Political Polarization Is Pushing Evangelicals to a Historic Breaking Point

Yves here. While growing disaffection among some evangelicals, particularly those of color, is a potential negative for Trump, I’m not certain it is as dire for Republicans. For instance, Democratic strategists are alarmed by the fact that more and more Hispanic voters are turning Republican. The Democrats they had assumed they owned their vote as a matter of right. But Hispanics are not monolithic. Many are socially conservative. Many own small businesses and like the Republican low tax/low regulation message. Some worked hard to become citizens and are put off by the presumption that they support illegal immigrants. As CNN wrote in February:

In an era when conservative politics is acutely nationalist and consumed by a sense of cultural threat, a number of new polls show Latino voters growing more Republican…

In the 2020 presidential race, Democrats targeted Texas….

But after Hillary Clinton won Zapata County, a county along the Mexico border, by almost 33 points in 2016, it turned red in 2020. Webb County, another border county, doubled its Republican turnout from 2016. And, in Starr County, south of Webb, Republicans recorded a 55% shift from 2016, the single biggest swing to the right in the entire country.

The Trump campaign saw similar numbers from White working-class regions in the Upper Midwest and Rust Belt in 2016, but Zapata, Webb and Starr counties are respectively 94%, 95% and 96% Latino. And Trump actually performed 10 points better across Texas’s 18 counties where Latinos make up 80% majorities in 2020 than he did in 2016..

The answer was simple: Many people in South Texas do not think of themselves as Latinos or immigrants — and they didn’t vote based on Trump’s rhetoric around either of those identities. Often referred to as “Tejanos,” many of these Texas residents have lived in the United States for six, seven and even eight generations.

However, a thinning of the ranks among the radical right evangelicals could have the effect of moderating Republican positions on important issues, particularly climate change.

By Paul Engler, a co-founder of the Momentum Training, which instructs hundreds of activists each year in the principles of effective protest. He is the co-author, along with Mark Engler, of the new book on the craft of mass mobilization, “This Is an Uprising: How Nonviolent Revolt Is Shaping the Twenty-First Century” (2017). He can be reached via the website www.thisisanuprising.org. Originally published at Waging Nonviolence

A potentially historic political shift is currently taking place within an unexpected group of Americans: evangelical Christians. In the wake of Donald Trump’s presidency, strains within the evangelical community, especially among people of color, have resulted in significant numbers of people defecting from the right and opening themselves to social justice stances on issues of race, immigration, climate and economic fairness. Should the trend escalate, it could send tremors that extend well beyond the religious community and reverberate throughout U.S. politics.

While the future of evangelical politics remains uncertain, the divisions forming in religious spaces are creating significant opportunities for those interested in promoting progressive change. Moreover, organizing among evangelical dissenters is providing important lessons in how those working on social justice issues might find fertile ground in communities outside their circles of usual suspects—provided they can relate with people who do not identify as belonging on either side of the traditional divide between the political right and left.

Due to the various ways in which the term “evangelical” is defined, it is difficult to put an exact percentage on the number of evangelical Christians in America today. A 2016 survey by Wheaton College, a private religious university, estimated about 90 to 100 million people in the United States are evangelical. Today, it is generally taken for granted that this constituency is one of the most rock-solid pillars of the Republican coalition—and there is good reason to see things this way: In 2016, 80 percent of white evangelicals supported Donald Trump, with two-thirds of self-identified evangelicals saying their faith influences their political beliefs.

Such far-right identification, however, has not been forever locked in place. As recently as the early 1970s, evangelicals were considered a largely apolitical group. To the extent they formed a voting bloc, they were considered divided and persuadable—a constituency that could be won over by Democratic politicians such as Jimmy Carter. Indeed, since Carter was himself a born-again Christian, Newsweekmagazine dubbed 1976, the year of his election, the “Year of the Evangelical.”

A concerted campaign by conservative groups such as the Moral Majority, the Christian Coalition and Focus on the Family made certain that future mentions of evangelicals in politics would definitely not refer to Democratic presidential wins. In social movement terms, the decades-long project by the “New Right” to transform the evangelical community from a muddled and sometimes apathetic bloc into one of the most die-hard conservative demographics represents an unprecedented organizing accomplishment.

While conservatives have provided a textbook example of how a constituency can be polarized in order to strengthen allegiances and move indecisive moderates into a political camp, the continuing polarization that occurred under Trump began creating a backlash. On the one hand, Trump was a master at energizing religious conservatives and solidifying their identification with him. Analysis from the Pew Research Center suggests even some non-churchgoing white conservatives are now adopting the “evangelical” label—not to show religious identity, but to express a political orientation and demonstrate support for the party of Trump.

On the other hand, a predictable consequence of polarization is that, even as many supporters grow more passionately partisan, others will start to become alienated. When forcing people to take sides, you may draw many into your fold; however, you risk losing a fraction who are turned off and unwilling to make the leap. Signs of such a backlash can currently be seen among evangelicals—particularly people of color.

No one would argue that the right has lost its command over the evangelicals as a whole, as white evangelicals remain among the most fervent supporters of former President Trump. At the same time, the reaction of evangelical leaders to mass protests around racial injustice, COVID, and #MeToo—along with sexual impropriety and scandals in many churches—have started driving people away in significant numbers. In some cases, those who are leaving are now looking for new expressions of their faith that are aligned with social justice—expressions that sometimes put them squarely at odds with white evangelical Trump supporters.

Even if only a limited fraction of evangelicals are moved to embrace more progressive stances, the impact on the electorate as a whole could be profound. For this reason, understanding the divisions that are forming—and analyzing the opportunities they present—is a pressing task.

A Splintering Evangelical Coalition?

In recent years there have been many news stories about how the ardent right-wing identification of the evangelical community has begun to produce increasing numbers of defectors. Primarily, this has been reported in terms of people leaving their churches.

The percentage of Americans who identify as Christian (once well over 90 percent of the population) has steadily fallen since the 1960s, with the decline accelerating in the past 10 years. Among the subset of people who identify as white evangelicals, the drop-off has been particularly marked. According to the Public Religion Research Institute, “23 percent of Americans were white evangelical Protestants in 2006; by 2020, that number had decreased to just 14.5 percent.” Some part of this trend can be attributed to a general waning of public religiosity, as an increasing portion of the population checks “none” on surveys when asked about religious affiliation.

But it would be wrong to underestimate the connection between evangelicals’ diminished share of the population and disaffection with the conservative extremism that pervades many congregations. Following Trump’s election in 2016, the #Exvangelical hashtag became increasingly popular, as many white evangelicals deserted their churches, citing Trumpism among faith leaders and their hard-right political platform as a primary concern.

This exodus from evangelicalism has been highlighted by the exits of prominent individuals within the movement. One such figure was Peter Wehner, a political operative who served in three Republican administrations. In a popular op-ed for the New York Times titled “Why I Can No Longer Call Myself an Evangelical Republican,” Wehner wrote about no longer feeling comfortable with the designation “evangelical” after witnessing continued support among fellow conservative Christians for Roy Moore, a former Alabama Supreme Court Justice and Republican nominee in a 2017 U.S. Senate race who was accused of sexual misconduct by nine women.

In a similar move, Bible teacher and conservative Christian Beth Moore (no relation to Roy Moore) left the Southern Baptist Convention, or SBC. She cited, among other issues, the failure of her church to condemn Trump’s “Access Hollywood” tape. Meanwhile, the shifting political climate has also riven institutions such as World Magazine, a prominent Christian news organization, which lost editor-in-chief Martin Olasky and several journalists who protested that the publication was becoming less a respected news source and more a conservative opinion outlet.

Such developments are symptomatic of a larger splintering within the evangelical church, in which many are questioning whether or not they ideologically belong in the community they once considered home. They are witnessing increasing divisions not only over Trump, but more generally over issues such as sexuality, #MeToo and the public response to the COVID pandemic. High-profile scandals have further exacerbated tensions and spurred the departure of many parishioners. Megachurches from Seattle to Illinois to Alabama and beyond have witnessed resignations from well-known pastors after allegations of sexual misconduct or infidelity—and investigations such as the major report onsexual abuse in the SBC released in May 2022 have documented the endemic mishandling of sexual abuse claims.

In a February 2022 article for the Christian magazine First Things, Evangelical writer Aaron Renn argued: “Where once there was a culture war between Christianity and secular society, today there is a culture war within evangelicalism itself.” Not only prominent leaders, but rank-and-file pastors are departing in significant numbers. According to a 2021 poll by the Christian polling firm Barna Group, 38 percent of pastors said they had considered quitting full-time ministry. Scott Dudley, a pastor at Bellevue Presbyterian Church, told The Atlantic that many pastors have not only left their churches, but are deciding to pursue entirely different careers. “They have concluded that their church has become a hostile work environment where at any moment they may be blasted, slandered, and demeaned in disrespectful and angry ways,” Dudley said, “or have organized groups of people within the church demand that they be fired.”

In a widely circulated February 2022 opinion piece for the New York Times, columnist and author David Brooks examined this tension within the evangelical community. “The turmoil in evangelicalism has not just ruptured relationships; it’s dissolving the structures of many evangelical institutions,” he wrote. “Many families, churches, parachurch organizations and even denominations are coming apart. I asked many evangelical leaders who are wary of Trump if they thought their movement would fracture. Most said it already has.”

Fracturing Along Racial Lines

Perhaps as much as any other issue, the question of race has created schisms within evangelical communities. In his article, Brooks cited “attitudes about race relations” as one of the primary factors that has driven Christian evangelicals apart. “It’s been at times agonizing and bewildering,” Thabiti Anyabwile, who pastors the largely Black Anacostia River Church in Washington, D.C, told Brooks. “My entire relationship landscape has been rearranged. I’ve lost 20-year friendships. I’ve had great distance inserted into relationships that were once close and I thought would be close for life. I’ve grieved.”

In an April 2017 special report for Religion Dispatches titled “Betrayed at the Polls, Evangelicals of Color at a Crossroads,” reporter Deborah Jian Lee profiled several women of color who left their churches after the Trump election. Alicia Crosby, who is a Black social justice advocate, felt betrayed by white evangelical support for Trump and left her church to found the Center for Inclusivity. Crosby has spoken out on numerous podcasts about her experience leaving the evangelical church and finding Christian community elsewhere. In 2019, she wrote: “In this moment, it’s not enough to ask how Christians can be more justice-minded, it is necessary to ask them to consider how their tradition and lived out faith practices are complicit in creating conditions for harm, regardless of what shapes their personal moral code.”

Chanequa Walker-Barnes, a professor of practical theology at the McAfee School of Theology at Mercer University in Atlanta, left the majority-white church where she had been on staff. “People of color [have been] willing to fit themselves into these white evangelical spaces even when it was uncomfortable,” she told Religion Dispatches. But for her and many colleagues, the dissonance became too extreme: “One friend said the [2016] election was the ‘final nail in the coffin of my relationship with the evangelical church,'” Walker-Barnes explained. “I don’t know if I’m doing a full divestment from evangelical spaces, but I’m definitely pulling back.”

Racial tensions are not new, of course. That said, a March 2018 article by New York Times reporter Campbell Robertson highlighted how the right-wing polarization of the past decade has undone initiatives to create multi-racial church communities. A 2012 National Congregational Study showed that two-thirds of those attending majority-white churches were worshiping alongside “at least some Black congregants,” an increased level of church integration since 1998.

However, after the 2016 election, when white evangelicals supported Trump “by a larger margin than they had voted for any other presidential candidate,” churches began to resegregate, reversing previous efforts. Speaking about Trump’s open hostility towards people of color and immigrants, Walker-Barnes told Robertson, “[S]omething is profoundly wrong at the heart of the white church.”

“Everything we tried is not working,” added author Michael Emerson. “The election itself was the single most harmful event to the whole movement of reconciliation in at least the past 30 years,” he said. “It’s about to completely break apart.”

Subsequently, the murder of George Floyd in May 2020 and a renewed wave of Black Lives Matter protests further heightened tensions. At a time of national reckoning, many evangelicals of color no longer felt that their congregations adequately supported them or reflected their values. Two prominent Black evangelicals, Chicago pastor Charlie Dates and Atlanta’s John Onwucheckwa both left the SBC due to concerns about racism within the organization. For Dates, the “final straw” was when all six SBC seminary presidents issued a statement in November 2020 that rejected critical race theory, callingit “incompatible with the Baptist Faith and Message” and “not a biblical solution.”

In a December 2020 opinion piece for Religion News Service, Dates asked: “How did they, who in 2020 still don’t have a single Black denominational entity head, reject once and for all a theory that helps to frame the real race problems we face?” Dates calls for a “new vision and new standard,” one which will not be “led in full by white men” and which “speaks justice courageously to the government and cares gently for the oppressed, marginalized and women.” A little over a year after Dates’ public exit, in February 2022, the SBC appointed Tennessee Baptist pastor Willie McLaurin as interim president and CEO of the SBC Executive Committee; McLaurin is the first and the sole Black person to assume an Executive Committee role.

For his part, Onwuchekwa named four reasons for leaving the SBC, including the “destructive nature of a disremembered history” (the SBC failing to address the ways the organization participated in slavery), “racial repair” (the denomination has not denounced racism), “unhealthy partisanship” (allegiance to the Republican Party), and “shallow solutions where they should be putting on scuba gear” (a focus on unity rather than structural solutions to racial injustice). “The SBC liked me,” Onwuchekwa wrote in his public goodbye letter, “but I feel like they’ve failed people like me. I’d rather give myself to serving that overlooked and under-resourced demographic than merely enjoy the perks of being treated as some outlier.”

A Mixed Evangelical Politics

Although there are signs that new political possibilities may emerge within evangelical spaces that have experienced polarization and division, there is no widespread agreement about what form these may take —and how radically they might break with the orthodoxy of the religious right.

Some dissenters, while perhaps falling in the “Never Trump” camp, remain hardline conservatives, simply wanting a more sedate, family-values Republicanism. As Rachel Stone, a lifelong evangelical and former evangelical writer, wrote in response to the David Brooks article, “Mr. Brooks’s alleged ‘dissenters’ depart from evangelical orthodoxy by not bowing to Donald Trump; otherwise, they’re typical evangelical gatekeepers.” As an example, Stone noted that one of the “Never Trumpers” cited by Brooks, Christian professor Karen Swallow Prior, supports highly restrictive abortion legislation, among other conservative public policies. Other evangelicals want to make their churches less political, but not necessarily more progressive, putting forward calls for unity that attempt to paper over existing strains.

In June 2021, Michael Graham, who regularly communicates with evangelical pastors around the country, created a typology to explain these changes within the evangelical community. In an article titled “The Six Way Fracturing of Evangelicalism,” Graham divided the community into a half dozen distinct groups. He sees three groups (the “Post-Evangelical,” the “Dechurched, but with some Jesus” and “Dechurched and Deconverted”) as having cut ties with the faith. Among those who have remained, he sees three further factions: “Neo-fundamentalist evangelicals” (who have a strictly orthodox worldview), “Mainstream evangelicals” (who may show concern for “the destructive pull of Christian Nationalism” but are “far more concerned by the secular left’s influence”), and finally “Neo-evangelicals” (who are “highly concerned” by the acceptance of Trump and failure to engage on issues of race and sexuality within the evangelical community). Of these, only the last group would truly represent potential for political realignment.

Nevertheless, Graham sees major changes afoot. He questions whether “big tent evangelicalism” will survive, given the highly visible and even “fatal” divides between fundamentalists and neo-evangelicals. He believes new models of churches will emerge—and are already emerging—to offer compromises to those who fall between categories, or who are still deciding where they belong. “We will see a rising tide of justice-minded churches,” he writes, which is likely to draw in those who are turned off by the right and have interest in the social gospel.

The values and experiences of a younger generation are also driving change. Mark Labberton, the president of Fuller Seminary, says that some younger members of the church “want to build communities that are smaller, intimate, authentic, which can often fit in a living room. They see faith as inseparably linked to community service with the poor and marginalized. There’s a general interest in getting away from all the bitterness that has devoured the elders and just diving back into the Bible.”

Likewise, as Cylde Haberman reported in the New York Times, “A younger cohort of evangelical Protestants is increasingly Black and Latino. Ethnicity aside, they resemble other young Americans in not automatically sharing their elders’ hostility to same-sex marriage, abortion, or gay and transgender rights.” David Bailey, a Black evangelical in Virginia whose own church is “racially and socioeconomically diverse” told David Brooks he sees that “Christians who are millennials and younger have different views on things like LGBTQ issues and are just used to mixing with much more diverse demographics.”

Tim Keller, the founding pastor of Redeemer Presbyterian Church in New York City and a leading evangelical thinker, sees a younger evangelicalism rising with a politics that cannot be easily characterized as right or left. “The enormous energy of [evangelical] churches in the global South and East has begun to spill over into the cities of North America, where a new, multiethnic evangelicalism is growing steadily,” he wrote in a 2017 New Yorker article. “In my view, these churches tend to be much more committed to racial justice and care for the poor than is commonly seen in white Evangelicalism. In this way, they might be called liberal. On the other hand, these multicultural churches remain avowedly conservative on issues like sex outside of marriage. They look, to most eyes, like a strange mixture of liberal and conservative viewpoints, although they themselves see a strong inner consistency between these views.”

Toward Mission-Centered Racial Justice

The vehemence of support for Trump’s white nationalism in many evangelical spaces has prompted some Black evangelicals to leave or to find Black churches rather than remaining in majority-white spaces. Others, however, are remaining steadfast in their church communities, advocating for a mission-centered approach. As Deborah Jian Lee wrote for Religion Dispatches, some are “reframing the evangelical world as a mission field as opposed to a place for spiritual nourishment, creating ethnic safe spaces or staying firmly planted in evangelical community to combat racism from within.”

Ra Mendoza, who works as a national program director at Mission Year, an urban ministry with evangelical roots, is a Mexican-Latinx evangelical who has been working to create “ethnic safe spaces.” Mendoza told Jian Lee that evangelicals in Mission Year looked to her to “call things out” but that “these groups never invited her to create something that actually corrected the problems she called out; they listened to her critique and they thought that was enough.” Despite this, Mendoza stayed at Mission Year, hoping to create what she described to Lee as “new space that doesn’t perpetuate whiteness and sexism and all the stuff that was built into our DNA for the last 20 years.” Mendoza created a Facebook group to mobilize churches to “protect trans and non-binary people of color.”

In a December 2018 article for the New Yorker titled “Evangelicals of Color Fight Back Against the Religious Right,” Eliza Griswold wrote about the Black evangelicals taking action to affirm social justice in their church communities. Griswold profiled Lisa Sharon Harper, a prominent evangelical activist. Harper is the former mobilizing director of a Christian social justice organization called Sojourners and the current president of Freedom Road, a consulting group that trains religious leaders in social action. After the murder of Michael Brown, Harper organized evangelical leaders and their followers against police brutality in Ferguson, Missouri. She also organized a trip to Brazil to unite against far-right President Jair Bolsanaro. “Sociologically, the principal difference between white and Black evangelicals is that we believe that oppression exists,” Harper stated.

For his part, David Brooks wrote of dissidents who are working within their churches to heal from divisions caused by Trumpism. “Many of these dissenters have put racial justice and reconciliation activities at the center of what needs to be done,” he wrote. “[T]here are reconciliation conferences, trips to Selma and Birmingham, Alabama, study groups reading Martin Luther King Jr. and Howard Thurman. Evangelicals played important roles in the abolitionist movement; these Christians are trying to connect with that legacy.”

By organizing within marginalized communities, Black evangelicals diametrically oppose Trump’s ethno-nationalistic coalition. And given that people of color are the fastest-growing demographic within evangelicalism, their organizing has the power to influence the wider political orientations of the community. (A 2015 Pew Research studypredicted people of color will make up the majority of the Christian population by 2042.) “Evangelicalism has been hijacked by the religious right,” Harper told the New Yorker. “We come from the arm of the church that is so toxic, we understand it and we can offer a solution.” Her solution is that Black evangelicals propose an alternative rooted deeply in faith and “vehemently jealous for the human dignity of all people.”

One example of organizing that uses this new missional approach focused on racial justice and reconciliation has emerged in Phoenix, Arizona. There, a group called the Surge Network, which is connected to a nation church renewal movement co-founded by Tim Keller, has dramatically reshaped the composition of its leadership team in recent years to be primarily led by women and people of color. In terms of activating its evangelical constituency, it has been a key force in mobilizing interfaith responses to the murder of George Floyd and organizing religious people to join Black Lives Matter protests.

In one instance, Surge turned out 3,000 people from 200 churches to join a march through downtown Phoenix toward the Arizona Capitol, where ministers led a public prayer. As the crowd knelt, Melissa Hubert, a deacon at Redemption Church Alhambra, read the names of people killed by police. Among the protest signs, one placard invoked Hebrews 13:3: “Continue to remember those in prison as if you were together with them in prison, and those who are mistreated as if you yourselves were suffering.” Beyond such public-facing mobilization, Surge leads a religious education program called the “Neighbors Table,” which prompts local parishioners to lean into hard conversations about criminal justice reform, immigration and Islamophobia through discussion and meals with neighbors directly impacted by these issues.

What will the future of evangelical politics be? This remains to be seen. But the current juncture has created a moment loaded with potential, in which the unprecedented alignment of evangelicalism with the Republican right is being shaken—at least at the margins—and new possibilities are emerging. Although white evangelicals may remain conservative loyalists, the ranks of people who might once have been among their fellow parishioners, but who have since been alienated by their intolerance and are now seeking new identities aligned with social justice, could well number in the millions.

Those millions are people that no movement interested in changing the world for the better should want to ignore.

Research assistance provided by Celeste Pepitone-Nahas.

Print Friendly, PDF & Email


  1. hk

    This is an interesting juncture indeed, but I think the talk of “splintering” evangelical movement might be premature. First, it’s a bit misleading to think that “black evangelicals” are new:. Black churches have always been at the core of civil rights movement, after all. Second, how many of the black and Hispanic evangelicals have been previously part of the “conservative evangelical” movement? Probably not many, except, possibly, in a very loose sense. God is a powerful organizing force and motivator, but many different ideals, including competing and contradictory ones, can be divinely inspired. That they all call themselves “evangelicals” does not, I think, mean they ever belonged in the same tribe. The danger it does pose is that the liberals might kick them away inadvertently, and here, their seeming reorientation on social (and other) issues might prove to be at best a false hope and possibly, a trap, even if an unintended one. Their faith has to impose some sort of red line somewhere. Maybe it’s not gay marriage or transgender issues. But will they just believe everything as liberals except they justify their beliefs on Christian faith? That seems too good to be true

    The real split in the old evangelical coalition might be that between never Trumpers and still-trumpers. But this split follows development along socioeconomic lines, not necessarily socioreligious. The “respectable” ones famously swung towards HRC, even in 2016–no Dem carried Orange County, CA, like she did, while the “deplorables” didn’t. No doubt OC Republicans are heavily “evangelicals,” but are they like the evangelicals in rural Louisiana? While the impressive fact might be that GOP maintained this coalition for decades, it was always an unnatural one, with the rurals being skeptical and unenthused about the “respectable” candidates GOP kept trotting out. Trump went far in straining the bindings of this alliance, while extracting unexpectedly high enthusiasm from the “deplorables” while shaking up the “respectables.” But the pieces are hardly set–and if Cheney runs as a Democrat in ’24 (sarcasm, but not that much) it will be interesting.

    1. NotTimothyGeithner

      Their numbers are declining at such a rapid rate that it has to be showing up on the bottom line. I imagine numbers were boosted with refugees from the collapse of mainline protestantism.

      The other side is the more distinctly “Christian lifestyle” brands must be eating into potential donations and church activity. If they don’t lock in now, many of these churches are going to go belly up. For the charismatic church, they are only as good as the appeal of the show. The center of christendom use to be Damascus, not Rome, New Rome, Jerusalem, etc. All the great preachers went there to fight to be the top dog.

      1. Susan the other

        One death at a time. Evangelicals were reacting to the direction of society in the 60s. Abortion; Teaching children blasphemous stuff. And the disappointment of all those righteous people getting left in the dust of progress. But you can’t react forever. It gets old. Just like people. Both good logic and things that are actually possible have a way of raising awareness in all people. If it were actually possible for God to smite the sinners, the warmongers would be duly smitten. QED. But 14% is still enough to swing an election. That’s the only reason the Democrats even care. Or the Republicans for that matter. You’d think the evangelicals would get a clue by now – they are being fleeced for donations and votes.

  2. dermotmoconnor

    A good friend of mine in the US was really upset by RvW overturned. Thing is, he’s a Christian, think Ned Flanders. Very white also. Would leave the US with his kids if he could, he’s really scared. Super nice guy, not at all the type of headcase you see characterised on the media. Still threw me to get the PM from him.

    I wonder if there are more like him? I’m writing here in Ireland, where the power of the Catholic Church was at its strongest about FIVE to TEN years before it totally collapsed. It was unreal. 1986 they were face stomping who they liked, a very short decade later they were a punchline.

    Anyway, live in hope I guess – not something that comes naturally to me, mind… but maybe don’t regard this political force as a hegemon when it may be a house of cards.

    1. voteforno6

      I wonder if the tension can, at least in part, be explained by those who take the “Christianity” part of it seriously, and those who see it as more of a lifestyle brand. Right now it seems that the latter ones are overrepresented in media.

    2. griffen

      I believe there is a fraction of evangelicals who fit into the above description. Yes for protecting life but the action of overturning that particular precedent set nearly 50 years ago has possibly shifted the goalpost. I have a few lifelong friends who I can presume are also be unhappy with the SCOTUS ruling. Valuing life also means making sure that young life is supported and cared for after birth, which in most red states is just not sufficient or sufficiently funded.

      We don”t need a broad swath of state governments run by all seeing all knowing Republicans (see, Texas). The candidate for governor of Georgia who had Jesus Guns Babies emblazoned on their bus is just the tip of the spear when we describe the crazy burning. By we, well I mean myself.

    3. Jessica

      What do you think was the reason for the sudden collapse of the Roman Catholic Church in Ireland?

      1. Dermotmoconnor

        That’s when the economy began to turn around…early 90s. Really see it in retrospect. Not obvious at the time. Want to weaken religion? Make life better this side of the grave.
        Also, very young population – 50% were under 25, so demographics were on side of change as olds died.
        Also, the child abuse really finished off their moral authority…what Chinese call “the mandate of heaven”
        When I left in1993 it still felt backward. Two rightwing parties, very conservative vibe. Within a few years it was visibly crumbling. Ireland got gay marriage before usa, and by direct referendum..got abortion recently, by same. Being refs they can’t be overturned…second ref would be won by even bigger margins.
        Irish constitution is also better than usa. Multi seat constituencies with transferable votes allow many parties. Our version of GOP Fianna fail had its back broken 11 years ago, and the other large part fg is in trouble also. Both being replaced by sinn fein, a progressive nationalist party which was illegal in1993!
        I moved back this year after 29 years. Difficult move, many problems, but religious nuttery isn’t one of them.

        1. Dermotmoconnor

          Just to add…Irish constitution was written by devalera, a conservative Catholic. It runs rings around the American one. When a 1930s Catholic is more progressive than you it’s sure sign that the USA needs to start over. Maybe keep the slavers and racists away this time?

          1. hk

            Of course, De Valera was an American, or at least American born.

            I think the point about “life being better” on this side of the grave is the key point about American evangelicals today. The “respectable” ones who turned away from the Trump are those who are doing better economically. The “deplorables” turning to Trump are those who are not doing better, or, at least living in or near communities that are not. As far as theology or religious teachings about good society, who knows? But the callous elite attitude about the “deplorables,” I fear, might keep the politicized religion going stronger.

  3. Samuel Conner

    I think one could add to the general mix of present factors inducing some people to reconsider their affiliation with local congregations within the evangelical “tapestry” the way that some of these groups have amplified inaccurate ideas about CV risks. Historic Ev pre-occupation with the absolute priority of avoiding post-mortem punishments, and also what I think can accurately be described as a prioritization of (a flawed concept of) “faith” over “wisdom” (“faith” being, in their view, privileged in the New Testament, versus the exaltation of “wisdom” in the Old Testament), seems to have led to a casual attitude toward the risks of CV transmission during group gatherings, which of course are weekly or more frequent than weekly for churches.

    Or, to put it more succinctly, some of us have come to the conclusion that the theology, or the way the theology works out in practice, is actually bad for one’s health.

  4. Michael Fiorillo

    I’m starting to wonder/hope if there might be some comparisons to be found between the overturning of Roe and the advent of Prohibition. Both of them are examples of the dog finally catching the car, and long-standing social and political dynamics in the country, with unforeseen and largely unsatisfactory consequences for all concerned. The unworkability of it was eventually recognized by most of the population, as the passion that drove it ran its course.

    Maybe I’m just feeling optimistic because the weather is cooler today, but there are many similarities between the 1920’s and now – the strength of politcal reaction, the impotence and confusion of the Democratic Party, the prevalence of credit, faith in the business class entwined with deep corruption among elites, etc. – so while hope can be dangerous, there’s at least reason to think there’s a chance for a political opening.

    1. Karl

      Thanks Michael for articulating some of my musings that I haven’t seen put into words so well.

      Prohibition was an extremely aspirational movement for social reform that culminated in a Constitutional Ammendment. It was so unworkable that an unprecedented reversal of this amendment became necessary. Similarly, the abolition of abortion seems to be coming to many States. I believe those who voted for anti-abortion candidates did so out of a strong aspiration to reform what they perceive to be a depraved but redeemable America. And I believe they will find, as with alcohol Prohibition, that abortion Prohibition that is too extreme will also be unworkable. Those States that have passed laws that are too extreme will have to deal with all kinds of unforeseen consequences.

      In the past, Conservatives were typically the ones most insistent that “you can’t legislate morality” and now they’ve tried to do exactly that. Tried–but will likely fail. In peace, as in war, the U.S. doesn’t learn well from its own history. But we do eventually learn.

  5. TBone

    Here in the heart of Pennsyltucky, the Evangelicals I know personally don’t consider any other religious variety, especially Catholics, to even BE Christian. I heard someone say that there are no Christians in France, and when I pointed out that Notre Dame CATHEDRAL was on fire, he shrugged. For these zealots, the only “true” Christians that count as such live in the USA. I stopped going to our little country church when they chose to skip the sermon, talk about Trump politics, and pass around a Republican voter registration clipboard with the collection plate.

  6. John Emerson

    The southwestern Latinos I’ve known were aware that their families were already there when the US showed up in 1846. The opposite of immigrants. Their politics of that has been mostly Democratic so far but there doesn’t have to be any identification with new arrivals.

    As far as that goes, I know an American of Russian Jewish descent who really hated the new Russian Jews who started arriving in Coney Island where he grew up, after the fall of the USSR. He was just an American of Russian Jewish descent, and not a bit religious.

    1. hk

      The rise of evangelical Christianity, for what it is worth, is a spreading phenomenon in certain parts of Latin America:. Mexico, various parts of Central America, and far from US, Brazil. I’m liable to get the details wrong, so I can’t comment on it more, but I assume there are quite a evangelicals even among recent immigrants.

      1. Michael Fiorillo

        Also, in the Philippines (and the US), where politics has shifted Right in recent years, Iglesia Na Christo is a huge evangelical church that has supplanted Catholicism in many places

      2. Jed

        Not sure this is relevant, but central Belize is occupied by a vibrant quaker or Dutch community if I recall correctly.

  7. ChrisRUEcon

    Thanks for this, Yves!

    It’s a good look into the intersection of faith, politics and race. It ties in to the recollection that Martin Luther King’s “Letter From Birmingham Jail” was not addressed to his jailers, or the wider group of racist persecutors in society at that time. It was addressed to fellow members of Southern Clergy who had earlier penned their own public letter dubbed “A Call for Unity” or “Statement by Alabama Clergymen” (link to both via webarchive.org). And there’s that word again: “unity”. It’s become such an odious term to me recently. It’s come to indicate exactly the same kind of superficial, impotent approach Ra Mendoza describes here: “these groups never invited her to create something that actually corrected the problems she called out; they listened to her critique and they thought that was enough.” Granted, I tend to associate the corruption of the term’s ethos more with Democrats, but it’s the same really – yes, those Tejanos might want to vote for the GOP, but only because they believe they will be treated fairly. As Ra points out, there are no solutions in the offing, and there’s probably the oft ignored intersection of economic class into the discourse. Sso sure, the GOP will throw up their own faces of color, but the deprogramming and de-escalation of the party’s overtly divisive rhetoric and its ongoing war on the poor is not so easily done.

  8. Carolinian

    This is a useful article but tainted by the usual assumptions about Trump and racism and his appeal to evangelicals. Having been raised, not all that willingly, in a Southern Baptist church I can report that the Baptists were always a home to small businessmen where churches helped with “networking” and prosperity gospel attitudes were lurking in the background. Which is to say that it’s the capitalist side of Trump that appeals to these churchgoers rather than some religiosity to be found in the NY playboy. Trump, with his zeal for money and flexible ethics, fits right in among car salesmen and business strivers.

    Meanwhile the Dems, IMO, vastly exaggerate Trump’s rightwing ideology when the reality is that he moved right to blend in with the Repubs rather than vice versa. The real beef against Trump is that he seems to have few core beliefs at all other than furthering the greater glory of Trump. Trump was a protest candidate on the part of conservative heartlanders and they, we, still have plenty to protest about. I do think areas like mine are moving leftwards–slowly–but chalk that up to young people who have little in common with old time small business America. Trump, the focus of this article, is in many ways a sideshow.

    1. pjay

      These are all important points. Most progressive analysts simply seem incapable of understanding Trump’s appeal to small business conservatives, or to “deplorables” as a protest candidate. Sure his bullying rhetoric appeals more to sexist and racist good ol’ boys than liberal lectures, but that is *not* the primary basis of his political success. You also raise the important point that Trump had no real political values or ideology, and was in fact no champion of right wing causes until it was politically expedient. The raging fascist wannabe Hitler being portrayed by the Jan 6 Committee folks (and their media friends) is a ridiculous caricature.

      While this article makes some good points, it also rightly equivocates in its more hopeful statements about evangelical divisions. I think Yves introductory comments about the Democrats’ demographic hopium definitely applies to this issue as well.

    2. hk

      My sense is that “Trump voters,” that is the voters who wouldn’t have voted had it not been for Trump, are mostly not very consistently ideological (that is, they may have strong beliefs, but they don’t line up neatly with conventional left or right) although they are, often justifiably, dissatisfied. This is systematically distorted (willingly or otherwise) in a lot of reports on who “Trump voters” are b/c, in these, “Trump voters” are anyone who voted for Trump, large majority of whom are just conventional Republicans.

      1. Socal Rhino

        Interesting to me are people who voted against HRC but now strongly support Trump. I suspect it’s mostly a backlash against the 24×7 anti Trump media blitz.

  9. KD

    Does it take a genius to understand that ICE provides decent money and benefits to less skilled workers, and that perhaps less educated Hispanics in border communities may prefer a candidate who wants to be nice to ICE, because they work at ICE or have relatives at ICE?

  10. Socal Rhino

    To me, the through line of this article was impossible to follow, perhaps because it tried to capture too many disconnected strands with too many generalizations, starting with the term “evangelical” which these days is largely used to refer to conservative, non Roman Catholic, and probably includes Latter Day Saints, excluding pentecostals, and for the most part does not include the northern branches of mainline churches like Presbyterians. Intersectionality gets messy when dogma, ethnicity, and economic class don’t map 1:1onto the fragmentation within religious affiliations.

    I think the hard core Trump enthusiasts are those in the Marjorie Taylor Green camp, who are starting to self-identify as christian nationalists. Interestingly, I’ve been following a rabbi’s twitter thread discussing whether christian nationalists are truly christians.

    1. Arizona Slim

      Me? I thought the article was too long. As usual, Yves got right down to the point in her headnote — and she used fewer words to do it.

      1. Socal Rhino

        I agree in the sense of a Taleb point about books: if they can be readily summarized they offer little value.

  11. t

    As usual, they point out counties that Dems won in the general without mentioning the winning dem did not carry the county in the primary. Same thing they do for West Virginia.

  12. Rainlover

    some younger members of the church “want to build communities that are smaller, intimate, authentic, which can often fit in a living room. They see faith as inseparably linked to community service with the poor and marginalized. There’s a general interest in getting away from all the bitterness that has devoured the elders and just diving back into the Bible.”

    I recently finished David Cayley’s Ivan Illich: An Intellectual Journey. Illich was ahead of his time, but it now appears that his work is in tune with the present moment. Illich, a Roman Catholic priest, served a “John the Baptist” role by calling out the Catholic church for its institutionalization of Jesus’s teachings. As he put it, the church criminalized sin and decreased its focus on redemption, a comment very applicable to the evangelical right that seeks to legislate its religious principles. Illich spoke forcefully for returning to the small community of believers focused on good works and on uplifting the poor and oppressed, that is for living Christianity instead of trying to legislate it, much like the younger people mentioned above. In his Tools for Conviviality Illich lays out a process for building and sustaining such a community. For those interested in religious practice of any stripe, I highly recommend anything by Illich. Cayley’s tome is weighty and long, but highly readable and does an excellent job of presenting a detailed investigation of Illich’s life and views.

    IMHO the characterization of religious views as left or right, or even about social justice neglects the roles of faith and love that are central to religious practice. If one is acting from that place, labels are not useful and neither is politics.

  13. John Steinbach

    Illich’s last major work was Gender, a thoughtful analysis of Capitalism’s substitution of sex for gender, with the subsequent negative effects on women. Like Adolph Reed, he was attacked by mainstream feminists as sexist.

    1. Rainlover

      Yes, the 70s feminists cancelled Illich over Gender and he sank back into obscurity, which, as Cayley says, suited him just fine. Cayley did a series of interviews with Illich that were broadcast on CBC and later transcribed into two books, the last of which was The Rivers North of the Future. It’s available on archive.org.

  14. Karl

    The Right secular media often turn Left concepts into memes that can be easily ridiculed, losing all nuance. This article made me curious to understand if conservative Church media do the same thing. One pastor of a leading Florida Church, in a 2022 forum hosted by the SBC, said this about CRT:

    “CRT is an offshoot of neo-Marxism, postmodernism and a theory that came out of a critical legal theory. And it basically says that all racial relationships should be viewed in terms of power dynamics and that some are inevitably oppressed and others are inevitably the oppressors.” ….He said it is in opposition to biblical theology, “And so it takes the idea of sin partiality from the Bible and redefines it in ways that are completely unbiblical.” [My emphasis]

    The actual statement of the SBC Presidents of 2020 (referred to in the article) doesn’t really delve into the actual “theory” part of CRT to try to understand its deeper meaning and implications, but simply emphasizes that it is secular and unbiblical. This quote is typical:

    In light of current conversations in the Southern Baptist Convention, we stand together on historic Southern Baptist condemnations of racism in any form and we also declare that affirmation of Critical Race Theory, Intersectionality, and any version of Critical Theory is incompatible with the Baptist Faith & Message.

    My understanding of the mission of Jesus is that he was indeed interested in “sin partiality.” He was very interested in power dynamics. He walked the length and breadth of Judea, Samaria and the Syro-Phoenicians and understood the divisions between and among them. He understood the divisions and power dynamics among the Judeans, particularly between the poor and the Sadducees and Pharisees (the influential/ruling classes). And he understood the system of oppression that existed by virtue of the collaboration of the latter with the Roman occupation and the economic system (the money changers and lenders who foreclosed on peasant lands). It seems to me that all that CRT is trying to do is discover and lay bare, using modern tools of sociology, economics and anthropology, how systems of oppression become entrenched and are sustained. This kind of study is, of course, highly subversive, as was Jesus himself, and can hardly be said to be “unbiblical.” Indeed, CRT is attempting to understand, using modern tools of analysis, exactly what Jesus observed and railed against. And, importantly, it lays bare how the institutional church itself became part of this process of institutionalizing and entrenching oppression. In short, the White Church, particularly in the South since the days of slavery, became a tool of systemic oppression of black people. This explains precisely why CRT is being attacked by the white church and its “tool”, the Republican Party. If anything, the whole history of the SBC, and white churches in the South generally, is “unbiblical.”

    The SBC understands how threatening CRT really is, because CRT is way too biblical in its root concerns, and the Church way too unbiblical.

    1. Dick Burkhart

      “Critical Race Theory” is easily misunderstood, and this is not accidental. I’ve come to the conclusion that in practice CRT is “a network of ideologies which develop the identity politics of race, as grounded in critical theory – as descended from postmodern philosophy”. The “power dynamics” comes from Michel Foucault’s postmodernism. But there is far more, such as the “whiteness studies” popularized by Robin DiAngelo. This makes it very easy for someone to defend CRT by focusing on a plausible sounding thread, such as power dynamics as a key to understanding historical race relations, while and ignoring more objectionable threads of the network, such as the doctrine that “all white people are racists”.

      The latter doctrine comes from 2 key assumptions: (1) that power and racism go hand in hand, and (2) “whites” are the ones with power. However, neither assumption is true in general. For example, there has always been an exploited white underclass in the US (read Nancy Isenberg) that lacked power and over the last 40 years of deindustrialization the black working class has done better than their white brothers and sisters (who had more to lose). Thus CRT misses the point that economics has always been the fundamental driver of oppression, with “racism” invented or promoted as a divide and conquer tactic – to split black and white workers after Bacon’s Rebellion in 1676, for example, continued today as a tactic of the “cultural wars”.

      Jesus focused on oppression from economics, not race, so the Southern Baptist theologians were correct to reject CRT and its identity politics.

  15. drumlin woodchuckles

    It looks like a Time of Separation is upon the Christian Evangelical-Industrial Complex . . . . time to separate the Sheep from the Goats, the Fish from the Lampreys, the Evangelical Christian Humanists from the Evangelical Christian Satanists.

    ” To Fear God” is one way of saying ” to worship God” and to “respect God”. Millions of Christians base their whole belief system on Fearing the Devil and Fighting the Devil. This is quite literally Worshipping the Devil, and so the word Christian Satanist is scientifically and clinically exactly accurate for those horrible awful people.

    I hope the Evangelical Humanists are able to outnumber the Evangelical Satanists, and are then able to drive the Evangelical Satanists back into the sewers and honey-holes from which they first boiled up out of to pollute our society and our civilization.

  16. Palaver

    I remember reading “American Theocracy” by Kevin Phillips in college and puzzled as to why religion is omitted in discussions of the American Civil War. Denominations fractured in the same way America fractured with both sides using biblical justifications with religion playing a bigger role then as it does now.

    Fewer religious figures lead political movements today, so religion seems minor to larger forces. Pope Francis seemed poised to lead a world youth revival, but now occupies himself with controversies. How much of church is just political self selection and seeking confirmation? Seeing evangelicals become Moonies just so they can wear a crown of bullets and worship AR-15s at the alter of Christ is blasphemy even to someone who grew up in the church and who now considers themself an atheist. Had I been born in another time or country with a more authentic experience with religion, I might have kept my faith.

    “People try to persuade us that the objections against Christianity spring from doubt. That is a complete misunderstanding. The objections against Christianity spring from insubordination, the dislike of obedience, rebellion against all authority. As a result, people have hitherto been beating the air in their struggle against objections, because they have fought intellectually with doubt instead of fighting morally with rebellion.” ― Soren Kierkegaard

  17. Dick Burkhart

    There is also a splintering on the religious Left, this time over new orthodoxies and illiberal practices, especially of race and gender. Think cancel culture and “the ends justify the means”. Here we have agreement on the ends, such as anti-racism, but not on the kind of purity tests that used to be associated with cults, fundamentalism, or the dogmatic Catholicism of yore. Even the “multiracial unity” practiced and preached by MLK is denigrated by the new ideologues.

    This is most evident in Unitarian Universalism, where the entire leadership has converted to the new orthodoxies, often referred to as Wokism. Unsubstantiated accusations of racism, white supremacy, etc., are condoned, or even applauded, leading to the kind of intimidation and censorship in liberal church settings that has become common in universities. This is not Left vs Right, since those targeted may even be socialists who are opposed to non-class identity politics because of the way it creates cultural wars to divide the working classes. This in turn blocks effective challenges to financial and neoliberal capitalism, the prime focus of the heterodox economist Michael Hudson, for example.

    This splintering on the Left is already affecting some local political races, where radical “defund the police” types are losing out to more pragmatic Democrats. In some quite blue areas even Republicans could be in the running if both moderate and principled.

  18. elkern

    Yeah, Meh. Sure, I’d love to believe that the GOP might lose an important segment of their most reliable voters, but if we’re reading about this here, now, you can bet that the Right-Wing Think Tanks have been working on strategies to counter this for a while. They are paid – very well – for marketing the GOP brand, and they are way too good at it.

    The first red flag for me in this article is overuse of the term “people of color” in a situation where the differences between the different “colors” involved really matter. Not sure, but I’d bet that there are three major segments of non-white evangelicals in the USA: Black, Hispanic, and Asian. These groups would experience (US) racism very differently and have different relationships to & with their Churches & leaders, likely with a lot of commonality within each group but little with the other groups. To me, this is a core problem with modern liberal (“wokist”?) framing; I understand the attempt to build larger coalitions, but the Right Wing is gonna win that fight with more effective micro-marketing.

    The other red flag is quoting David Brooks way too much. It’s hard to imagine a less reliable source for deep understanding of rural American Christianity/Christians.

    1. drumlin woodchuckles

      There is a joke pointing this up . . . . cleaned up for a family blog.

      A census taker asks the mayor of a small SouthWestern town about the ethno-culturacial makeup of his town.

      ” Half of us are Indian. Half of us are Hispanic. We have only one Anglo. And he’s Black.”

    2. Dick Burkhart

      Good points. I live in a neighborhood with all 3 of those ethnic types, plus subdivisions. They get along with each other mostly by keeping separate.

Comments are closed.