Protestants & Politics 3/9/21

Supreme Court and student evangelist; anti-vaccine; QAnon; Failures in studies of evangelicalism; wasting the evangelical mind; Social isolation and conspiracies; Christian nation; God and environment

News

Supreme Court rules in favor of student barred from sharing his faith

Initially, school officials pushed back, but eventually overhauled their policy. Students can now share their faith and hand out literature on most of the campus instead of in very small free speech zones.

After the rule change, Georgia Gwinnett asked the court to dismiss Uzuegbunam’s case, arguing that his request for nominal damages wasn’t significant enough to justify keeping the lawsuit going.

A wide variety of advocacy groups, including the ACLU, the Catholic Church and the American Humanist Association, called for such an outcome in briefs filed with the court. They noted that constitutional rights cases often involve only nominal damages claims, since it’s hard to quantify how much it costs someone to be silenced or forced to hide their faith.

Related:

The opinion: https://www.supremecourt.gov/opinions/20pdf/19-968_8nj9.pdf

Press release from plaintiff’s attorney: https://adfmedia.org/case/uzuegbunam-v-preczewski

Black Protestants aren’t least likely to get a vaccine; white evangelicals are

A new Pew Research survey suggests that either the campaigns were effective or the worry was misplaced: 64% of Black Protestants, the researchers found, “definitely or probably” plan to get vaccinated — up sharply from November when little more than 40% said they planned to get vaccinated.

It’s not that vaccine hesitancy is a myth; it’s merely strongest among another group: white evangelical Christians.

A religious breakdown of the survey conducted in February of 10,121 U.S. adults shows that only 54% of white evangelicals “definitely or probably” plan to get vaccinated.

Related:

White evangelicals are wary of the vaccine. It shouldn’t come as a surprise.

The Spiritual Problem at the Heart of Christian Vaccine Refusal

QAnon and other conspiracy theories are taking hold in churches. Pastors are fighting back

In interviews, pastors said houses of worship were particularly susceptible. But this new brand of identity politics has tested the power of the preacher against extremist voices in the pews. A Sunday morning can veer from the poetry of the Sermon on the Mount to the latest screed on Telegram.

“Fringe ideas can spread very quickly,” said Mark Fugitt, pastor of Round Grove Baptist Church in Miller, Mo., who said he’s battled them in his rural congregation of 300.

He recalled going on Facebook a few months ago and making a list of the radical, false ideas church members had shared: face masks cause carbon dioxide poisoning, germ theory is fake, 5G networks are part of a ploy for mind control, and a child sex trafficking ring with connections to Hillary Clinton and her allies was being run out of a Washington pizza shop.


Opinion

HOW THE STUDY OF EVANGELICALISM HAS BLINDED US TO THE PROBLEMS IN EVANGELICAL CULTURE

I’ve been reflecting upon this sense of incredulity of late. In particular I’ve been wondering about the ways in which the study of evangelicalism itself may have blinded us to those truths that were revealed upon the Capitol steps. Because, as it has become increasingly clear, the majority of those who think of themselves as evangelical support Trump, not in spite of his racism, chauvinism, and Christian nationalism; they support him because evangelicals have long served as one of white supremacy’s greatest allies. Yet for too long the study of evangelicalism has sanitized the political and racial elements of American evangelical history by focusing solely upon its piety and theology. It’s well past time to change that.

In fact, the sense of surprise that continues to confront evangelical zealotry for Trump might be Noll, Marsden, and Bebbington’s greatest legacy, because the absence of discussions about race, gender, or nationalism in the collection’s reprints is made all the more glaring by their abundance in the book’s newer pieces. And the willful ignorance to these features of American evangelical life suggests that the study of evangelicalism has for too long selectively drawn from the past in order to craft a supposedly true or right version of the faith that may never have existed. 

But what if the evangelicals who voted for Donald Trump and stormed the Capitol in his defense are the “real” evangelicals? And what if conspiratorial thinking, racial animosity, and Christian nationalism have been a part of evangelicalism from its beginning?

The Wasting of the Evangelical Mind: The peculiarities of how American Christianity took shape help explain believers’ vulnerability to conspiratorial thinking and misinformation.

How did the church in America––particularly, its white Protestant evangelical manifestation––end up here? For many skeptics, the explanation seems obvious: faith and reason are antipodes––the former necessarily cancels out the latter, and vice versa. Cultivating the life of the mind, however, has been an important current throughout much of Christianity’s history, a recognition that intellectual pursuits can glorify God. …

Evangelicalism in America, however, has come to be defined by its anti-intellectualism. The style of the most popular and influential pastors tend to correlate with shallowness: charisma trumps expertise; scientific authority is often viewed with suspicion. So it is of little surprise that American evangelicals have become vulnerable to demagoguery and misinformation.


Research

Social isolation and community disconnection are not spurring conspiracy theories

Although Americans who report belonging to a church or place of worship face different social constraints and have different social experiences, they do not appear any less susceptible to conspiracy theories. About four in 10 (39 percent) religious Americans who are members of a local congregation believe in the deep state, compared to 27 percent who lack formal membership in a church or religious congregation. Religious Americans who belong to a local church or place of worship are more likely than those who do not to believe there was voter fraud in the 2020 election (38 percent vs. 24 percent). Belief in QAnon does not vary significantly between those who belong and do not belong to a religious congregation (17 percent vs. 14 percent, respectively).

Among major religious groups in the US, white evangelical Protestants demonstrate a greater tendency to embrace conspiracy theories. More than one-quarter (27 percent) of white evangelical Protestants say the claim that Donald Trump has been fighting a group of child sex traffickers is mostly or completely accurate. This belief is far less prevalent among white Catholics (18 percent), white mainline Protestants (15 percent), religiously unaffiliated Americans (12 percent), and Hispanic Catholics (11 percent).

But it is not just QAnon; the rate of many conspiracy beliefs is consistently higher among white evangelical Protestants. A majority of white evangelical Protestants believe there was widespread voter fraud in the 2020 election (62 percent) and believe the deep state was undermining the Trump administration (55 percent). Nearly half (49 percent) believe antifa was mostly responsible for violence perpetrated at the US Capitol.

Why QAnon Has Attracted So Many White Evangelicals

QAnon revolves around the baseless belief that former President Donald Trump is fighting a secret war against a global cabal of Democratic elites who are Satan-worshipping, cannibalistic pedophiles. Much of the lore comes from online posts, called “drops,” written by an anonymous person known as “Q” who claims to have insider knowledge. As the QAnon movement has become more culturally significant — QAnon believers were among those who took part in the Jan. 6 attack on the U.S. Capitol building — surveys have attempted to identify just how many Americans believe in this conspiracy. While that picture is still murky, it’s become increasingly apparent that this movement has attracted a significant number of white evangelical Christians, which could have implications for the movement’s future. Evangelicals, after all, played an important role in shoring up the Tea Party’s growth and influence.


Odds & Ends

CBS News video: The Right's Fight to Make America a Christian Nation

Christian Nationalism Podcast Series: Should Your Church Be Alarmed?

UVA Religion Lab video: God $ Green: An Unholy Alliance