The Evangelicals: What They Believe, Where They Are, and Their Politics

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Rather, they exemplify current trends in American political life around race and difference, only in a more intense way. Evangelicals embody U. Progressives often express horror at the deep conservatism of white evangelicals, but they fail to note that this conservatism is not only a function of religion. In my book, which included analysis from a survey my colleagues and I conducted of more than 10, people, I show that support for Trump was higher among non- evangelical whites than among evangelical black, Latino, or Asian Americans.

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This fact shows that conservative political attitudes are not just a function of religion. They are, perhaps mostly, a function of race. Further, while Asian American evangelicals tend to exhibit more religiosity in terms of church attendance and fundamentalist ideas about Christianity than white evangelicals, they are much less conservative than white evangelicals on issues ranging from climate change to health care reform.

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Less than 10 percent of Asian American evangelicals oppose the government doing more to combat climate change, versus nearly 30 percent of white evangelicals. White evangelicals oppose the federal government guaranteeing health care at nearly twice the rate of Asian American evangelicals. Similarly, Latino evangelicals tend to be more conservative on abortion than white evangelicals, but much less likely to support Trump or a Republican House member.

We had lower jobs, less pay. We were part of that. The racial divides among evangelicals in the United States are strong and persistent across many issues. Black, Latino, and Asian American evangelicals were not only less likely to support Trump in , they are much more progressive than white evangelicals on taxing the rich and providing federal funding to aid the poor. Non-white evangelicals diverge even more starkly from white evangelicals when it comes to immigration and race in the United States.

At the same time, I found that white evangelicals were reluctant to acknowledge or talk about race. After ably summarizing why the Religious Right became predominant from the s into the twenty-first century, Bruenig concludes by wondering if the tides might be changing. She suggests that the disillusionment of many evangelicals with President George W.

I doubt it, at least in the politicized framework in which Bruenig asks the question. Despite the modest success and influence of progressive evangelicals on specific issues, the contemporary evangelical left has not been a prominent political force. Their discomfort with both the Republican and Democratic parties—neither of which show any signs of becoming more amenable to progressive evangelicals—limits such possibilities.

Bruenig nostalgically looks to Jimmy Carter as an example, but it is hard to imagine a politician like him succeeding in the current political landscape.

The Political Legacy of Progressive Evangelicals | Sojourners

In addition, the evangelical left is in a phase of transition that may undermine its potential and coherence. Changes in leadership are occurring, as two of the most recognizable figures—Ron Sider and Tony Campolo—recently retired. Perhaps most important, the issue of same-sex marriage has become a divisive one.

Until recently, most progressive evangelicals supported gay civil rights but also argued that Christian communities and the government should restrict marriage to heterosexual couples. In the last two years, however, several prominent leaders—including Jim Wallis, David Gushee, and Tony Campolo—have changed their minds and affirmed covenantal same-sex marriages. These decisions have further diminished their credibility among conservatives and alienated potential allies among moderate evangelicals.

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There are indeed clear signs that more and more evangelicals—especially younger generations—believe that they have a responsibility to work for social justice. In that sense, one could argue that a progressive impulse within evangelicalism is on the rise. Yet it is unclear if this progressive impulse will translate into greater support for left-leaning politics.

While I suspect that the evangelical left will remain a vocal faction, I am skeptical that progressive evangelicalism will soon regain the type of influence that it had in the nineteenth century. Skip to main content. By using sojo. Magazine Current Issue Write for Sojourners. Subscribe Magazine Preaching the Word Newsletters. More than anything else, identifying as an evangelical in the United States denotes certain attitudes about American politics and usually indicates a white racial identity. American evangelicalism emerged in the transatlantic revival movements of the midth century, led by evangelists like Jonathan Edwards, George Whitefield, Sarah Osborn, and John Wesley.

These denominations, drawing on the revivalist tradition, prized emotional conversion experiences, which became normative for a wide swath of American Protestants. The success of evangelicalism was such that by the end of the 19th century nearly all Protestants claimed the label. Even Unitarians called themselves evangelical. In , Unitarian minister L.

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  5. Walter Mason wrote that Unitarians were more evangelical than the theological conservatives, who spent far too much time poring over the Pauline epistles and the creeds. Unitarians, he said, focused on the good news itself: the teachings of Jesus found in the Gospels.

    Evangelicalism as a Middle Path

    By the dawn of the 20th century, evangelical denoted a faith focused on the teachings of the Bible—and on this issue nearly all Protestant groups claimed they were more evangelical than everyone else. The Civil War revealed the fault lines of the movement.

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    As historian Mark Noll demonstrates in The Civil War as a Theological Crisis , race and region divided evangelicals on the paramount question of the day: Does the Bible endorse slavery? White southern evangelicals thought it did, while growing numbers of their northern counterparts thought not.

    The center of evangelicalism did not—could not—hold. The sectional crisis and Civil War divided American Protestants regionally and racially into three groups: northern white Protestants, southern white Protestants, and black Protestants. Black Protestants, located overwhelmingly in the South, left white churches in droves during the 15 years after the end of the war, and they founded scores of new denominations, seminaries, and colleges.

    The largest white Protestant denominations had split in the lead-up to the Civil War and did not reunify until the midth century in the case of the Methodists or the late 20th century in the case of the Presbyterians. Northern and southern Baptists have never reunified. Each of these groups considered themselves evangelical well into the 20th century, but after the Civil War the regional groups took different trajectories.

    The near-absence of black believers in white churches was the condition for the development of a distinctly white evangelicalism. When the African American journalist Ida B. Like many of her white evangelical compatriots, Willard could not see how her religious views centered on whiteness.

    What Does the Term 'Evangelical' Really Mean? Here are 10 Things to Know

    Though African American believers largely shared the biblical and theological views of white Protestants, white and black Christians did not worship together or view the world or the faith in the same way. The racial segregation of American Protestantism facilitated deeper commingling of racist beliefs with evangelical religion. Allegations of sexual impropriety doomed thousands of black men to extralegal killings, committed by white vigilantes in the name of honor and Christian faith. Racism was not confined to southern evangelicalism.

    Henry Crowell, chairman of the board of Moody Bible Institute in Chicago, backed off from his early commitment to interracial education around the turn of the century. As historian Timothy Gloege has shown, Crowell wanted MBI to become more professional, and the cost of that professionalization was complicity with Jim Crow segregation.

    Religion and Politics

    He began conducting revivals and recruiting students in the South, signaling his commitment to Jim Crow by segregating his crusades and deploying crude racist imagery. MBI forced black students to live off campus beginning in , claiming that interracial dormitories were embarrassing to the institution and dangerous for the students. Among white Protestants, the early 20th century was marked by the struggle between fundamentalists and modernists over issues such as the authority of scripture and evolution.

    Theological conservatives adopted the term fundamentalist to describe their commitment to what they deemed the fundamentals of the faith. The two factions battled for control of denominations and seminaries. As modernists slowly gained control over established institutions, fundamentalists left to form their own, leading to the creation of a sprawling fundamentalist subculture.

    In the s, a new generation of white fundamentalists began to reclaim the term evangelical to mark a more open, less defensive stance toward mainstream culture. The National Association of Evangelicals was formed in , the same decade as other transdenominational parachurch organizations like Youth for Christ, InterVarsity Christian Fellowship, and World Vision were started. Graham grew up in the South and started his college education at Bob Jones College, the leading institution of southern fundamentalists.

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