Final 2016 yearenders: The Atlantic on religion and politics; RNS mourns sad, sad, tragic year

Did you know that, when it comes to religion and public life, there were both winners and losers in the year 2016?

Honest. There were.

Even with the wailing and gnashing of teeth in elite newsrooms, it is pretty clear that some people in pulpits and pews ended the year in either a good mood or, to be honest, in a divided state of mind. Many felt they had dodged what they saw as the worst-case scenario.

Once again, I am referring to the key fact at the heart of coverage of white evangelical voters in the 2016 campaign -- the fact that the evangelicals who voted for Donald Trump were divided between those who supported Trump and those who felt they had to risk voting for him because of their fears of Hillary Rodham Clinton's clearly stated views on issues linked to religious liberty. There were also millions of Catholics and Mormons in that same predicament.

One more time! Let me point readers toward this Christianity Today analysis of research by the Pew Research Center. That prophetic mid-summer headline: 

Pew: Most Evangelicals Will Vote Trump, But Not For Trump
With half of voters dissatisfied with both presidential candidates, white evangelicals primarily plan to oppose Clinton.

Now, in one of the last 2016 Yearenders that I saw, Atlantic Monthly captured a bit of this some won, some bitterly lost and many just felt relieved atmosphere in post-election America. It also -- even from it's left-of-center editorial view -- noted the role that religious-liberty debates played in all of this. So consider these two chunks of that roundup:

The Freedom to Choose: Religious liberty came to the fore of the national conversation after the Supreme Court’s landmark 2014 decision in Burwell v. Hobby Lobby. In 2016, it produced a push for legislation that would give businesses, public bathrooms, and religious colleges the right to limit services to LGBT people. Emma Green followed these bills closely throughout the year. She covered the challenges state legislatures face working to protect LGBT civil-rights while also upholding religious freedom. In another story, she examined what the death of U.S. Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia will mean for the future of religious-freedom decisions. Jonathan Merritt also weighed in, writing that the problems these laws claim to address don’t actually exist. Alan Noble offered a plea for accommodation between activists and religious colleges, and Alan Levinovitz argued that trigger warnings served to make campuses hostile to religious students.

On the the white evangelicals, there was this:

A Community Divided: Donald Trump proved to be a controversial figure within evangelical communities, as well. Molly Ball highlighted the split among evangelical leaders after Trump gave a speech at Liberty University in January; Emma Green returned to the campus in October, to find students fatigued with politics and the Republican Party that gave them Trump. Jonathan Merritt examined the shift away from looking to politicians for moral leadership, and Yoni Appelbaum argued that in Trump, evangelicals had found a champion, not a moral exemplar.

#DUH. Of course evangelicals on both sides of the Trump divide remain interested in "moral leadership," in terms of the lives and beliefs of their leaders. But, again, the vast majority saw 2016 as a choice between Trump and Clinton -- period. See the video at the top of this post.

One more sample:

Christianity in the Contemporary United States: White evangelicals began the year feeling besieged, and ended it in triumph. Emma Green reported on a survey conducted by the Public Religion Research Institute and Brookings that found almost half of Americans believe Christian discrimination is as much of a problem as discrimination against minorities. She also explored the historical context of Trump’s appeal to evangelicals. Robert P. Jones delved deeper into these feelings of displacement and asked “why white Protestantism as a whole -- arguably the most powerful cultural force in the history of the United States -- has faded.” And in the wake of Trump’s election, Green found white evangelicals newly hopeful.

All were hopeful or were some merely relieved?

Now, if you want a strong summary of the views of mourners on the cultural left, there is no better place to go than Religion News Service and this ashes 'r us yearender by editor Jerome Socolovsky that ran with this blunt headline:

A depressing year of religion news

Now, look at his summary of the role of evangelicals in the 2016 stunner. What is missing?


Sometimes a number tells us a lot. This year, that number was 81. That was the percentage of white evangelicals who, if the exit polls were accurate, cast ballots for Trump. They helped sway the vote in a way that suggested predictions of the decline of “white Christian America” may be premature.
Despite some pretty outspoken reservations on the part of some influential conservative Christians about Trump’s character, he also had his Christian boosters. For so-called Trumpvangelicals, a man whose predatory view of sex seemed more in tune with the movie “Animal House” was worthy of the highest office in the land.

As a #NeverTrump #NeverHillary guy, I understand all of that. Honest, I do. I could not pull the lever and vote for Trump, but I have listened carefully to the views of other Trump opponents who ended up voting for the man.

For journalists, the issue here is the facts on the ground. In the RNS summary, where are the white evangelicals who opposed Trump, but believed that they had to vote for him because they were convinced that a Clinton 2.0 presidency would be a disaster for those committed to the First Amendment and its free exercise of religion clause? That was -- if the Pew research turns out to be accurate, when we get the deeper exit-poll numbers -- half of the white evangelicals who finally voted for Trump and, thus, against Clinton. And will we see the same among Mormons and Catholics?

In other words, here is the bottom line on religion and politics in 2016: Some were happy, some were sad (and angry) and some were, for now, merely relieved.

Who listened to that final set of voices?

That's it. The parade of yearenders is final over. If I missed others, please leave URLs in the comments section on this post. Thanks to one and all for sending in some strong links!

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