Protestants & Politics 2/23/21
Southern Baptist controversies; Evangelicals and conspiracies; Overcoming racial divide on vaccines; Surprising stats about evangelicals; Prejudice, pandemic and White Christian Nationalism.
What's going on with Southern Baptists these days? The most recent controversy is over a task force report on the Southern Baptist Convention's Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission and its president, Russell Moore, an outspoken critic of alliances between evangelicals and former President Donald Trump.
Matthew Hawkins was Policy Director for the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission under Russell Moore and Moore's predecessor, Richard Land. He is now a Ph.D. student at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary and cohosts a podcast called Crossing Faiths: A Christian & a Muslim Talk Religion & Politics.
The past year has been riddled with prophecies that did not pan out. As the coronavirus swept the United States in the spring, several prophets issued public assurances that it would decline by Passover; Cindy Jacobs, one of the most influential American prophets, led a global day of prayer to “contain” the virus in March. And by the fall, so many prominent prophets had incorrectly predicted the re-election of Mr. Trump that the apologies and recriminations now constitute a crisis within the movement.
The attack on the Capitol was for many involved a Christian insurrection, urged along by passages of scripture and culminating with prayers intoned in the occupied Senate. But as Sparks’s story shows, his faith played a more complicated role in his journey to Jan. 6. While his social media posts make clear he connected the election and his religious beliefs, his church community had also been a force cautioning him against letting online resentment take over his life. That tension — religious rhetoric as a goad to extremism on the one hand; community accountability as a safeguard against it on the other — highlights the complex influence some churches have had through the past tumultuous months, and may yet in the future.
Still, health officials in the nation’s capital are hoping that Smith and other Black religious leaders will serve as community influencers to overcome what officials say is a persistent vaccine reluctance in the Black community. Smith and several other local ministers recently received their first vaccine shots.
Officials partially blame historic distrust of the medical establishment, especially among Black seniors, who vividly remember medical exploitation horrors such as the Tuskegee syphilis study, where hundreds of impoverished rural Black men suffered syphilis effects with minimal treatment for decades as part of the medical study.
Christian nationalism has effectively spread so much disinformation that three in five white evangelicals say Biden was not legitimately elected, according to the American Enterprise Institute.
No religious group expresses greater pride in their national identity than white evangelical Protestants. More than three-quarters of white evangelical Protestants say they are very or extremely proud to be an American; half (50 percent) say they are extremely proud. More than four in 10 white Catholics (46 percent) and white mainline Protestants (43 percent) also report being extremely proud about their national identity. Considerably fewer Hispanic Catholics (29 percent), black Protestants (27 percent), members of non-Christian religious traditions (26 percent), and religiously unaffiliated Americans (20 percent) report they are extremely proud to be American.
The survey, which was conducted by the conservative American Enterprise Institute, reported 29% of Republicans and 27% of white evangelicals — the most of any religious group — believe the widely debunked QAnon conspiracy theory is completely or mostly accurate. QAnon has infiltrated other faiths as well, with 15% of white mainline Protestants, 18% of white Catholics, 12% of non-Christians, 11% of Hispanic Catholics and 7% of Black Protestants saying they believe it.
White evangelicals express robust support for other conspiracy theories as well. Close to two-thirds (62%) believe there was widespread voter fraud in the 2020 election — despite numerous experts and courts at all levels refuting such claims — and roughly the same percentage (63%) believe President Joe Biden’s victory was “not legitimate.” A majority (55%) also said they believed it was mostly or completely accurate to say “a group of unelected government officials in Washington, D.C., referred to as the ‘Deep State’ (has) been working to undermine the Trump administration.”
How do we make sense of the fact that older evangelicals attend church less, while younger evangelicals attend more frequently?
One possible explanation is that evangelicalism is becoming more culturally distinct among younger Americans. The share of millennials and Generation Z who have no religious affiliation is more than 40 percent now––nearly double the rate of Baby Boomers. Christians in their 20s who welcome the “evangelical” label place themselves in clear opposition to prevailing trends among their friends. It makes sense that only young people who feel spiritually connected to theological evangelicalism are willing to embrace it.
Prejudice and pandemic in the promised land: how white Christian nationalism shapes Americans’ racist and xenophobic views of COVID-19
During the COVID-19 crisis in March/April of 2020, far-right American political leaders and pundits proffered xenophobic explanations for the pandemic while ignoring that poorer, Black Americans and prison populations were being disproportionately infected. We propose such xenophobic and racist evaluations of COVID-19 drew from and appealed to a pervasive and politically strategic ethnoreligious ideology—white Christian nationalism. Panel data fielded before and during the COVID-19 crisis show that Christian nationalism was invariably the strongest predictor that Americans felt it was not racist to call COVID-19 “the Chinese virus”, blamed minorities for their own disproportionate infection rate, favoured immigration restrictions to solve the pandemic, and minimized or justified the infections of prison inmates. Racial identity also moderated Christian nationalism’s effect such that it was typically a more powerful influence among whites compared to Blacks. Findings affirm that racist and xenophobic views promulgated during the COVID-19 crisis were undergirded by white Christian nationalism.