Are American evangelicals fading away?
The text I reproduce below is only part of a very long-winded article in Newsweak (Yes. They still exist). I have reproduced what seems to me to be the central element of the article.
I read a lot of Leftist articles -- mainly for entertainment at their usually transparent duplicity. And many of those articles are very long winded. And the more longwinded they are the more they are covering up holes in their argument. So I soon became very suspicious of this one. And I was right to be so. Their basic claim is that many young evangelicals are leaving their church and will therefore stop voting GOP.
You see the first problem right there. It may be true that some young people will BOTH leave their church AND stop voting GOP but how many do both? We are not told. Many may leave their church but still vote GOP. To a Newsweak writer that is apparently an unthinkable thought.
Also unmentioned is that many evangelical churches have a strong outreach that brings many previously unbelieving or uncommitted people into the fold. Could outreach replace with older people the lost young people? We are not told.
I do not dispute that young people often abandon the religion of their parents. It is a familiar phenomenon. But WHICH young people fall away? In the year 2000, ten million evangelicals voted for Al Gore. Could those parents be the ones whose children fell away? Again, we are not told. It could be that the children of wishy washy evangelicals went on to a stricter sect as a revolt against their wobbly parents. I certainly don't claim that they all did that but it would nonetheless be interesting to know where the fallen-away youth went.
Clearly, however, we need some reliable statistics if we are to conclude what is going on. And the article has quite a few statistics obtained from Robert P. Jones, CEO of the Public Religion Research Institute, which he founded. Public opinion polls appear to be the principal output of the PRRI.
As soon as I saw the name "Public Religion Research Institute", I smelt a rat. I smelled a Leftist outfit aiming to "get" Christianity. And so it is. It has extensive Leftist affiliations. And we know how much care Leftists have about the truth. "All the news that is fit to slant" could well be their motto.
And the PRRI do slant it. Read here some details of their modus operandi in an article by Stanley Renshon, a distinguished and sophisticated social scientist. I could add to Renshon's criticisms but I don't have time to flog a dead horse.
Leftists really are amazing the way they live in an eternal present. As psychopaths do, if they can see some immediate advantage in being dishonest, they will engage in that dishonesty -- regardless of the fact that the dishonesty will eventually be detected and undermine their credibility forever.
One is reminded of Harry Reid abolishing the filibuster to get a few Obama appointees on to the lower courts -- enabling the appointment of two very conservative Justices to SCOTUS a couple of years later: A disaster for his party. No foresight whatever displayed.
So the whole article is a castle built on sand. PRRI polls just prop up Leftist beliefs and are of no interest to others. We have no reason to expect that evangelicals will fade away
Since the 1970s, white evangelicals have formed the backbone of the Republican base. But as younger members reject the vitriolic partisanship of the Trump era and leave the church, that base is getting smaller and older. The numbers are stark: Twenty years ago, just 46 percent of white evangelical Protestants were older than 50; now, 62 percent are above 50. The median age of white evangelicals is 55. Only 10 percent of Americans under 30 identify as white evangelicals. The exodus of youth is so swift that demographers now predict that evangelicals will likely cease being a major political force in presidential elections by 2024. And the cracks are already showing.
In the 2018 midterms, exit polls showed, white evangelicals backed Republicans by 75 to 22 percent, while the rest of the voting population favored Democrats 66 to 32 percent. But evangelicals were slightly less likely to support House Republicans in 2018 than they were to support Trump in 2016—which may have contributed to the Democrats’ pickup of House seats. Trump’s support actually declined more among white evangelical men than women. The 11-point gender gap between evangelical men and women from 2016 shrank to 6 in the midterms.
To be sure, evangelical Christians have been rewarded for their support of Trump after enduring eight years wandering in Barack Obama’s political desert. They have two new conservative Supreme Court justices, and there have been nine self-professed evangelical Cabinet members, plus a flurry of laws and executive orders clamping down on gender roles, abortion and LGBTQ rights. But experts say this may represent the last bounty for a waning political power. Unlike their parents, the younger generation is not animated by the culture wars; many are pushing for social justice for migrants and LGBTQ people and campaigning against mass incarceration—positions more in line with the Democratic Party.
The result is a shrinking conservative bloc, something that could weaken white Christian political power—and, consequently, a Republican Party that has staked its future on its alliance with the religious right. It’s a conundrum that the father of modern GOP conservatism, Barry Goldwater, predicted in 1994: “Mark my word, if and when these preachers get control of the party, and they’re sure trying to do so, it’s going to be a terrible damn problem.”
The End of the Alliance?
The association of the religious right and the Republican Party has its roots in the 1954 Supreme Court ruling Brown vs. the Board of Education of Topeka, after which white Southerners began to flee public schools following forced desegregation. They opened so-called segregation academies: religious schools that were tax-exempt. When the IRS came after evangelical colleges like Bob Jones University, which officially prohibited interracial dating, the schools were faced with losing their tax-exempt status.
That would have meant financial doom. But a Republican activist named Paul Weyrich—with patronage from Western segregationist beer billionaire Joseph Coors—forged alliances with Southern religious leaders like Jerry Falwell and successfully lobbied to soften IRS enforcement. The Moral Majority was born, and, in 1980, it announced itself as a political force by helping put Ronald Reagan in the White House. Republican strategists used the issues of abortion and gay marriage to cement the union and drive right-leaning Christians into the voting booth.
The relationship remained strong for decades, with evangelicals becoming a reliable bloc of GOP support. Since 2000, they have regularly made up about a quarter of voters—outperforming their much smaller percentage of the population. And, despite prognostications from political scientists about the imminent death of the evangelical-Republican partnership, they’ve kept casting ballots. In 2016, they were a key group for Trump; the thrice-married, foul-mouthed mogul with a history of sexual assault allegations won more than 80 percent of the evangelical vote— besting even George W. Bush, a born-again Christian who spoke openly about his faith.
But demographic trends are steadily diluting their outsize clout. Researcher Robert Jones, author of The End of White Christian America, has tracked what he calls a “stair-steps downward trajectory of white Christian presence in the electorate.” In 1992, when Bill Clinton was elected, 73 percent of the electorate was white and Christian. By 2012, that number was 53 percent. “If current trends hold steady, 2024 will be a watershed year—the first American election in which white Christian voters do not constitute a majority of voters,” Jones, who heads the Public Religion Research Institute (PRRI), tells Newsweek.
Until a decade ago, white evangelicals were the exception, their numbers holding steady. But their ranks are now dwindling, driven largely by the youth exodus. According to Jones, white evangelicals constituted 21 percent of the U.S. population when Obama was elected in 2008. Eight years later, in 2016, that number dropped to 17 percent. Today, they make up 15 percent of Americans.
Concerned about the shrinking numbers and the prospect of a lackluster turnout in the midterms, Trump rallied about 100 evangelical supporters in the White House this past summer. If Republicans lose control of Congress, he told them, Democrats “will overturn everything that we’ve done, and they’ll do it quickly and violently.” He pushed pastors to use the power of their pulpits to get more people to the polls. “I hate to say it,” Trump said, “if you were a stock, you’d be, like, you’re very plateaued.”
White evangelical political organizers got the message. Ralph Reed’s Faith & Freedom Coalition pledged to spend $18 million to microtarget 125 million conservative voters before the midterms. Other faith groups engaged in a get-out-the-vote drive across the country. An organization associated with former Arkansas Governor (and Baptist pastor) Mike Huckabee, called My Faith Votes, spent $3.5 million aimed at getting evangelicals to the midterms polls and threw in a Facebook Live session with Duck Dynasty’s Phil Robertson for good measure. The Colorado-based Dr. James Dobson Family Institute ran a national “Pray. Engage. Vote.” initiative in the lead-up to the midterms.
The result: White evangelicals made up 26 percent of voters in the November elections, with three-quarters of them casting ballots for Republican House candidates. But that performance will be increasingly difficult to replicate, Jones says.
For an analogy, he uses Elisabeth Kübler-Ross’s landmark “stages of grief” experienced by the dying and their loved ones to describe what’s happening to evangelicals and American politics. First comes denial, then anger, followed by bargaining, depression and acceptance.
“We are past denial. People see the writing on the wall in terms of demographic change. And that is also why we see immigration taking over and becoming the flagship issue. That and a wall symbolize the resistance to this demographic change,” Jones says. “I think we are somewhere between anger and bargaining. And in many ways, this shotgun marriage between Trump and white evangelicals happened under some duress and is a desperate bargain that you make at the end of life. That is what we’re really seeing here.”
To understand what’s happening among evangelicals, researchers study the results of PRRI’s annual, wide-ranging, 80,000-interview American Values Atlas poll. In the most recent survey, from 2017, 40 percent of individuals under 30 claim “no religious affiliation” (sometimes called “the nones” ). “White evangelicals are a big part of that decline,” Jones says.
Respondents cited not believing in the doctrines and, surprisingly, politics. “They cite partisanship,” Jones says. “That’s a big turnoff for young Americans. And so is negative treatment of gay and lesbian people.”
Polls find that upward of 80 percent of young people now support same-sex marriage. That number includes young Republicans and evangelicals under 30. “Even people like me, a white male with a lot of societal privilege, can see that evangelical leaders are completely happy to join forces with white nationalist politicians and leaders and to give them the benefit of the doubt while they are attacking marginalized communities,” says Chastain. “And that’s just blatantly hypocritical.”
He and other exvangelicals in his social networks are also turned off by the Trump alliance. “The fact is that leaders like [Dallas megachurch leader and Trump supporter] Robert Jeffress and Jerry Falwell Jr. are blatantly power hungry and willing to make these alliances, providing a theology that supports white nationalism.”
Some major evangelical leaders and thinkers, not surprisingly, reject this assessment. Ed Stetzer, a political scientist and pastor based at Wheaton College, knows all about the predictions of researchers like Jones, and he is aware of the views of young people. But he sees evangelical youth attrition as a kind of demographic sowing of wild oats, in which the young are predictably disaffected—but only temporarily. He is sure they will return to the fold when they are a little older. His name for the phenomenon is “generational cohort replacement.”
Stetzer says the young who move away from the fold essentially replace themselves in the church as an older, and more likely to vote, category. “The 18 to 29-year-olds are really secular now,” he says. “But what we find is that people grow in their religiosity. So the 60-year-olds of today are kind of as religious as the 60-year-olds in the 1970s.”