After years of stagnancy, the number of white Evangelicals surged from 25% of the adult U.S. population in 2016 to 29% in 2020, according to a Pew Research survey. This growth was almost exclusively fueled by former President Donald Trump’s white supporters, who adopted an evangelical identity shortly after his election and contributed to the 6-point nationwide increase in this subgroup. Only a 2 point decrease was seen among those who removed the #exvangelicals label.
White Evangelicals see their Christian identity in relation to national identities. A professor of contemporary Protestant theology says that preserving or strengthening one’s commitment to God is an effective way to build your overall identity.
” “But we can say, among Trump opponents, almost no one became evangelicals.” “But we can say, among Trump opponents, almost no one became evangelicals.”
Some evangelical leaders have decried the enthusiasm with which white Evangelicals have embraced the former president, wondering if the term itself has already come to simply refer to the Republican Party’s largest and most critical voting bloc. Others disagree and say that the surge in support of Trump cannot be solely attributed to Mr. Trump.
“I believe it is crucial that no matter your political affiliations, you approach this blindly but ask profound, resounding question about morality, truth, and justice,” Dr. Corne Bocker, a pastor and theologian, says.
Corne Bekker is a Christian theologian in the many subcultures of evangelical Protestantism. He focuses much of his thought on the topic of Christian renewal.
This is the main lens through which Dr. Bekker helps to train an emerging generation of ministers and theologians in evangelical theology, according to the School of Divinity, Regent University, Virginia Beach. Doctoral programs at the school use a method that “renews and revitalizes” evangelical congregations in the United States. A “renewaltheology” is the context within which the students study the history of the church and the fundamental tenets and tenets orthodox Christian faith.
” “There seems to be an actual reawakening taking place in my work these days with pastors,” he said. And within the entire evangelical movement, there seems to be a desire for God’s intervention in our society and to empower Christians to spread the good news. This, we believe, would enable not only individual transformation but also societal transformation toward a more just and compassionate world
White Evangelicals see their Christian identity in relation to national identities. A professor of contemporary Protestant theology says that preserving or strengthening one’s commitment to God is an effective way to build an overall identity.
So he was not surprised that a widely-discussed study found that white evangelical Protestants have begun to increase. After years of stagnancy or even, as with most of the country’s religious groups, outright decline, the number of white Evangelicals surged from 25% of the adult U.S. population in 2016 to 29% in 2020, according to a Pew Research survey in September. The survey found that almost all of this growth was due to white evangelical supporters, which were largely fueled by Trump’s election. This subgroup was responsible for 6 points of national growth. Those who dropped the label – including the online movement of “#exvangelicals” who said they were troubled by the faith’s approach to politics and cultural issues – accounted for only a 2-point decrease.
“We can’t impute causality as to why the people who became evangelicals became evangelicals,” Gregory Smith, associate director of research at Pew, told the Deseret News. “But we can say, among Trump opponents, almost no one became evangelicals.”
Some evangelical leaders have decried the overwhelming enthusiasm with which white Evangelicals have embraced the former president, wondering, too, if the term itself has already come to simply refer to the Republican Party’s largest and most critical voting bloc.
“[What] seems to be happening at scale isn’t so much the growth of white Evangelicalism as a religious movement, but rather the near-culmination of the decades-long transformation of white Evangelicalism from a mainly religious movement into a Republican political cause,” wrote the evangelical thinker David French in a recent essay titled “Did Donald Trump Make the Church Great Again?”
“What holds us together are our core beliefs”
But Dr. Bekker and others say the recent surge in white Evangelicals cannot be ascribed solely to party politics or the popularity of Mr. Trump. He says that evangelicalism is anchored in its core spiritual beliefs. These include devotion to Scripture, Jesus Christ’s centrality as the true way to salvation, the need for conversion, and the personal responsibility to witness the gospel and help the least fortunate. These traditions are common to American evangelicalism and include many cultural groups. Most Black Protestant congregations maintain this conservative self-understanding, and the fastest-growing group of American Evangelicals today are Latinos who converted from Roman Catholicism, according to surveys.
“Many of the churches I know have taken time to pray, fast, and reflect on what it means to be a Christian. Dr. Bekker adds that there are many evangelical churches who encourage multiethnic worship. “And amongst many evangelical churches we’ve seen promotion and adoption of multiethnic worship.”
He worships at New Life Church in Virginia Beach, founded in 1999 by two graduates of the Regent divinity program, a Black pastor and white pastor who together forged an intentionally diverse congregation that “consciously reflects our eternity in heaven,” its website says. “New Life is not a church built on sustaining a certain culture or politics; it is built on sustaining the Kingdom of God.”
A congregation of 600 two decades ago, it has since grown to 6,000 members who meet on four separate campuses, the most recent established in 2017. Despite the diversity of congregations, it is often reminded that Black Protestants overwhelmingly vote for Democrats, and white Evangelicals are the foundation of the GOP.
” I will be honest with you that it’s difficult to do this at the end every election cycle,” says Dr. Bekker. We almost need to hold a reconciliation meeting. But what holds us together are our core beliefs and our focus on transformation and renewal.”
At the same time, however, a significant number of Trump supporters who now identify as evangelical rarely if ever attend church services, suggesting different kinds of forces are at play, many observers say.
“White Protestantism was always tied to whiteness and Christian nationalism,” Kathryn Reklis of Fordham University, New York says. “At different moments the racial nature of white evangelicalism has come into focus or receded.”
“A way to strengthen an overall identity”
But as the country has become increasingly less white and Christianity starts to recede as a dominant cultural force, many have felt embattled. Professor Reklis says that there are more white evangelicals learning to see their Christian identity explicitly linked to national and racial identities. “Now, preserving or strengthening a commitment to religion is a way to strengthen an overall identity.”
Evangelicalism’s theological exceptionalism, too, has long dovetailed with specific ideas of American exceptionalism, scholars say. In the 1970s, when white Evangelicals began to reemerge as a political and cultural force, they first organized not around efforts to oppose abortion or sexual revolution, but around efforts to preserve their segregated Christian academies after withdrawing from integrated public schools, historians say.
“Evangelicals pride themselves on not being conformed to the world but on being transformed through Christ, but so often they appear to conform to the predominant cultural norms around them – Southern Christian support for slavery and opposition to racial integration, for example,” says John Vile, professor of political science at Middle Tennessee State University in Murfreesboro.
At that time, the white Evangelicals gathered around Ronald Reagan’s candidacy. He channeled their vision of a seamless religious-national exceptionalism and the Puritan image “a city on a hill” to launch his campaign in Mississippi, where three civil rights workers were killed by white supremacists defending an old order. It makes sense for card-carrying Trump supporters to become card-carrying Evangelicals,” John Schmalzbauer of Missouri State University, Springfield says. It is not a new development to be celebrated, but it’s important to consider the history of white Southern evangelicalism’s political and racial message beyond the Bible Belt. This includes efforts to spread the gospel to the Midwest, and the outer boroughs. Trump used the national bully pulpit to demonize Black Lives Matter, and to criticize race theory. “This was long before Southern white Protestants or their Northern allies were concerned about the issue of abortion and the Republican Party,” Prof Schmalzbauer said. The first attempt to make Southern white politics more national was centered around race and not abortion. Trump is its heir.”
Though from a much different perspective, Dr. Bekker thinks it makes sense that Trump supporters would become Evangelicals. Perhaps more than any president before him, Trump gave his white Evangelical constituency his support on all matters related to religious liberty.
“But, I believe it’s crucial that no matter your political affiliation, you approach this not blindly but ask profound, resounding question about morality, truth, and justice,” he said.
According to Dr. Bekker, all Christians must “pray for leaders, honour them.” He says that the church must also be able to “regain the prophetic role” of speaking out, especially for the vulnerable members of society.