Wednesday, November 7, 2018

"To the Extent There Is a Real Thing Called American Evangelicalism, It Is Deeply Damaged by Now": Commentary on White Evangelicals and the Elections

Wes Granberg-Michaelson, "The Most Disheartening Survey of Voters": 

The Republican Party, because of President Trump, has become the party of white identity. Echoing the president of the United States, many GOP candidates decided that demonizing others — liberals, immigrants, the media, and others — is their best strategy for winning, and they have done so without a moral blink of the eye. But Trump’s strategy of exploiting racial fears and lies while demonizing immigrants as key to projecting a nativist, white nationalism would be politically impotent without the support of white evangelicals.  ... 
The rest of the white Christian world, according to this data [i.e., PRRI's 2018 American Values Survey], has not done much better. Election returns tonight, one way or another, won’t change this. Like in the era when Bonhoeffer lived and was executed, the integrity of Christian faith in the public square is at stake. With him, Christians must ask, "Who is Jesus Christ for us today?" 

Supporters [i.e., white evangelicals] tolerate and even cheer his white-nationalist appeals, and they ignore the rampant corruption and criminality in his administration, while rarely taking account of how his appeals to fear and division trample the grace found in the gospel. 
According to exit polls, about 75 percent of white evangelicals voted Republican in 2018.

PRRI found that unlike members of any other major religious group, most white evangelicals said immigrants represented a threat to America’s customs and values. Fifty-seven percent said that immigrants threatened American society, while 43 percent said immigrants strengthened American society. ... 
White evangelicals were the only major religious group in which a majority expressed negative feelings about this demographic change, PRRI reports. Fifty-four percent of white evangelical Protestants said that America becoming a majority-nonwhite nation by 2045 will have a mostly negative effect on the country.

Robert P. Jones, The End of White Christian America (NY: Simon & Schuster, 2016):

To understand the post-Obama milieu, it is necessary to understand the "White Christian Strategy," a political tactic employed primarily by the Republican Party beginning with the campaigns of Barry Goldwater and Richard Nixon in the mid-1960s and ending with Mitt Romney's failed presidential run in 2012.  
What I am calling the White Christian Strategy is an outgrowth of the Southern Strategy, a tactic developed by political conservatives and the Republican Party in the mid-1960s to appeal to white southern voters who were angry with the Democratic Party for its support of civil rights. The Southern Strategy picked up momentum through two critical transition moments, one in the 1960s and one in the 1980s, which political scientists Merle and Earl Black identified as the two iterations of the "Great White Switch" (p. 88, citing Merle and Earl Black, The Rise of Southern Republicans [Cambridge: Harvard UP, 2003), p. 4). ... 
The leaders of the Christian conservative movement [in the Reagan era forward] won support by extolling the virtues of an orderly bygone era, where white Protestant Christian beliefs and institutions were unquestionably dominant and there were clearly defined roles for whites and nonwhites, men and women. For these groups, the allure of the black-and-white image of a family Thanksgiving meal lay in this utopian vision of "true" America (p. 92).*

Patricia Miller, Good Catholics: The Battle Over Abortion in the Catholic Church (Berkeley: Univ. of CA Press, 2014):

In 1980, the religious right helped to catapult Ronald Reagan into the White House and swing the Senate to the Republicans. For the first time since Roe v. Wade, opponents of abortion controlled the presidency and the Senate. In the ultimate political irony, the Catholic bishops had by their unstinting opposition to abortion helped bring into power a determined conservative movement that opposed almost everything that the Catholic Church stood for—compassion for the poor and immigrants, opposition to the death penalty, and concern for the environment (88). 

David P. Gushee, Still Christian: Following Jesus Out of American Evangelicalism (Louisville: Westminster John Knox, 2017):

The embrace of Donald Trump in 2016 by most white evangelicals was just the latest sign either of the bankruptcy of evangelicals or the meaningless of the category. To the extent there is a real thing called American evangelicalism, it is deeply damaged by now. I wrote this in my journal not long ago: It is hard to imagine how any single religious community could so often be so consistently wrong. One would think that they would get an issue right even occasionally and by accident. 
To the extent that the whole (white) evangelicalism thing was just a rebranding of Protestant fundamentalism and never a real thing at all, the rebranding has now failed (p. 146).  

I join others who question whether white evangelicals are followers of Jesus at all. They often seem to confuse the gospel of Jesus with white supremacy and notions of a U.S. empire. White religious nationalism is heresy to the gospel of Jesus, not faithfulness to it. 
So Tuesday night, I'll watch election returns to see whether white people who call themselves evangelical followers of Jesus will, again, prove that they prize white supremacy above the inclusive and liberating gospel of divine grace, truth, justice and peace. I'll look for evidence that white people who claim to be followers of the Palestinian Jewish itinerant prophet and healer named Jesus are turning away from white religious nationalism. I'll be watching and hoping for signs of white evangelical repentance. I don’t expect that election results tomorrow will support my hope.

* The black-and-white image of a family Thanksgiving meal to which Jones is referring is a 1942 Norman Rockwell depiction of a typical American Thanksgiving meal (featuring a white middle-class family) which the Christian Coalition emailed – in black and white – to its supporters in November 2012 (see p. 83 of Jones' book on this point).

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