Tuesday, March 28, 2017

Recommended: Daniel Schultz's Critique of Peter Beinart on Trump's White Evangelical Supporters — Are They Really Non-Churchgoing?

Also in news commentary worth our consideration today: I highly recommend to you both Peter Beinart's essay in the current issue of The Atlantic, which argues that the (white) evangelicals supporting Donald Trump tend to be non-churchgoers and even non-church-affiliated Christians, and Daniel Schultz's response to this essay at Religion Dispatches. Beinart's essay argues that church attendance will be a corrective for Trump and what Trump stands for. Schultz is dubious about that proposal — and I think he's right to be dubious.

As he points out, the data on which the claim that Trump evangelicals are largely non-churchgoing or non-church-affiliated rests is exceptionally thin. As he also points out, there's the — what can we call it, except the real world? — there's the real world of real white evangelical churches throughout the nation's heartland, in which churchgoing white Christians who voted for Trump remain jubilant about his presidency. As they gather Sunday after Sunday to worship God . . . . 

What Schultz has to say on this point resonates strongly with me as someone living in the belly of the bible belt beast. As soon as I read Beinart's article, I wondered if he had ever gone to a single white evangelical church, say, a Southern Baptist one, in a place like Arkansas, Mississippi, Tennessee, Oklahoma, Texas, Alabama, Georgia, North Carolina, South Carolina, or Kentucky? It's easy to idealize white evangelical churchgoers and see them as some sort of fix for what ails American culture if one never rubs shoulders with white evangelical churchgoers as one grows up in Cambridge, Massachusetts, goes off to school in Cambridge and Oxford, England, and Yale, works and lives in New York City.

A few weeks in Arkansas making the rounds of white evangelical churches (that's to say, largely Southern Baptist churches in many areas of the state) might give Beinart and researchers who imagine that the white evangelicals who elected Donald Trump are largely not churchgoers pause to reconsider their data — and to think more seriously about their proposal that church attendance will fix the problems of American culture in the age of Trump. As Daniel Schultz suggests . . . . 

Worth noting, too — and this is not in the least beside the point in this discussion between Beinart and Schultz: Beinart's essay never once mentions that the flavor of evangelicals who are gung-ho about Donald Trump is a white flavor. He certainly speaks of the conservative white Republican base that brought Trump to the White House. But he conspicuously avoids the term "white evangelicals" as he discusses the kind of evangelicals who elected Donald Trump. Schultz is explicit on this point.

And I think that's important to note.

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