Protestants & Politics 3/29/21
Asian Christians and Atlanta shooting; Equality Act; white evangelical racism; Christian Right media representations; Church membership and religiosity trends; 2020 Election update; pluralism
The statement situates the Atlanta shootings in what it refers to as “a long chain of hate and violence experienced by those of Asian descent in the United States.” That includes systemic anti-immigrant policies, the sexualization of Asian women in America and a surge in anti-Asian racism and violence tied to the COVID-19 pandemic, according to the AACC.
It also calls out American Christianity, noting the accused shooter — a 21-year-old white man — reportedly was a Christian and that “churches, denominations, and political ideologies/idolatries have normalized the dangerous ideologies that motivated him.”
Dozens of Christian students sue the U.S. Education Dept., hoping to pressure Equality Act negotiations
The suit — intentionally — comes at a sensitive time. The U.S. House recently passed the Equality Act, a sweeping measure that would add gender identity and sexuality to the groups protected under the Civil Rights Act, while significantly weakening exemptions for religious groups and people. While President Biden says he will sign the bill as it is, the Equality Act awaits a vote in the Senate, where it faces an uphill battle.
Religious organizations seeking a compromise measure that would include religious exemptions have been meeting for weeks with gay rights and civil rights groups. The prospect of carve-outs for the hundreds of schools with policies barring LGBTQ behavior or advocacy led to the suit, said Paul Carlos Southwick, director of the Religious Exemption Accountability Project.
Calling Evangelicals to Account: Anthea Butler speaks with prophetic candor in White Evangelical Racism
According to her breathtakingly thorough analysis, the powerful voting bloc pollsters refer to as “evangelical” — seemingly commandeered by a network of pundits, performers, and pastors — “has become a religion lodged within a political party.” Assessing the damage it’s doing to our nation and the watching world requires clear-eyed consideration of a publicly available history of weaponized whiteness. As someone who once claimed evangelicalism herself, Butler knows the moves, the way the phantom of perceived persecution serves as cover for a verifiably racist agenda. She believes a reckoning is underway: “Evangelicals are not being persecuted in America. They are being called to account.”
Producing the Christian Right: Conservative Evangelicalism, Representation, and the Recent Religious Past
This essay explores how conservative evangelical Protestants have been represented by both sociologists and journalists of American religion through the narrative of the “rise of the Christian Right” beginning in the late 1970s. By exploring both popular and academic analyses of conservative Protestantism as understood through terms such as “the Christian Right” and “the Electronic Church”, one is able to identify a set of intellectual assumptions that characterize the study of American evangelicalism and politics in the recent past. In particular, this essay suggests that studies of conservative evangelicalism as understood through “the rise of the Christian Right” tend to reveal as much about their interpreters as they do their respective evangelical subjects. The essay first identifies what these barriers and limitations are by exploring the social scientific literature on conservative evangelicalism at the time. It then foregrounds news reports and academic studies of “the Christian Right” in order to connect journalistic and academic inquiries of the conservative Protestant to the emergence of the evangelical. It then suggests a number of historical and methodological avenues for future research on American evangelicalism and politics that foreground self-reflexivity, interdisciplinarity, and the close reading of conservative texts.
The decline in church membership, then, appears largely tied to population change, with those in older generations who were likely to be church members being replaced in the U.S. adult population with people in younger generations who are less likely to belong. The change has become increasingly apparent in recent decades because millennials and Gen Z are further apart from traditionalists in their church membership rates (about 30 points lower) than baby boomers and Generation X are (eight and 16 points, respectively). Also, each year the younger generations are making up an increasingly larger part of the entire U.S. adult population.
Still, population replacement doesn't fully explain the decline in church membership, as adults in the older generations have shown roughly double-digit decreases from two decades ago. Church membership is down even more, 15 points, in the past decade among millennials.
The two major trends driving the drop in church membership -- more adults with no religious preference and falling rates of church membership among people who do have a religion -- are apparent in each of the generations over time.
The coronavirus pandemic has had less effect on Americans' personal religiosity than on their belief that religion has a greater influence on American life. U.S. adults' views of the importance of religion in their lives and their religious identification were unchanged in 2020, while their attendance at religious services and membership in a church, synagogue or mosque declined slightly.
Yet, there has been an uptick in the percentage of Americans who think religion as a whole is increasing, rather than losing, its influence on American life, a pattern seen at other times of national crisis.
The widely reported figure was that 81% of white evangelicals voted for Donald Trump in 2016. That was based on exit polls. The more accurate number was 77%. Well, in 2020, white evangelicals inched even closer to Trump – up 2.6 percentage points from 2016. Biden did just as well as Clinton did despite all the money spent to try and turn that around.
For non-white evangelicals, the story is just about the same as it was for white evangelicals. Trump got 32% of the vote in 2016, and he did just slightly better at 34% in 2020. Ironically, Biden also got about two more percentage points than Clinton did four years earlier. The reason that both candidates could both gain ground is that the third party options dropped about four points.
Mainline Protestants are one of the most evenly divided religious groups in the United States now. In fact, Donald Trump and Joe Biden split this vote nearly in half in 2020. There’s no evidence that Trump gained any ground at all in his reelection bid, while Biden did make some inroads here, grabbing about 3.5 percentage points more than Clinton. Again, that was entirely due to lower third party voting.
Audio and Video
Kim says there is a “much richer history” and diversity to evangelicalism than what the current narrative implies. The Assemblies of God, he points out, is 50% white congregants and 50% congregants of color.
In the past, evangelicals have “engaged in issues of racial justice and reconciliation,” he says. In 1912, “the second conference of the NAACP was hosted at Park Street Church, a flagship evangelical church in Boston” Kim says, adding he was the pastor there for 15 years. The first chartered group of the NAACP rose from that conference, he notes.
Yet, Kim acknowledges the conversations about racial justice movements are “incredibly painful.” Within the NAE, there’s “a moment of reckoning” in terms of not just diversifying the people in the pews on Sundays, but how to support “a diversity of culture where we engage meaningfully and in solidarity with the vastly different life experiences and expressions of faith,” he says.
This week on the Faith Angle Podcast we present the audio from our most recent virtual event, New Tests for American Pluralism, which featured Mark Labberton and Matthew Kaemingk to discuss the question: Does religion fundamentally undermine political democracy, or enhance it?
It’s hard to know what we should prioritize as Christians engaging in this cultural and political moment. What is more important when we engage in civics: supporting movements that focus exclusively on one social issue, such as abortion, or backing initiatives that address a broader range of topics that we care about? Many Christians, especially young Christians, feel like their views aren’t represented by any political party or standpoint.
On March 18th, Center for Faith and Flourishing will host Justin Giboney, founder of the And Campaign, and Andrew Walker, a theologian and political commentator, on campus to talk about how Christians can faithfully engage in politics.