As a rule, here is what happens every week when "Crossroads" host Todd Wilken and I do a radio broadcast or taping session that turns into a podcast. First we pick a GetReligion post, or perhaps my Universal syndicate column for that week, in which we think there are angles to update or explore. Then he asks me a bunch of questions and then we chat.
However, I tried to turn the tables on Wilken in this week's podcast (click here to tune that in), in which we dug deeper into the material I explored in the post that ran with this headline: "Seriously? New York Times story on GOP schism is silent on 'pew gap' issues." He asked me a question and then I turned around and asked the audience -- that would be you guys -- a series of questions.
What were they? Well, many political journalists are starting to realize that Donald Trump is not the official candidate of American evangelicalism. Thus, I asked these three questions:
* Who are Donald Trump's evangelicals?
* Who are Sen. Ted Cruz's evangelicals?
* Who are Sen. Marco Rubio's evangelicals?
Thinking back over our conversation, I now realize that I could have asked some pushy follow-up questions. Will the Trump evangelicals be willing, later on, to vote for candidate Cruz? How about a candidate Rubio? Will the Cruz evangelicals be willing to vote for Trump or Rubio? And finally, of course, will the Rubio evangelicals be willing to vote for Trump (not likely, methinks) or Cruz?
These questions loom over the Iowa caucuses, of course, but they will be front and center by the time the GOP pool starts shrinking after, oh, South Carolina and before the March 1 "SEC primaries" in the Bible Belt that could determine the candidate.
Now, something really interesting happened after the taped this broadcast. The Washington Post ran an "Acts of Faith" analysis piece -- "Ted Cruz: Evangelical darling or ‘pagan brutalist’? Why he exposes a Christian divide" -- by historian Thomas Kidd of Baylor University. The heart of his piece focused on precisely on some of the issues raised in the podcast.
Thus, let me point GetReligion readers over to that think piece. Consider this passage, for example:
The evangelical old guard often portrays the election of faith-friendly GOP candidates as evidence of an “awakening” and spiritual renewal in the country. This rhetoric hearkens back to the First and Second Great Awakenings of the 18th and 19th centuries. Those awakenings undoubtedly had political ramifications. Historians widely see the Second Great Awakening as contributing to the emergence of the abolitionist movement, for example.
But for today’s evangelical old guard, politics itself -- and electoral success for their candidates -- has become a catalyst of awakening. Cruz has repeatedly told supporters, “If we awaken and energize the body of Christ -- if Christians and people of faith come out and vote our values -- we will win and we will turn the country around.” Cruz is blurrily equating his election with the nation turning back to God.
But do all evangelicals identify with that kind of "old guard" language?
Russell Moore, head of the Southern Baptist Convention’s Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission, has endorsed no candidate, but he said recently that Cruz, Trump and Marco Rubio appeal to three different camps of evangelicals.
Cruz represents the “Jerry Falwell” wing (referencing the late head of the Moral Majority), Trump the “Jimmy Swaggart” wing (referencing the once-popular “health and wealth” televangelist), and Rubio the “Billy Graham” wing. Moore’s comment came in response to Rubio’s announcement of a religious liberty advisory board, which includes Saddleback Community Church pastor Rick Warren and National Hispanic Christian Leadership Conference president Samuel Rodriguez. (I am also a member of this board.)
Figures like Moore and Warren are hardly liberals, but they represent an evangelical faction (the “Graham” wing) that is more circumspect about expecting politicians and government to foment spiritual awakening. Although Billy Graham had longstanding and controversial relationships with American presidents, his revival meetings were marked by the simple message of the Christian gospel: accept Christ’s free offer of salvation and be born again.
Bingo. Meditate for a few minutes on that set of provocative images from Moore.
Now let me ask my second set of questions again. Will Trump evangelicals, in the end, be willing to vote for candidate Cruz? How about candidate Rubio? Will Cruz evangelicals be willing to vote for Trump or Rubio? And finally, will Rubio evangelicals be willing to vote for Trump or Cruz?