling shaky. Before I traveled to meet her in Vancouver last June, she told me on the phone that most "mono" people misunderstand the challenges of polyamory -- the practice of being openly involved romantically with more than one person at a time.
"People ask, ‘Tell me about the downsides,’ " Jenkins says. "They expect the answer to be that it’s so hard jealousy-wise. But the most common answer is timing and scheduling. I’m a fairly organized person, so I don’t find it super challenging."

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