As you would expect, variations on the word "evangelical" appear quite a few times in a New York Times news feature that appears under this headline -- "Evangelicals See Donald Trump as Man of Conviction, if Not Faith."
Yes, it does appear that issues of religion and culture will play some role in the GOP side of the contest to win the White House, in spite of that other recent Times feature that left religion totally out of that equation. I know that's hard to believe, so click here for more info.
So the evangelicals are back and some love Trump while others do not. Surprise!
As I read the new Times piece, a familiar question entered my mind: What do these journalists, the elite of the news elite, think that the word "evangelical" means? GetReligion has dedicated quite a bit of attention to the meaning of that word, as have I as a columnist.
So the goal, in this post, is to look for clues as to what the Times people think this term means. At the end, we will actually look at a set of characteristics used to define "evangelical" endorsed by the Southern Baptist Convention and the National Association of Evangelicals.
Ready? Here is our first passage:
Buford Arning, a retired building-supply executive in Statesville, N.C., went to church each week until a pinched nerve made it hard for him to leave his house. He believes in living a faith-filled life. But he does not demand piety of his preferred presidential candidate, Donald J. Trump.
“Am I a Bible toter that gets out and preaches on the side of the street and tries to convert everybody? No,” said Mr. Arning, 62, who calls himself an evangelical voter. He said he believed that Mr. Trump was “a Christian man,” and that was good enough.
Not much there, other than the fact that self-identified "evangelicals" do not have to tote Bibles, preach on sidewalks and try to convert everyone they meet. Or, was the point that this is what the word actually means, but this man disagrees? Arning later says that Trump's "values are very much the same" as his own.
Brash, thrice-married, cosseted in a gilded tower high above Fifth Avenue and fond of swearing from the stage at his rallies, Mr. Trump, who has spent his career in pursuit, and praise, of wealth, would seem an odd fit for voters who place greater value on faith, hope and charity.
Yet polls increasingly show Mr. Trump well in front of the crowded Republican field among white evangelical voters. ... A New York Times/CBS News poll last week showed Mr. Trump, a Presbyterian, dominating the field with 42 percent of evangelical voters; Mr. Cruz was second with 25 percent.
There appear to be two points here. First, evangelicals believe in "faith, hope and charity." Does that imply that Catholics, liberal oldline Protestants, Pentecostals, the Orthodox and others do not? Seriously?
It's also clear that we are talking about "white evangelical voters." So, in terms of religious beliefs that might frame a definition, what are the differences between white evangelicals and, oh, black, Asian or Latino evangelicals? The bottom line: Are we talking about differences of DOCTRINE or POLITICAL beliefs?
Next up there is this rather strange statement:
In dozens of interviews with evangelical voters in 16 states, from every region of the country outside the Northeast, those supporting Mr. Trump sounded a familiar refrain: that his heart was in the right place, that his intentions for the country were pure, that he alone was capable of delivering to a troubled country salvation in the here-and-now.
“He is the only one who can pull us back from the abyss,” said John Juvenal, 67, a lifelong Republican and retired police officer from Oklahoma City.
Wait just a minute. What does the word "salvation" mean in this passage and who used the word in this context, the Times scribe or the evangelicals being interviewed? Did someone say that only Trump could "save" America and that -- you know, since this is a story about funny religious people -- morphed into "salvation"?
Attention Times editors: I don't think you know what "salvation" means, at least not what it means to religious believers. As a rule, it is bad to turn serious religious matters into jokes.
And finally there is this:
Mr. Trump has been wooing Jerry Falwell Jr. for support as a signal to evangelical voters, and Mr. Falwell lavished praise on the candidate before his speaking appearance, comparing him to Jesus Christ and the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. for voicing unpopular thoughts.
Say what? At what point in the Falwell speech (full text here in .pdf) did he compare Trump to Jesus Christ? Are we talking about this quote, which was used in most mainstream news coverage of the Trump pilgrimage to Liberty University?
“In my opinion, Donald Trump lives a life of loving and helping others as Jesus taught in the great commandment."
Is saying that a person is attempting to follow one or more of the teachings of Jesus the same thing as "comparing" that person, Trump in this case, to Jesus? Would an evangelical such as Falwell make such a statement?
I could go on and on. At one point, the story notes that Trump is a Presbyterian, without providing a specific denomination to help define that term. In this context, it implies that Presbyterians are not evangelicals. Clearly some Presbyterians are, since New York City contains many thriving evangelical, yet Presbyterian, congregations (think Redeemer Presbyterian Church, for starters). Surely the Times editors know that?
I should note that the Times story also includes the views of "evangelicals" who oppose Trump, which is interesting and highly appropriate.
So what have we learned, GetReligion readers? What does the word "evangelical" mean in this news report about evangelicals?
Now, the other day our own Richard Ostling, a religion-beat patriarch if there ever was one, took a look at the current state of the word "evangelical," in one of his memos to reporters and editors that ran under the headline, "That same old question for 2016: What is an 'evangelical,' anyway?"
In that memo, he pointed journalists toward recent work done on behalf of Southern Baptists and the National Association of Evangelicals (and anyone else interested in the facts of history). What does "evangelical" mean? Let us attend:
The NAE/LifeWay Research definition includes four statements to which respondents would strongly agree in order to be categorized as evangelical:
-- The Bible is the highest authority for what I believe.
-- It is very important for me personally to encourage non-Christians to trust Jesus Christ as their Savior.
-- Jesus Christ's death on the cross is the only sacrifice that could remove the penalty of my sin.
-- Only those who trust in Jesus Christ alone as their Savior receive God's free gift of eternal salvation.
I might debate that a bit, fine-tuning a phrase here and there and maybe adding a point (primarily to show the implications of the statement on biblical authority). However, it is clear -- #DUH -- that we are talking about a term tied to a specific doctrinal point of view.
As opposed to what? Isn't the Times piece essentially arguing that "evangelical" is a political word? While that news piece never stopped to define "evangelical," isn't it rather clear what the word means to Times editors?
So what does the word "evangelical" mean in this specific news story?