World Magazine

Debate continues: These evangelical insiders think Trump era creates a 'crisis' for the faith

Debate continues: These evangelical insiders think Trump era creates a 'crisis' for the faith

The conservative Christian news magazine World led off its 2017 wrap-up piece with the onrushing sexual harassment protests.  

Writer Mindy Belz linked America’s sexual squalor with the Barack Obama Administration's pushes for mandated birth-control coverage and legalized gay marriage. But she also blamed the election of President Donald Trump, known for a “long tally of sexual misconduct allegations and undisclosed settlements,” and a video that “bragged pointedly about sexual assault.”

Americans “seemed to be acquiescing to such behavior in the halls of power,” Belz wrote, including evangelicals who massively chose Trump over Hillary Clinton. Considering such sexual drift, pundits couldn’t anticipate that “the Trump era would usher in a season of national sexual reckoning.”  

Her observations are a glimpse of what’s called the “crisis” for U.S. evangelicalism in an anthology set for Jan. 23 release: “Still Evangelical?: Ten Insiders Reconsider Political, Social, and Theological Meaning” (InterVarsity Press), edited by Fuller Theological Seminary President Mark Labberton.

Labberton’s lament: “Evangelicalism in America has cracked, split on the shoals of the 2016 presidential election and its aftermath, leaving many wondering  if they want to be in or out of the evangelical tribe.”

“Still Evangelical?” provides a handy hook for reporters who have yet to examine the paradox of Trump’s evangelical support, why that occurs, its impact upon movement prospects and the reasons some want to junk the vague “evangelical” label as misleading and embarrassing.

The book can also guide political writers who have trouble comprehending what the book calls “arguably one of [American Christianity’s] most vibrant and determined movements.”

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The Atlantic comes oh so close to examining the painful Trump divide among evangelicals today

The Atlantic comes oh so close to examining the painful Trump divide among evangelicals today

Yes, I am using the Master and Commander weevils video clip, once again.

Why? I still think if offers a cheerful take on the bitter, agonizing, real-life decisions that many religious conservatives have had to make while coping with the rise of Donald Trump.

I bring this up because of a new essay in The Atlantic that, for a moment, I thought was going to dig into the mainstream-press obsession with the 80 percent of white evangelicals "just love" Trump thing. Of course, if you have been reading evangelical publications over the last year or so -- such as World and (here we go again) Christianity Today -- you know the reality is more complex than that.

The Atlantic headline, on another must-read essay by Emma Green, proclaims: "Evangelicals Are Bitterly Split Over Advising Trump."

The hole in the story is suggested in the headline. This piece is really about the behind-the-scenes debates about the work of Trump's evangelical advisory group. Yes, evangelicals are debating the wisdom of old-guard evangelicals standing up for this president, no matter what he says or does. But the larger issue is that many evangelicals, including many who voted for the man, remain divided over whether he is qualified to be president or to remain as president.

So why are Jerry Falwell, Jr., and the Rev. Robert Jeffress doing that thing that they do? These two Christian conservatives, and others, are given a chance to say what they have to say. Then there is this crucial summary:

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Evil choices vs. lesser evils vs. idealistic third-party dreams and other 2016 ghosts

Evil choices vs. lesser evils vs. idealistic third-party dreams and other 2016 ghosts

You may recall a recent post in which our own Bobby Ross, Jr., was happy to see The New York Times produce a real, live, freakin' news feature in which it was made perfectly clear that there are evangelicals out in the American heartland who are not amused by facing a choice between Citizen Donald Trump and Hillary Rodham Clinton.

It was a strong story over at the Times. If you missed it the first time, circle back and check it out.

This was, of course, a return of the whole "lesser of two evils" theme that your GetReligionistas have been writing about for months. The fact that many religious traditionalists -- especially those in pulpits, seminaries and other places of leadership -- were in the #NeverTrump and #NeverHillary camp was no surprise to people who read publications such as World Magazine and Christianity Today, newsrooms that have covered this painful divide since Day 1.

In the comments section on Bobby's much-circulated post, I added the following (which I have cleaned up a bit for clarity). To be blunt, it was good to see the Times piece, but:

News media in early primaries say: Evangelicals love Trump! GetReligion: Some do, but very few leaders. Serious division here!
News media as Trump surges to lead: Evangelicals love Trump! GetReligion: A few more are biting their lips and moving that direction, but they are mad as heck to have to do it. Some are mad at God about it.
News media as Trump gets nomination: Evangelicals love Trump! GetReligion: Hello? Hello? Anyone out there?
The New York Times, as Trump and Clinton in near tie: Evangelicals seriously divided over Trump. Some are really angry about this. Despair is a good word.
Sigh.

"Crossroads" host Todd Wilken and I worked our way through this timely thicket again in this week's podcast.

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Why hire experienced religion-beat scribes? The goal is to get the top sources, right?

Why hire experienced religion-beat scribes? The goal is to get the top sources, right?

Time for a religion-beat flashback to a few short months ago. Does anyone remember when most of the mainstream press was absolutely sure that Donald Trump was the darling of evangelical voters from sea to shining sea? Click here for some background on that.

The only problem, of course, is that the GOP field was (and is) so gigantic that the evangelical vote was split a dozen different ways and Trump's modestly large chunk consisted primarily of born-again folks who rarely visited pews. And then there was that interesting WORLD magazine poll of evangelical leaders that found Trump at the bottom of the barrel. I mean, even NPR spotted that poll.

Now, with real, live caucuses and primaries still in the future, the state of mind among evangelical voters remains a crucial variable for Republicans. Ask Sen. Ted Cruz and Sen. Marco Rubio.

This brings me to an important new Washington Post piece that ran under the headline, "Evangelical leaders are frantically looking for ways to defeat Donald Trump."

Now, your GetReligionistas rarely critique the work of former GetReligionistas. However, it's hard to avoid mentioning one of our former colleagues when she goes to work in a setting as prominent as the Post. So let's just consider this report from Sarah Pulliam Bailey a kind of weekend think piece, to help update readers on the whole Trump-and-evangelicals thing. You can also consider this a promotional piece to to show newsroom managers why they should hire experienced religion-beat professionals.

Now, here's what I want you to do. I want you to read this Post story and then answer this question: What was the most shocking sentence in this report?

OK. Read the story.

Now, are you done? Read to answer the question?

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Shocking! NPR talks to actual evangelical leaders about Donald Trump and ...

Shocking! NPR talks to actual evangelical leaders about Donald Trump and ...

Talk about a bad headline! What do you think when you read a headline like this one on the National Public Radio website? A recent "It's All Politics" feature proclaimed: "True Believer? Why Donald Trump Is The Choice Of The Religious Right."

For starters, the "Religious Right" label says more than "evangelical voters." It implies that top leaders on the moral right are jumping onto the Trump mini-bandwagon (with 30-plus percent in polls) in the swarm of GOP White House candidates. It implies, at the very least, that some leaders of big evangelical organizations -- think Concerned Women for America or groups linked to the Southern Baptist Convention -- must be offering muted praise for Trump.

Thus, I assume that this NPR feature was simply the latest in a mainstream media wave linking the vague term "evangelical" with Trump's early surge, a trend I wrote about in a recent "On Religion" column for the Universal syndicate (and the "Crossroads" podcast is here).

That's kind of how this NPR report began, with more of the same old same old.

... Trump is winning over Christian conservatives in the current Republican presidential primary. That's right -- the candidate currently leading among the most faith-filled voters is a twice-divorced casino mogul, who isn't an active member of any church, once supported abortion rights, has a history of crass language -- and who says he's never asked God's forgiveness for any of it.
If that sounds like an Onion story, it's not. His blunt talk against a broken political system in a country rank-and-file evangelicals believe is veering away from its traditional cultural roots is connecting. He pledges to "Make America Great Again," a positive spin on the similar Tea Party refrain of "Take Our Country Back."
That redeeming message -- and his tough talk on immigration, foreign policy and the Republican establishment -- is quite literally trumping traditional evangelical concerns about a candidate's morality or religious beliefs.

Note that the report claims that Trump is "winning over Christian conservatives," as opposed to winning with some Christian conservatives at the local level.

So what does the rest of this NPR report actually show?

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Talking Trump & God, in a tall building in the Big Apple that Trump doesn't own

Talking Trump & God, in a tall building in the Big Apple that Trump doesn't own

So are you had your fill of talking about God and Donald Trump?

I realize that I wrote an "On Religion" column for the Universal syndicate about the alleged armies of evangelicals who think The Donald is the candidate blessed by God to get this nation back on the path to something or another, something EPIC, something GREAT, again.

Then we did a GetReligion podcast on this subject (click here to listen) and then I turned around and backed that with a GetReligion post offering more background. It was all pretty shameless.

Then I came to New York City to spend two weeks teaching at The King's College, the home of the rebooted version of the full-semester student journalism program that I ran for years in Washington, D.C. We are at Broadway and Wall Street and, thus, around a corner or two from, you got it, the Trump Building in lower Manhattan.

Right, but there hadn't really been a GetReligion-linked exploration of Trump and God that included lots of '70s dance music and one-liners. In other words, early this week I hopped on the R train and headed to the Empire State Building to spend an hour with my friend Eric Metaxas on his national radio show.

Want to listen? Click right here.

This was right after Metaxas -- a very funny man in a Yale University sort of way -- bombarded Twitter with all kinds of jokes riffing on what the Bible would sound like if Trump had written it.

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