The Voice of the Non-Church-Going Evangelical

Courtesy, The Atlantic Monthly, April 2017

Maybe Peter Beinart’s article in the April 2017 edition of The Atlantic has finally answered my BIG question. What is my BIG question? It has to do with Donald Trump and the fundamentalist/evangelical tie-in.

I’ve never seen the rise of such a demagogue in connection with the tenets of Christianity in my life. In reality, many Christians end up following all manner of so-called Christian leaders. Televangelists would not exist without their ardent followers. Pat Robertson, James Hagee, Benny Hinn and Joel Osteen are just a few who come to mind. Yet, the rise of Donald Trump as a stand-in for a Christian leader has my brain literally hurting.

Now Beinart gives us a perspective on this political/religious phenomenon and it’s the only idea that even begins to make sense to me. In his article, Breaking Faith, Beinart introduces us to the non-church-going Christian.

Although he notes that the nation’s growing “Secularism is indeed correlated with greater tolerance of gay marriage and pot legalization,” it is also leaving behind those more extreme conservatives in our country, “making America’s partisan clashes more brutal.”

These partisan clashes, notes Beinart, have, “contributed to the rise of both Donald Trump and the so-called alt-right movement, whose members see themselves as proponents of white nationalism.”

Need more proof? According to the Pew Research Center poll in March 2016, “Trump trailed Ted Cruz by 15 points among Republicans who attended religious services every week. But he led Cruz by a whopping 27 points among those who did not.”

Beinart cites The University of Notre Dame American History professor Geoffrey C. Layman  as noting, “Trump does best among evangelicals with one key trait: They don’t really go to church.”

So Ted Cruz represented those institutionalized Christians whom you would normally see in church pews every Sunday. Apparently, Donald Trump represents a more disenfranchised Christian, who appears to have a more darker, much bleaker life.

Beinart suggests that “culturally conservative white Americans who are disengaged from church experience less economic success and more family breakdown than those who remain connected, and they grow more pessimistic and resentful.”

Another trend could be responsible for this outcome, as Beinart notes:

Since the early 1970s, according to W. Bradford Wilcox, a sociologist at the University of Virginia, rates of religious attendance have fallen more than twice as much among whites without a college degree as among those who graduated college. And even within the white working class, those who don’t regularly attend church are more likely to suffer from divorce, addiction, and financial distress. As Wilcox explains, “Many conservative, Protestant white men who are only nominally attached to a church struggle in today’s world. They have traditional aspirations but often have difficulty holding down a job, getting and staying married, and otherwise forging real and abiding ties in their community. The culture and economy have shifted in ways that have marooned them with traditional aspirations unrealized in their real-world lives.”

In my opinion, this disengaged group of white, lower to middle class Americans are the danger to a progressive, liberal, tolerant and inclusive society. As Beinart writes, “when cultural conservatives disengage from organized religion, they tend to redraw the boundaries of identity, de-emphasizing morality and religion and emphasizing race and nation. Trump is both a beneficiary and a driver of that shift.”

So this explains the rise of nationalism in our country. It explains why so many of our former highly-paid factory workers blame the loss of manufacturing jobs on the growth of multinational corporations and the immigrant population. It explains why it seems more important for the executive branch to build a wall and fund the military, keeping out those who do not conform to the 1950s ideal household–white, traditional, male/female, married, Christian. But what leads the white, working man and woman to want to “Make America Great Again” by wanting to set the clock back by decades?  Beinart notes that, “When conservatives disengage from organized religion, however, they don’t become more tolerant. They become intolerant in different ways. Research shows that evangelicals who don’t regularly attend church are less hostile to gay people than those who do. But they’re more hostile to African Americans, Latinos, and Muslims.”

Beinart also discusses the rise of Bernie Sanders among the most liberal non-religious group, as well as the rise of the new civil rights movement among African-Americans, known collectively as Black Lives Matter. and how that movement is upending the traditional Black church culture.

We are in the middle of a major ideological upheaval in which the dominant culture from 50-70 years ago is dissolving–white, working class, Christian, industrial. In its place, is the post-industrial, secular, scientific, global, multi-cultural world. But the old order will not go down without a fight.

Donald Trump has risen as the leader of the disenfranchised, middle American, caught up in a protectionist, nationalistic, anti-intellectual movement, looking inward away from progress, multiculturalism and secularism. Christianity is a mask the Luddite wears, which hides intolerance, anti-Semitism and racism. The pendulum swings…