Michael Gerson wrote a column at the Washington Post the other day which created a lot of attention on social media. The post dealt with why white evangelicals should be afraid. Their embrace of politics and Trump has come with a large trade off: Many people in the 18 to 29 age bracket are rejecting evangelicalism and walking away.
“If corruption is a disease, transparency is a central part of its treatment.”
In my distress I cried unto the Lord, and he heard me.
2 Deliver my soul, O Lord, from lying lips, and from a deceitful tongue.
3 What shall be given unto thee? or what shall be done unto thee, thou false tongue?
Psalm 120: 1-3 KJV
Interior of 4th Presbyterian Church in Chicago.
The other day in the Washington Post Michael Gerson wrote a column that grabbed a lot of attention. The op-ed deals with white evangelical Christians and their support of Donald Trump. Many white evangelicals made a trade off of accepting Trump and all his flaws, affairs with porn stars and more as long as they get conservative judges. Michael Gerson writes in the Post that there is a much bigger scandal that is being missed. That scandal is the way older white evangelicals have sold out their faith and belief in God and how its driving away young people from evangelicalism. After all he points out the among those 65 and old 26 % identify as white evangelical. When it comes to those of ages 18 to 29 that figure drops to 8%. That is the bigger scandal and as older people die off the question to be asked will this form of evangelicalism – wrapped up in the culture wars die off with them? You can read the post article here. But I will also lift it and include it below if you have problems accessing it.
Much white evangelical support for President Trump is based on a bargain or transaction: political loyalty (and political cover for the president’s moral flaws) in return for protection from a hostile culture. Many evangelicals are fearful that courts and government regulators will increasingly treat their moral and religious convictions as varieties of bigotry. And that this will undermine the ability of religious institutions to maintain their identities and do their work. Such alarm is embedded within a larger anxiety about lost social standing that makes Trump’s promise of a return to greatness appealing.
Evangelical concerns may be exaggerated, but they are not imaginary. There is a certain type of political progressive who would grant institutional religious liberty only to churches, synagogues and mosques, not to religious schools, religious hospitals and religious charities. Such a cramped view of pluralism amounts to the establishment of secularism, which would undermine the long-standing cooperation of government and religious institutions in tasks such as treating addiction, placing children in adoptive homes, caring for the sick and educating the young.
But this is not, by any reasonable measure, the largest problem evangelicals face. It is, instead, the massive sell-off of evangelicalism among the young. About 26 percent of Americans 65 and older identify as white evangelical Protestants. Among those ages 18 to 29, the figure is 8 percent. Why this demographic abyss does not cause greater panic — panic concerning the existence of evangelicalism as a major force in the United States — is a mystery and a scandal. With their focus on repeal of the Johnson Amendment and the right to say “Merry Christmas,” some evangelical leaders are tidying up the kitchen while the house burns down around them.
There is a generational cycle of religious identification that favors religion. Adolescents and young adults have always challenged the affiliations of their parents and been less likely to attend a house of worship. This tends to change when people have children and rediscover the importance of faith in the cultivation of values and character. So there is likely to be some recovery upward from 8 percent as this cohort ages.
But this recovery will come from a very low baseline of belief. Evangelical identification could triple without reaching the level found among senior citizens today. In an interview in November, David Campbell of the University of Notre Dame said: “It’s unlikely that [young people are] going to be able to climb back to the same level of religious involvement as their parents’ or grandparents’ generation did. Just because they’re starting at a much, much lower point.”
Why is that point so low? There are a number of reasons, but one of them, Campbell argued, is “an allergic reaction to the religious right.” This sets up an irony. “One of the main rationales for the very existence of this movement was to assert the role of religion in the public square in America. And, instead, what’s happening in that very movement has actually driven an increasing share of Americans out of religion.” This alienation preceded the current president, but it has intensified during the Trump era.
Since 2000, according to Gallup, the percentage of Americans with no religious affiliation has more than doubled, from 8 percent to 19 percent. The percentage of millennials with no religion has averaged 33 percent in recent surveys.
As Campbell described it, some of those alienated from religion merely drop out of the faith marketplace. They are what he calls “passive secularists.” But there is also an increasing number who are “active secularists” — people who have chosen secularism as an identity. And this is creating a secular left within the Democratic Party to counter the religious right in the Republican Party. In their hands, the culture war will be fought to the last man or woman.
If evangelicals were to consult their past, they would find that their times of greatest positive influence — in late-18th-century and early-19th-century Britain, or mid-19th-century America — came when they were truest to their religious calling. It was not when they acted like another political interest group. The advocates of abolition, prison reform, humane treatment of the mentally disabled and women’s rights were known as malcontents in the cause of human dignity.
Today, far too many evangelicals are seen as angry and culturally defensive, and have tied their cause to a leader who is morally corrupt and dehumanizes others. Older evangelicals — the very people who should be maintaining and modeling moral standards — have ignored and compromised those standards for political reasons in plain view of their own children. And disillusionment is the natural result.