Commentary

Of all the various surveys and polls I’ve seen leading up to today’s election, one was the most disheartening and depressing: The 2018 American Values Survey by the Public Religion Research Institute. While examining voters’ attitudes on a wide range of issues facing the electorate, most revealing are the views of white evangelicals. This constitutes nothing short of moral and ethical indictment, documenting with irrefutable evidence the failure of this group to embody many values of the gospel they confess.

Here is a summary of these findings:

  • White evangelicals are the only religious group with more than half (54 percent) believing that the U.S. becoming a “majority of minorities” in racial diversity by 2045 is a negative thing. Two-thirds of all Americans say this is a good thing.
  • White evangelicals are the only religious group with a majority (51 percent) favoring a law preventing refugees from entering the country. Only 37 percent of the country supports this.
  • White evangelicals are the only religious group with a majority (57 percent) saying immigrants threaten American customs and values. Hispanic and black Christians, as well as the religiously unaffiliated, say immigrants strengthen society.Scrolldown Anchor
  • White evangelicals display the strongest support, 70 percent, for a travel ban of those from some Muslim countries while the country is evenly divided.
  • White evangelicals are the only religious group saying that churches are handling issues of sexual harassment well.
  • White evangelicals are more likely than any other group to say that the killing of black men by police are isolated incidents (70 percent), while only 32 percent of Hispanic protestants and 15 percent of black protestants agree.
  • White evangelicals are the least likely (26 percent) to think that President Trump’s words and actions have encouraged white supremacist groups, while 54 percent of all Americans and 75 percent of black Protestants believe that is the case.
  • Less than half of white evangelicals think that Trump has damaged the dignity of the presidency, compared to two-thirds of other religious groups and 70 percent of the country at large.

White mainline Protestants and white Catholics are not exempt from this indictment. While their views are not as pronounced as white evangelicals on these issues, they are not far behind.

The Republican Party, because of President Trump, has become the party of white identity. Echoing the president of the United States, many GOP candidates decided that demonizing others — liberals, immigrants, the media, and others — is their best strategy for winning, and they have done so without a moral blink of the eye. But Trump’s strategy of exploiting racial fears and lies while demonizing immigrants as key to projecting a nativist, white nationalism would be politically impotent without the support of white evangelicals. The facts in this survey make this clear.

Several religious leaders, former and present, had the opportunity to discuss these findings yesterday with Robby Jones, head of PRRI. We probed for places of hope, finding few. If the Democrats win 35 seats and take back the House of Representatives, none of these findings will be changed. This we know: White evangelicals are proving to be far more white than evangelical. They are failing the major moral test of our time. One clear result is that those in the younger generation are walking away from the white evangelical world in droves, and most seem to be leaving any religious affiliation all together.

Exceptions can and should be celebrated. But the main lesson from this data is that the white evangelical world has failed catastrophically to teach and nurture discipleship that meaningfully engages the issues of our society around race, immigration, and national identity with the values of the gospel. I share this all with a measure of deep grief. White evangelicalism is the tribe I was born into, and nurtured me. While I've become more ecumenical, I've valued fellowship with these brothers and sisters. But the truth must be faced by us all. The rest of the white Christian world, according to this data, has not done much better. Election returns tonight, one way or another, won’t change this. Like in the era when Bonhoeffer lived and was executed, the integrity of Christian faith in the public square is at stake. With him, Christians must ask, “Who is Jesus Christ for us today?”

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