Evangelicals, post-Trump: Associated Press -- kind of -- scopes out movement's future

Oy, another story on the devil's bargain that is Donald Trump and evangelicalism?

Well, no, it's better than that. The Associated Press examines the state of the movement after the presidential election -- win or lose. But there is a problem. This story just doesn't fully explore the questions it raises.

The in-depth article shows the knowledge of the territory that a Godbeat pro like Rachel Zoll can impart. It quotes evangelical insiders, including those on each side of the Trump divide. And it adds cooler, more analytical views from scholars -- though still within the movement.

Trump's candidacy "has put a harsh spotlight on the fractures among Christian conservatives, most prominently the rift between old guard religious right leaders who backed the GOP nominee as an ally on abortion, and a comparatively younger generation who considered his personal conduct and rhetoric morally abhorrent," says a summary high in the story.

"This has been a kind of smack in the face, forcing us to ask ourselves, 'What have we become?'" Carolyn Custis James, an author on gender roles in the church, tells AP.

But how intensely are believers doing so? Here's the evidence AP musters:

A Hillary Clinton victory could draw energy away from any re-evaluation of the religious right, given her support for abortion rights and gay rights, and the opportunity she will have to shape the U.S. Supreme Court. While many younger evangelicals have fought for a broad range of concerns, including fighting climate change and poverty, they are staunchly opposed to abortion, often more so than their parents.
"I think there could be a resurgence in some way of some kind of Christian right approach to politics," said John Fea, a historian at Messiah College in Pennsylvania, and author of "Was America Founded as a Christian Nation: A Historical Introduction." "Many evangelicals, whether 'Never Trump' or willing to support Trump, are ultimately shaped by a core set of convictions. They are still going to be — for good or for bad — one-, two- or three-issue voters primarily. I think that persists."
And if Trump wins? Evangelicals who advocated for him, such as Tony Perkins of the Family Research Council and author and broadcaster James Dobson, would feel vindicated before their critics if Trump fulfills his promise to appoint conservative high court justices. ...
Yet, even if Trump proves loyal to Christian conservatives, questions would remain about whether his evangelical supporters traded their integrity for influence. The thrice-married Trump has been accused of sexual misconduct by several women, bragged about grabbing women's genitals, mocked a disabled reporter, maligned Mexican immigrants and insulted the parents of a fallen American Muslim soldier.

But how different are the two scenarios ? If Clinton wins, will evangelicals simply shelve questions about trading "integrity for influence"?

Not likely, given the quotes in this article from Southern Baptist ethicist Russell Moore and Collin Hansen of the Gospel Coalition. It's true, of course, that victors don’t always listen much to the losers.

Moore, for one -- a longtime #NeverTrump #NeverHillary leader -- says movement leaders are already talking about "building new institutions to prevent younger Christians from disengaging from political life."  Old vs. young is one of at least two fault lines in the evangelical camp, AP says. (But here is a practical question: Was this AP story finished before Moore's magisterial Oct. 24 Erasmus lecture for First Things that was highly relevant to this piece? It would appear so. That lecture -- see video at top of this post -- focused directly on the future of the Religious Right and the impact that young evangelicals will have on it.)

Another is the racial/ethnic divide: The story astutely cites a recent PRRI poll that found most evangelical whites favored Trump, but most of their non-white brethren preferred Clinton. And the article acknowledges that some of the latter will never change their minds.

Meanwhile, African-American and Latino numbers are up in the Southern Baptist Convention and the Assemblies of God. That trend will affect the future, as well.

Resurgence or retrenchment -- that’s the fork in the road for evangelicals, according to AP.

But there is a third possibility I don’t see in this article: withdrawing and turning inward. This was famously spelled out by the late Jerry Falwell: "One thing I have learned about Christians, having organized them for years -- when they lose, they quit. And when they win they quit. We are just quitters."

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