Public Religion Research Institute

Will Trump-Moore nexus be a turning point in history of American Evangelicalism?

Will Trump-Moore nexus be a turning point in history of American Evangelicalism?

Mark your calendars for Tuesday, Dec. 5, when the Brookings Institution and Public Religion Research Institute release results from the eighth  annual “American Values Survey.”

Those in the D.C. area can attend a 10 a.m. presser and panel at Brookings. (Media contact: or 646–823-2216). There will be special interest in the eight-year trend lines and how the Donald Trump Era is reshaping moral and political attitudes among white evangelicals.

Analysts inside and outside the evangelical movement note its famously moralistic past, including excoriation of President Bill Clinton. Countless articles have joined in head-scratching over the willingness of certain old-guard evangelical personalities and so many constituents to pooh-pooh sexual misconduct accusations as they back President Trump and now also  Republican Senate candidate Roy Moore, who faces Alabama voters Dec. 12.

The Religion Guy won’t rehearse those matters, which are all over the news, or assess the credibility of the two politicians’ denials of wrongdoing.

But let's look ahead. Here’s a big-think theme for reporters: Is the Trump-Moore nexus reinforcing a developing image of moral hypocrisy that could mar evangelical Protestantism the way molestation scandals grievously damaged the moral stature of U.S. Catholicism the past three decades?

You may want to start a research folder on this.

The evangelical plight has been examined by an outside critic, Molly Worthen of the University of North Carolina, Southern Baptist spokesman Russell Moore, and a conservative Catholic, New York Times columnist Ross Douthat. Douthat’s piece in turn provoked notice from Eastern Orthodox author Rod Dreher (including a fascinating mini-essay from a reader). In addition, note this GetReligion podcast, featuring a classic Billy Graham take on this issue.

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Cleaning up the lost and found: The Religion Guy rediscovers three journalistic morsels

Cleaning up the lost and found: The Religion Guy rediscovers three journalistic morsels

You know how it is. A newswriter comes across a really interesting item and sets it aside for a serious second look.

Then the pile of other goodies continues to grow and said item disappears amid the clutter on your desk. Weeks or months go by, you force yourself to clean up, and there it is. At this particular weblog, the GetReligionistas like to talk about finding things in their "Guilt Files." Well, we all have them.

In just such a cleanup, The Religion Guy unearthed three set-aside articles about U.S. culture with solid story potential for fellow writers on the beat:

One more time, “Nones” explained: Writing last January 23 for the scholarly, Richard Flory of the University of Southern California culled current research for the five chief factors behind the recent rise of religiously unaffiliated Americans (“Nones”):

(1) With widening access to knowledge, “everyone and no one is an authority,” which “reduces the need for traditional authorities” of all types, including religious ones.

(2) Fewer Americans think important social institutions have “a positive impact in society,” again, religious ones included.

(3) U.S. religion developed a “bad brand” from things like sex scandals or “political right” linkage that turns off moderates and liberals.

(4) Increased “competition for people’s attention” from work, family, social media, whatever, making religious involvement “yet another social obligation” that clogs schedules.

(5) More young adults were raised to “make up their own mind about religion” and end up without any.  

Flory doubts the increase in “nones” will have much impact on U.S. politics, since they register and vote less often than others. But he sees serious problems ahead in finding enough volunteers “to provide important services to those in need.” Long term, how will non-religious Americans create the necessary “infrastructure” and  “communities of caring”?

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Refusing service to gays? Is pollster asking the right question? Journalists should inquire

Refusing service to gays? Is pollster asking the right question? Journalists should inquire

Religion News Service, a national wire service for which I occasionally freelance, reports that no major U.S. religious group opposes refusing service to gays.

The lede from RNS:

(RNS) In no U.S. religious group does a majority think it’s acceptable for businesspeople to invoke their religious beliefs to refuse service to gays.
This finding from a 2016 Public Religion Research Institute survey is a first, said Robert P. Jones, CEO of the nonprofit research group.
In a 2015 PRRI survey that asked the same question, more than half of white evangelical Protestants and Mormons approved of those who cited religious belief to deny service to LGBT customers.
But in the new 2016 survey, only 50 percent of white evangelical Protestants expressed such approval, as opposed to 56 percent the year before.
Mormons showed the second-highest rates of approval. About 42 percent of Mormons backed businesspeople who deny services in the latest survey, as opposed to the 58 percent who favored them the previous year.

RNS notes that the question asked by PRRI is this:

Do you favor or oppose allowing a small business owner in your state to refuse to provide products or services to gay or lesbian people, if doing so violates their religious beliefs?

Here's what I wonder: Is that the right question for the pollster to ask?

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The Atlantic probes dark fears of working-class America (without asking moral questions)

The Atlantic probes dark fears of working-class America (without asking moral questions)

As a rule, your GetReligionistas appreciate the think pieces that The Atlantic runs focusing on religion topics. This is especially true when these longish features include lots and lots of solid reporting, as opposed to chattering-class people thinking out loud about wonkish things.

See, for example, the cries of hosannah the other day from our own Bobby Ross, Jr., in a post called: "Choose your superlative, but The Atlantic's deep dive on Islamic State radicalization is a must read." That was a classic magazine news feature.

Now we have a think piece from The Atlantic about the 2016 (Cue: Theme From Jaws) campaign that offers some survey data that sheds new light on those stunning Rust Belt wins by Donald Trump, which put him (for now) in the White House. The double-decker headline sets the scene, and then some:

It Was Cultural Anxiety That Drove White, Working-Class Voters to Trump
A new study finds that fear of societal change, not economic pressure, motivated votes for the president among non-salaried workers without college degrees

From my point of view, the key to the story is this: What, precisely, is meant by terms such as "cultural anxiety" and the "fear of societal change"?

Mainstream media orthodoxy would insist that these terms refer to xenophobia, radical nationalism and racism. The big issue, in this case, would be immigration.

Sure enough, this essay includes numbers that certainly point to immigration being a major issue for folks living in white, blue-collar, labor households. But is there something else in there? After all, this piece was written by religion-beat specialist Emma Green.

Thus, it is safe to assume that there may be a religion ghost or two in here somewhere. Let's look for clues in this summary material:

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Why is American politics so rancid? One liberal pundit blames the slide in churchgoing

Why is American politics so rancid? One liberal pundit blames the slide in churchgoing

Why has U.S. politics became so rancid in tone and so harshly polarized?

Analysts have pinned the blame variously on talk radio and cable news, social media and the Internet, gerrymandering of U.S. House and state legislative districts, the Supreme Court’s campaign finance ruling, suspicion of authorities and cultural rebellion since the 1960s, a general coarsening of culture, economic woe, and much else.

Now comes prominent liberal analyst Peter Beinart with a striking thesis in the April issue of The Atlantic (which alongside its Web site has emerged as the most interesting source of religion coverage and commentary among general-interest magazine companies). He contends that what ails the fractured republic has much to do with the serious slide in church involvement over recent years.

His scenario deserves major media attention, with  responses from fellow pundits and Christian conservatives who will dislike his anti-Donald Trump slant and  resent any connection with the “race-and-nation” movement.

Beinart, who is Jewish, is an old-school New Republic editor turned journalism professor who writes for The Atlantic and others. He notes that some analysts welcomed the increase of “nones” who lack all religious affiliation, figuring this would foster greater tolerance and social harmony. Beinart’s view is precisely the opposite.

Yes, there’s more acceptance of gay marriages and legalized marijuana, he says. But the slide in organized religion is “making America’s partisan clashes more brutal” and contributes to the rise of the “alt-right,” and  “white nationalism,” pitting “us” against “them” in “even more primal and irreconcilable ways.” The older “culture war over religious morality” has been succeeded by a “more secular, more ferociously national and racial culture war” that is worse.

Beinart piles up survey research to back up that claim.

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Some matters religious Americans, and journalists, might ponder as Trump era begins

Some matters religious Americans, and journalists, might ponder as Trump era begins

Donald Trump’s narrow Electoral College victory came accompanied by a narrow popular vote loss and some worrisome exit polling.

Yes, 60 percent of voters had an “unfavorable” opinion of the President-elect, 63 percent did not deem him “honest and trustworthy,” 60 percent said he’s not “qualified” for the job and 63 percent felt he lacks the needed “temperament,” while 56 percent were either “concerned” or “scared” that he might win. (Hillary Clinton’s numbers were nearly that dismal.)

Religious believers and journalists concerned for their nation should  contemplate whether a President has ever entered office with anything like that poor reputation.

Campaign 2016 was the ugliest since -- when? 1824? 1800? It damaged the stature not only of Trump but loser Hillary and husband Bill, the Democratic Party, the Republican Party, even the Libertarians, the FBI and the Department of Justice, the American political system, and -- yes -- religious elements.

Amid the rubble, we also find all those caught-off-guard pundits, mistake-ridden pollsters, and news outlets whose prestige and influence are eroded by sensationalism and partisanship.

Some writers continue to proclaim the imminent demise of the Religious Right, that movement of evangelical Protestants, conservative Catholics, Mormons, some Orthodox Jews and other activists. As with frequent assurances that Trump could not possibly win the nomination or the presidency, that’s wishful thinking. Such efforts will persist as long as the issues do, for instance palpable alarm over religious freedoms.

On that, future  Supreme Court appointments were “the most important factor” for 21 percent of U.S. voters but fully 56 percent of Trump voters.

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Most U.S. Christians believe Muslim values are out of sync with America, but why?

Most U.S. Christians believe Muslim values are out of sync with America, but why?

In recent weeks, I've started reading the Houston Chronicle on my iPad — via an e-replica app that affords me all the joys of the print edition but leaves no ink stains on my fingers.

For the record, I'm totally fine with no ink stains, although I do miss the sweet smell of newsprint! 

Even though I'm a relatively new Chronicle subscriber, I'm already becoming a bigger fan of religion writer Allan Turner. I had, of course, praised some of his stories in the past. But I didn't follow his work on a regular basis (in part because of the Houston newspaper's paywall.)

In today's City-State section, the lead item is a commentary by the Chronicle's Pulitzer Prize-winning columnist Lisa Falkenberg (with whom I worked at The Associated Press in Texas in the early 2000s) suggesting that banning Syrian refugees plays into terrorists' hands. My thanks, by the way, both to Falkenberg and Fort Worth Star-Telegram columnist Bud Kennedy for retweeting the link to my post yesterday concerning media coverage of the refugee issue (Kennedy even quoted me in a column).

To be clear, I wasn't calling out the Texas lieutenant governor. I was making the journalistic point that reporters should dig deeper when a politician such as Patrick cites "Judeo-Christian values." 

But I digress: Back to Turner and the reason for this post.

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Southern evangelicals dwindling?: RNS blogger examines the numbers behind The Atlantic's claims

Southern evangelicals dwindling?: RNS blogger examines the numbers behind The Atlantic's claims

Is the South losing its "cultural Christianity," as Southern Baptist Theological Seminary President Albert Mohler describes it?

New research indicates that "the percentage of Alabamians not affiliated with a specific religion surpasses the percentage of white mainline Protestants, ranking it third among 'religious' groups," Alabama Godbeat pro Carol McPhail recently reported.

Meanwhile, The Atlantic made a big splash on social media this week with this provocative headline:

Southern Evangelicals: Dwindling—and Taking the GOP Edge With Them

However, the stats reported by Jones made Religion News Service blogger Tobin Grant's "spidey-sense start buzzing," as he put it. Grant decided to examine the numbers behind the numbers.


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A God-decided Super Bowl? 70 million Americans say yes

Super Bowl XLVIII is just two weeks away. And if The Huffington Post is to be believed, a huge number of folks are about to hit their knees. Not in a line stance, mind you, but in prayer. HuffPo’s top religion story today claims “Half of Americans Say God Plays A Role In Super Bowl Winner: Survey.” (We have to throw a flag here with headline and story agreement, incidentally, as the U.S. population is estimated at 314 million, and the story alludes to 140 million sports fans. Penalty declined. Now let’s move forward with the game.)

How can you not click on that headline? I mean, who isn’t ready for some God-decided football. I, for one, think it would be a nice change from the referees deciding the outcome.

We have a poll, folks. A survey from Public Religion Research Institute indicates that millions of my neighbors, near and far, think the Almighty chooses which team gets the trophy.

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