EVANGELICALS WRESTLE WITH FAITH AND POLITICS HEADING INTO 2020 ELECTIONS
Aaron Earls – September 26, 2019
Raúl Nájera photo | UnsplashBy Aaron Earls
Most American evangelicals believe Jesus’ Golden Rule—“Do unto others as you would have them do unto you”—applies to politics. Some, however, see the political realm leading up to the 2020 elections as no place for niceness, according to a new study.
A LifeWay Research study sponsored by the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention (ERLC) explored the perspectives of American evangelicals on civility, politics, media consumption and how likely they are to engage with views different from their own.
“The results of this polling project were occasionally encouraging, frequently surprising and in some cases very much indicting,” said Russell Moore, president of the ERLC. “What this polling clearly shows is that there are forces driving the church apart from one another. That shouldn’t surprise us. But it should convict us.”
MOST EVANGELICALS VALUE CIVILITY
Two in 3 Americans with evangelical beliefs (66%) believe being civil in political conversations is productive, with 22% dissenting and 12% not sure.
Around 8 in 10 (82%) say their faith influences how they engage others politically.
Many evangelicals by belief say they give others the benefit of the doubt but are frequently assumed to be attacking those with whom they disagree.
While 58% say they tend to believe those who disagree with them have good motivations, 54% say when they disagree with someone politically, the other person tends to take it as a personal attack.
Less than half (42%) say they have expressed public disapproval of political allies for using what respondents recognized as unacceptable words or actions.
A third (33%) admit that when someone with their political beliefs is accused of wrongdoing, they typically respond by citing examples of wrongdoing by the other side.
Around a quarter (26%) say they tend to believe insulting personal remarks made by political leaders who share their ideology toward opponents are justified.
Fewer (16%) say they are okay with political leaders bending the truth if it helps influence people to adopt what they consider good political views.
The tendency in some to embrace dishonesty and uncivil actions or at least leave them unchallenged may stem from evangelicals seeing their political opponents as dangerous.
Almost 3 in 5 evangelicals by belief (58%) say that if those with whom they disagree politically are able to implement their agenda, “our democracy will be in danger.”
“Evangelicals, like many Americans, simplify politics to being more about sticking up for your party than finding the best solutions to our nation’s problems,” said Scott McConnell, executive director of LifeWay Research.
POLITICAL PREFERENCES IN 2016 AND BEYOND
Half of evangelicals by belief identify with the Republican party and a majority of those that voted in 2016 say they did so for Donald Trump.
Overall, 48% identify as a Republican, 31% as a Democrat and 21% as an independent or something else beyond the two major political parties.
In 2016, 78% of evangelicals by belief say they voted in the general election. Among those who cast a ballot, 62% say they cast it for Donald Trump, 31% for Hillary Clinton and 7% for another candidate.
Those percentages, however, vary significantly when examining church attendance, gender, race and age.
Voting Americans with evangelical beliefs who attend church at least once a week are more likely to say they cast their ballot for Trump (65%) than those who attend less frequently (55%).
White evangelicals by belief say they voted overwhelmingly for Trump (80%), while black evangelicals by belief were solidly behind Clinton (82%). Hispanic evangelical voters say they were more split—47% Clinton, 48% Trump.
Evangelical men more heavily favored Trump over Clinton (69% to 24%). Women still preferred Trump but by a smaller majority (57% to 37%).
When considering age, the older an evangelical is, the more likely they are to say they voted for Trump. Three-fourths of evangelicals by belief who are at least 65 years old backed Trump over Clinton (74% to 22%), while 18- to 34-year-old evangelicals were essentially split (47% for Trump, 49% for Clinton).
Similar generational divides happen when evaluating political party identification. The older an evangelical is, the more likely they are to identify as a Republican.
Among evangelicals by belief 65 and older, Republicans outnumber Democrats 3-to-1 (60% Republicans, 20% Democrats, 20% neither). Among 18- to -34-year-olds, however, 37% say they are Democrats, 35% Republicans and 27% neither.
A 2017 LifeWay Research study found political disagreements played a role in many churchgoing teenagers dropping out of church as young adults.
“Evangelical pastors must recognize that political diversity frequently is present within churches,” said McConnell. “If civility across these differences is not actively fostered, it can hurt the mission of the church. This has already been evident as many young adults point to political differences as a reason they stop attending church.”
When asked which three public policy concerns are most important to them, evangelicals by belief today are more likely to choose issues like healthcare (51%), the economy (46%), national security (40%) or immigration (39%), than issues like religious liberty (33%), abortion (29%), providing for the needy (22%) or addressing racial division (21%).
Only half of evangelicals by belief (51%) say they will only support a candidate who wants to make abortion illegal, less than the percentage whose support is dependent on the candidate demonstrating personal integrity (85%), making fighting poverty a priority (71%), being a Christian (70%), making the individual’s life better (69%) or fighting racial injustice (67%).
Around 1 in 12 (8%) say they are single-issue voters, while 80% say their support for a candidate depends on several issues.
Regardless of their partisan issues or presidential vote, a majority of evangelicals want scriptural support for their political positions.
Four in 5 (80%) say the Bible informs their political views. Similar numbers (81%) say they look for biblical principles to apply in evaluating political issues.
Only 37%, however, say they have ever recognized a need to change some of their political opinions because they were in conflict with the Bible.
Most say prominent Christian leaders have influenced their political views (58%). Similarly, 57% of evangelicals by belief who attend church at least monthly say the teachings of their local church have had an impact on their political ideology.
“When it comes to politics, the Bible is not a single-issue book. Scripture addresses all of life’s issues from God’s perspective,” said McConnell. “Evangelicals are wrestling with how to best apply those biblical principles to the often messy world of politics.”
ECHO CHAMBER FOR NEWS, BUT NOT RELATIONSHIPS
Most evangelicals by belief say they have friendships beyond their demographic circle, but when it comes to the source of their news, they’d prefer it be someone with whom they agree.
Almost 3 in 5 (58%) say they have someone they consider a close friend who has very different political views. Most (54%) say the same about someone with a very different household income. Almost half have a close friend with a very different level of formal education (49%), from a different ethnicity (48%) or with very different religious beliefs (46%).
Still, around half (53%) say they trust news more if it is delivered by people who have similar thoughts on social and political issues.
Evangelicals by belief primarily get their news from television (74%), which far outpaces websites (44%), social media (38%), radio (33%), print newspapers or magazines (27%), YouTube (19%) or blogs (7%).
When getting their news from television, evangelicals are most often watching local news (59%) or Fox News (47%). Four in 10 say they regularly watch NBC (40%) or CBS (38%) to get their news. A quarter turn to CNN (27%). Few say they watch MSNBC (13%) or CNBC (8%).
Similarly, when they are consuming news online, evangelicals by belief turn to Fox News (40%) and local TV news sites (32%). Around a quarter go to websites for CNN (25%), Google News (25%), Yahoo News (24%), ABC News (23%) or NBC News (20%).
Fewer turn to the websites of major newspapers like Washington Post (16%), New York Times (15%), USA Today (13%) or Wall Street Journal (9%), or international outlets like BBC (10%). Exclusively digital news sources like Huffington Post (13%), Buzzfeed (10%), Drudge Report (7%), Breitbart (5%) and The Blaze (4%) also garner few evangelicals by belief.
When it comes to social media, Facebook and YouTube are the dominant platforms among evangelicals by belief.
Around 3 in 4 use Facebook at least every few weeks (77%), with half (49%) using it several times a day. Seven in 10 are regular users of YouTube (70%), with a quarter on the streaming video site several times a day (24%).
Far fewer regularly use Instagram (34%), Pinterest (32%), Twitter (26%), LinkedIn (19%) or Snapchat (19%).
Among those who are on social media, close to half of evangelicals by belief (48%) say they prefer to follow people who have similar social and political views, while 37% disagree.
Despite turning to TV and social media for news most often, most evangelicals say those two sources are harming public discourse.
Around 3 in 5 (62%) say social media has a negative impact on the respectfulness of public debates. Half say the same about television (52%), websites (51%) and blogs (51%). Fewer place the blame on newspapers and magazines (40%) or radio (37%).
“You can’t practice demonstrating civility by dialoguing only with those who share your views,” said McConnell. “The respect needed for civility can start with valuing and engaging people who don’t share your views.”
Moore said he hopes the project will be an impetus to unify Christians and help them to better love one another and stand together.
“Biblical courage means being willing to stand alone, against a crowd,” he said. “But biblical unity means those who are in Christ should never be forced to stand alone or against those who also bear the name of Christ.”
AARON EARLS (@WardrobeDoor)is online editor of Facts & Trends.
For more information on this study, visit LifeWayResearch.com, or view the complete research report,prediction analysisor the ERLC Faith and Healthy Democracy report.
Abortion and the Church
Brian Fisher, Human Coalition
Every January, pro-life legislators in Washington introduce token legislation they know won’t pass.
Some churches across the country remind their congregations of the sanctity of human life from the pulpit; while others tentatively print something about abortion in their church bulletins, hoping the calendar quickly turns to February. Most churches, of course, avoid the topic of abortion entirely, instead of focusing on the new year; updated capital campaigns; and sermon topics on grace, compassion, mercy, and justice – all while the willful slaughter of 3,000 preborn children continues to occur day after day after day.
Meanwhile, those who are pro-abortion continue to vehemently work to further disregard life both inside and outside of the womb. A prime example of this is the governor of New York ordering the lights on the One World Trade Center and other landmarks be changed to pink to celebrate his newly signed legislation that allows abortion up until birth.
The outcry from Christian leaders, denominations, and megachurch pastors in response to New York’s death legislation has been virtually nonexistent. A few Catholic bishops in New York responded with dismay, though I have yet to see any meaningful backup support from Christian leaders in New York or anywhere else. Most well-known Christian leaders remain eerily silent on abortion. The complacency of the Church is evident.
The events of recent history serve as a grim reminder of the overall silence of Christian leaders regarding the greatest genocide in American history. While I realize some churches passionately and regularly address abortion from a biblical perspective, the vast majority of Christian communities pretend it doesn’t exist.
And so, we must continue to ask:
If the Christian worldview is foundational to the pro-life ethic, then why do many church leaders stubbornly refuse to blink an eye in the face of 1 million image-bearers of God being destroyed every year and within eyeshot of our church buildings?
After years spent working to inform and educate churches about the abortion genocide in America, I’ve found that fear and ignorance partially drive our silence. Some churches are afraid to talk about abortion for fear of being perceived as political or abrasive. Others are ill-informed – they have little understanding about what abortion is or its massive death toll over the past 46 years. And a large number of churches are doctrinally pro-abortion, ignoring Scripture, ethics, and fundamental morality altogether.
Yet in recent years, I’ve observed an even deeper, more insidious reason for the Church’s silence: Christians are not convicted by the truth that the preborn child has the same intrinsic value as those of us already born. If we did, our actions would align with this belief.
Every single aborted child is a human being with inherent value, “created equal, endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable rights.” A zygote has the same value as an adult and is therefore worthy of the same protections, rights, and securities.
This belief is founded and grounded in the Christian faith. It is impossible to overstate the importance of this fact. The centrality of the pro-life worldview is that we are each of inestimable, equal value because we are handcrafted by a loving Creator, and we are made in His image. We are valuable because God instills that value in each one of us.
One can be pro-life and not be Christian, of course. However, the Christian worldview recognizes the value of the human race to the extent that the Creator came and rescued His own creation through His death and resurrection.
The fact that God came to rescue His own human creation is enough to firmly and forever form a concrete pro-life ethic. Yet HOW God came to rescue us cements the pro-life ethic even further. He came as one of us. He came to earth as a zygote. God, the Author of life, came to earth through the very process He authored to create human life. Every person who claims belief in Christ should marvel and be awestruck at this scriptural truth. Humans are valuable, and God affirmed it most miraculously when He came to earth as one of us.
Because the pro-life ethic is grounded in Christianity, those who follow Christ are uniquely motivated in our reason for believing in and our passionate defense of the value of all humanity. In addition, the undeniable fact that the preborn and born have the same value should require all of us to act according to our beliefs.
Abortion and the Church, Part 2: Our Calling to End Abortion is Urgent
Brian Fisher, Human Coalition
Last month on the blog, we confronted the reality that it’s our job as believers to end abortion. Today, I want to explore why it’s also urgentthat we end abortion.
Practically speaking, our faith demands that we rescue a preborn child with the same urgency and effectiveness that we would rescue a 5-year-old kindergartener. If both are equally valuable to God, then they are equally valuable to us as His people, and our behavior must align with our belief.
Imagine a society that allows toddlers to be killed
Just picture for a moment an America in which it is legal to kill children up to age 5 for any reason. In this selfish, dystopian society, parents would have the option to kill their kids through doctors and large healthcare corporations. Politicians would continue to take up sides – one claiming that killing toddlers is murder, the other claiming that parents have more value (and therefore more rights) than their children do. They would claim that giving parents the option to kill their toddlers is necessary for their welfare and health.
Imagine if we killed 3,000 toddlers every day in the name of choice and parenting rights.
Let’s pose some questions about our churches in this dystopian society:
Would your church refuse to teach and preach on the killing, citing the slaughter of toddlers as a “political issue”?
Would your church refuse to teach and preach on the killing, not wanting to offend anyone or scare off “seekers”?
Would your church refuse to teach and preach on the killing, citing the separation of church and state?
Would your church refuse to teach and preach on the killing, afraid of offending parents in the congregation who had made the choice to kill their own toddler?
Would your church be okay with the killing, as long as the toddlers who were killed were products of rape or incest?
Would your church claim that other ministries take greater priority than rescuing toddlers?
Would your church rescue toddlers even if the parents didn’t want the children and were legally allowed to kill them?
Would your church refuse to be involved in any rescue operations, claiming that doing so is “not a customary act of our church”?
Would your church refuse to use, show, or display pictures of murdered toddlers, not wanting to upset members of the congregation?
Would your church simply deny the killings were going on?
Toddlers and the preborn have the same value
If you read those questions and answer them as any biblical Christian would, then you would rightfully claim that your church would drop everything and rush to rescue as many toddlers as they could. They would reject political arguments; they would prioritize rescuing toddlers over every other work or expense of the church; and they would boldly, consistently teach and preach on the urgent, moral priority to end the killing.
And so we are left with a profoundly disturbing question:
If God values the preborn child and the toddler the same, then why do our churches NOT respond to abortion as they would to the killing of toddlers?
Again, I believe that despite the fact that God values the preborn and the born equally, we do not. Our behavior is not in line with our beliefs. In fact, many churches value preborn children the same way our culture does – they consider them to be worthless.
Scripture is replete with passages commanding us to rescue and save the weak, the oppressed, the vulnerable, the downtrodden. And yet we turn a blind eye to the most victimized, most oppressed, most downtrodden people group in American history – children in the womb and their mothers.
If we do believe that life in the womb is as precious as life outside of the womb, then our beliefs must align with our behavior. People in the church must not only raise their voices in opposition to the abortion genocide, but they must also do everything in their power to rush to rescue the preborn from imminent death
Abortion and the Church, Part 3: Is Ending Abortion One of God’s Pressing Moral Priorities?
Brian Fisher, Human Coalition
Is it one of ours?Is rescuing children from abortion more important than other vital ministries of the Church?Is it more important than homeless ministry, marriage counseling, or capital campaigns?The answer is yes. Let’s say you’re walking down the street. On one corner you see a child being beaten to death by an assailant. On the other, you see a married couple having an argument. Which situation would you run to first? Every sane person would rush to rescue the child.
This is called moral priority. Scripture teaches, and we instinctively know, that some situations are more important than others. If 500 children are being killed every year within two miles of a church building, it is morally more important for the church to stop the killings than do other important work.
Apart from leading people to faith in Christ (which is the greatest moral priority, because eternity is obviously longer than the temporal), there isn’t a more pressing act of a church than to stop the killing of innocent children. That isn’t to say that other works aren’t good (i.e., homeless ministry, premarital counseling, etc.). But other works should not take precedence over rescuing innocent human beings from oppression, victimization, and death.
Q: But a church isn’t necessarily a social justice intervention group. Isn’t the church designed for instruction, corporate worship, sacraments, etc.? Are they set up to serve as a human rescue mission?A: That’s debatable. Some churches are directly and effectively involved in all sorts of justice work, from foster child advocacy to human trafficking rescue, from maternity homes for abused moms to pregnancy centers. And many churches confine their work to acts of worship and teaching.
That being the case, if 5-year-olds were being killed within steps of a church door, wouldn’t that church be aggressively involved in some manner? Would they at least teach and preach on it until the killing stopped? Would they encourage and aggressively support congregational efforts to stop the killing, even if the efforts weren’t official church programs? If those 5-year-olds have the same moral value as preborn children, then why wouldn’t a church respond in the same way?
Q: But there are systems already in place to rescue human beings. Firefighters rescue victims of fires. Ambulatory services and emergency rooms exist to rescue people in health crises. Why should a church change its focus so much to engage the abortion genocide?A: The simplest answer is, “Who else is going to do it?” Why would we expect secular institutions to adopt a worldview based on Christianity at this point in history? Throughout time, Christians have established rescue and transformative institutions to reach, rescue, and restore human beings. Hospitals, educational institutions, mental health facilities, natural disaster relief efforts – there are thousands of examples of rescue efforts started and run by Christians when others failed to do so. Many of them are now normalized in our culture. We no longer need to defend why education and proper medical care are so important.
At this time in history, however, preborn children are the most discriminated people in America. And because their value is grounded in Christianity, Christians should lead the charge for equality and restoration.
Christians must boldly, courageously commit themselves to end abortion in America and around the world. If we won’t do it, the genocide will continue unabated.Q: What about being sensitive to the people in their congregations who’ve had an abortion or, in your dystopian example, killed their toddlers? Won’t churches upset them if they continually talk about the killing?A: I’ve heard this explanation numerous times, and I’ve concluded it’s a smokescreen in most cases. Church leaders use their congregation’s feelings as a way to avoid the topic.
First, the cross of Christ is bigger than the sin of abortion. Any church can have a profoundly positive and healing impact on its congregation by regularly preaching and teaching about forgiveness and restoration through Christ for those who’ve aborted their children.
Second, those Christians who’ve aborted and repented don’t want ANYONE else to abort. Knowing firsthand the grief and devastation of abortion, post-abortive people want nothing more than to be involved and to spare others from the pain they’ve experienced. Out of compassion and hope for other people, post-abortive men and women desperately want churches to be overwhelmingly involved in ending the killing.
Third, if your church doesn’t upset you on occasion, then you should find a new church. The Gospel can be difficult, offensive, and tough at times. If we aren’t challenged, provoked, and disturbed by what we are being taught, then we aren’t hearing the Word of God.
Fourth, saving a child is more morally pressing than trying to avoid upsetting a congregant.
I once heard a lead pastor, whom I deeply respect, explain why he wouldn’t preach on abortion from the pulpit. He didn’t want to bring up an emotionally charged topic that would drive people away before they had a chance to hear the Gospel.
As much as I respect this pastor, his reasoning is wrong. If he truly believes the preborn and born have the same value, and if thousands of God’s image-bearers are being murdered every year just steps away from his church, then he would have preached on it with regularity and would have set up rescue operations for local families. Yes, he would have upset some visitors, but he also would have saved countless humans from death. Would he have ruined some people’s chances to hear the Gospel? Perhaps.
But everyone who walked into his church later walked out alive – giving them future opportunities to hear the Gospel. The preborn in his neighborhood had no such opportunity.