Protestants & Politics 2/10/21

Immigration, refugee resettlement; SCOTUS pandemic worship restrictions; National Prayer Breakfast; Christian extremism, nationalism; Non-white evangelicals; Kuyper and coup; Race relations; Nones

Podcast

Immigration and Evangelicals - Matthew Soerens

On opposition to DACA, family separation, an almost complete shutdown of the refugee program, and a host of other immigration policies, many evangelical groups and leaders either opposed those policies or worked to alleviate the unjust effects of those policies. With the change in the presidency and Senate control, these evangelicals are hoping for less cruel, more just immigration policies and legislation.   Matthew Soerens is U.S. Director of Church Mobilization at World Relief, a global humanitarian organization that aids refugees, and National Coordinator of the Evangelical Immigration Table, a coalition of evangelical groups that advocates for bipartisan and biblically based solutions to immigration reform.

Related: World Relief Responds to Biden Administration’s Announcement on Refugee Resettlement


News

Supreme Court says California worship restrictions violate religious rights

Justice Neil M. Gorsuch, writing for himself and Justices Clarence Thomas and Samuel A. Alito Jr., said the court last fall made it clear that states may not enact looser regulations for businesses and other activities than for houses of worship.

But “once more, we appear to have a state playing favorites during a pandemic, expending considerable effort to protect lucrative industries (casinos in Nevada; movie studios in California) while denying similar largesse to its faithful,” Gorsuch wrote.

He added: “If Hollywood may host a studio audience or film a singing competition while not a single soul may enter California’s churches, synagogues, and mosques, something has gone seriously awry.”

Justice Elena Kagan answered for her colleagues on the left, Justices Stephen G. Breyer and Sonia Sotomayor, in a sharply worded dissent.

“Justices of this Court are not scientists,” Kagan began, accusing her colleagues of practicing “armchair epidemiology.”

Biden, at prayer breakfast, calls out ‘political extremism’

“For so many in our nation, this is a dark, dark time,” Biden told those watching the event. “So where do we turn? Faith.”

Sen. Chris Coons, D-Del., said the event is “an inclusive and positive” one that “recognizes the teachings of Jesus but is not limited to Christianity.”

Faith-based refugee resettlement groups describe what it will take to rebuild program after Trump cuts

The U.S. has a “moral” responsibility to settle more people than it has in the past few years at a time when an estimated 80 million people are forcibly displaced from their homes, and about 30 million are refugees, Yang said in a Q&A posted on World Relief’s website — a sentiment Biden echoed in his announcement Thursday.

“There’s no question we’ve completely abdicated our leadership in refugee resettlement,” Yang elaborated to RNS. “We have this historic low refugee ceiling, but it also has ripple effects where other countries around the world are now not accepting refugees either.”

Alvero, of Episcopal Migration Ministries, said Biden is sending the right signals.

“We’re back toward making this a humanitarian program, a lifesaving program, and the United States wants to be a leader once again in assisting refugees, both in overseas aid, as well as in resettlement,” he said.

It’s Time to Talk About Violent Christian Extremism: There’s a “strong authoritarian streak” that runs through parts of American evangelicalism, warns Elizabeth Neumann. What should be done about it?

The authoritarian, fundamentalist nature of certain evangelical strands is a prominent theme in the places where you see the most ardent Trump supporters or the QAnon believers, because they’ve been told: “You don’t need to study [scripture]. We’re giving you the answer.” Then, when Rev. Robert Jeffress [a prominent conservative Baptist pastor in Dallas] says you’ve got to support Donald Trump, and makes some argument that sounds “churchy,” people go, “Well, I don’t like Trump’s language, but OK, that’s the right thing.” It creates people who are not critical thinkers. They’re not necessarily reading scripture for themselves. Or if they are, they’re reading it through the lens of one pastor, and they’re not necessarily open to hearing outside perspectives on what the text might say. It creates groupthink.

Another factor is Christian nationalism. That’s a huge theme throughout evangelical Christendom. It’s subtle: Like, you had the Christian flag and the American flag at the front of the church, and if you went to a Christian school, you pledged allegiance to the Christian flag and the American flag. There was this merger that was always there when I was growing up. And it was really there for the generation ahead of me, in the ’50s and ’60s. Some people interpreted it as: Love of country and love of our faith are the same thing. And for others, there’s an actual explicit theology.

The Trump presidency was a catastrophe for American Christianity: David French on the crisis within the evangelical movement.

Well, so many of these conspiracy theories utilize religious and prophetic language. For example, if you watch a QAnon video, and I’ve seen a bunch, you get messaging like “Where we go one, we go all” and “Put on the full armor of God,” and it’s this mix of scripture and prophetic-style imagery that appeals on a deep level to a certain kind of religious person. The conspiratorial messaging is like a gateway drug that sucks people in.

And this is all happening in such fertile soil in a time of fear and uncertainty and death. We’re literally in the middle of a plague. So I think people, in times of fear, put their hope and trust in Trump, because that’s who they had, and Trump shrewdly exploited it. And, again, the religious right has already been conditioned by decades of conservative media telling them that the godless left wants to destroy their way of life. They’ve been told for 20 years that the left hates them and wants them dead. They’ve been told the Democratic Party wants to kill the church. And of all these big lies have been supported by countless smaller, enabling lies.

So it’s not hard to see why conspiracy theories take root in these communities. It’s not hard to see why they’d believe the Democrats stole an election or that they’re perverted pedophiles trafficking children. The soil has been prepared for a long, long time.


Opinion

Where Is the Love? Reflections from the forgotten flock of non-white Evangelicals.

I am a black Evangelical. I am not a unicorn; despite seeming lack of evidence in the public landscape, we do exist. In fact, according to Reuters, 61 percent of black Americans identify as Evangelical—a much higher percentage than you see among white folks (only 38 percent of non-Hispanic whites are Evangelical).

Yet black Evangelicals are largely erased from the public discourse around faith in America. And we are not alone. Christians of all colors and creeds are largely absent from the discussion of American faith. And it is time for our story, and the broader story of people of faith in this country be told—because what has been presented is not our faith. And the differences could not be more clear.

White Evangelicals as a bloc made a Faustian bargain—trading the essence of their faith for political power and status. Their near uniform adoption of nationalism mixed with personal devotion to Donald Trump is theirs and theirs alone. No other religious group has anything like it.

Abraham Kuyper and the American Coup

This is the irony of Kuyper. He both reinforces white supremacy and blasts the way race is being used to fan political flames and flaunt the rule of law. As Bratt writes, he saw the way a “religion of mammon,” a “lust for money,” drove American political and religious life (p. 277), but could not see greed at the root of so-called “race riots” like the ones that smashed the successful Black business district in Wilmington. 

This is also a great danger for those who stand in Kuyper’s tradition today. The insurrection on Jan. 6, like the one in Wilmington in 1898, was not simply a violation of law and order.  While Kuyper was blind to the full horror of what happened in Wilmington, he saw that party politics in America was infected with racism, economic exploitation, and authoritarianism.

What Is Christian Nationalism? An explainer on how the belief differs from other forms of nationalism, patriotism, and Christianity.

Christian nationalism tends to treat other Americans as second-class citizens. If it were fully implemented, it would not respect the full religious liberty of all Americans. Empowering the state through “morals legislation” to regulate conduct always carries the risk of overreaching, setting a bad precedent, and creating governing powers that could be used later be used against Christians. Additionally, Christian nationalism is an ideology held overwhelmingly by white Americans, and it thus tends to exacerbate racial and ethnic cleavages. In recent years, the movement has grown increasingly characterized by fear and by a belief that Christians are victims of persecution. Some are beginning to argue that American Christians need to prepare to fight, physically, to preserve America’s identity, an argument that played into the January 6 riot.


Research

Americans Less Optimistic About Race Relations

White Americans are the most likely to say we’ve made significant progress (51%), while African Americans are the most likely to disagree (66%).

Religiously unaffiliated Americans are the religious group least likely to agree with the statement (38%). Among Christians, those who attend at least monthly (57%) are more likely than those who attend less frequently (39%) to believe the nation has come a long way on race relations. Americans with evangelical beliefs are more likely to agree (58%) than those without such beliefs (43%).


Books

Empty Churches: Non-Affiliation in America

Based in the idea that social phenomena are best studied through the lens of different disciplinary perspectives, Empty Churches studies the growing number of individuals who no longer affiliate with a religious tradition. Co-editors Jan Stets, a social psychologist, and James Heft, a historian of theology, bring together leading scholars in the fields of sociology, developmental psychology, gerontology, political science, history, philosophy, and pastoral theology.

The scholars in this volume explore the phenomenon by drawing from each other's work to understand better the multi-faceted nature of non-affiliation today. They explore the complex impact that non-affiliation has on individuals and the wider society, and what the future looks like for religion in America. The book also features insightful perspectives from parents of young adults and interviews with pastors struggling with this issue who address how we might address this trend. Empty Churches provides a rich and thoughtful analysis on non- affiliation in American society from multiple scholarly perspectives. The increasing growth of non-affiliation threatens the vitality and long-term stability of religious institutions, and this book offers guidance on maintaining the commitment and community at the heart of these institutions.

The Nones: Where They Came From, Who They Are, and Where They Are Going

In The Nones: Where They Came From, Who They Are, and Where They Are Going, Ryan P. Burge details a comprehensive picture of an increasingly significant group--Americans who say they have no religious affiliation.

The growth of the nones in American society has been dramatic. In 1972, just 5 percent of Americans claimed "no religion" on the General Social Survey. In 2018, that number rose to 23.7 percent, making the nones as numerous as both evangelical Protestants and Roman Catholics. Every indication is that the nones will be the largest religious group in the United States in the next decade.

Burge illustrates his precise but accessible descriptions with charts and graphs drawn from over a dozen carefully curated datasets, some tracking changes in American religion over a long period of time, others large enough to allow a statistical deep dive on subgroups such as atheists and agnostics. Burge also draws on data that tracks how individuals move in and out of religion over time, helping readers understand what type of people become nones and what factors lead an individual to return to religion.

The Nones gives readers a nuanced, accurate, and meaningful picture of the growing number of Americans who say they have no religious affiliation. Burge explains how this rise happened, who the nones are, and what they mean for the future of American religion.