Washington Post Mortem on Evangelicals

First, the evangelical movement was dead. Now, after 2016 didn’t exactly prove that theory, liberal pundits are trying another tack: the evangelical movement isn’t popular.

When Vice President Mike Pence delivered the commencement address at Hillsdale College, the Washington Post’s Eugene Scott had a bone to pick. The vice president, he wrote in his response, seems to think Christians are making progress in America. “We live in a time,” Pence said, “when traditional values even religious conviction, are increasingly marginalized by a secular popular culture — a time when it’s become acceptable, even fashionable, to malign religious belief. I still believe with all my heart that faith in America is rising.”

“Faith in America,” he went on, “is rising again because President Trump and our entire administration have been advancing the very principles that you learned here in the halls of Hillsdale College.” The part Scott took extreme exception to was Pence’s insistence that the percentage of Americans who live out their religion has remained steady. “Religion in America isn’t receding — just the opposite.” In his rebuttal, Scott argues that these were all just pleasant soundbites to distract Christians from the fact that they’re actually becoming more of a minority.

Pointing to some recent statistics from Pew, Scott suggests that the number of Americans who don’t identify with a religion is rising. And although Pence may be right in saying that the majority in our country “pray daily,” fewer younger people do than ever — just 16 percent. “It makes sense that Pence would use a graduation ceremony at a Christian college to promote an encouraging outlook on religiousness in America… It is possible that Pence is attempting to keep the support of the Christian conservatives who sent him to Washington by telling them that they are winning the war, even if data suggests they’re not.”

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Scott isn’t entirely wrong. There are a significant amount of Americans declaring that they have no religious affiliation — the “Nones” as pollsters call them. But to suggest that evangelicals — or their influence — is shrinking just isn’t true. Pew’s own research also shows that the percentage of evangelicals who are identifying as Republican has jumped 16 points since 1994 — to 77 percent. Across the aisle, Democrats are reaping one of the only rewards of their anti-faith crusade — a larger share of the religiously unaffiliated vote.

As for the younger generation, the news on millennials isn’t nearly as “good” as people like Scott might think it is. While most people naturally assume the under-34 crowd is in the Left’s back pocket, liberals got a jolt last month when Reuters surveyed 16,000 of them. Enthusiasm is waning, Chris Kahn warns, with a nine-point slip in the Left’s advantage over the GOP. While the numbers are still on the Democrats’ side (only 28 percent “overtly support” Republicans), they’re shrinking — especially as millennials age. Among the population’s white voters, the shift to the GOP was even more obvious. “Two years ago, young white people favored Democrats over Republicans for Congress by a margin of 47 to 33 percent; that gap vanished by this year, with 39 percent supporting each party.”

While America’s faith landscape is changing, evangelicals have held surprisingly steady. In Facts & Trend’s March survey, researchers found that “since 1972, evangelical church attenders have grown from 18 percent of the population. After reaching 30 percent in 1993, the share has hovered around 25 percent, ranging from 27 to 23 percent.” Some of that goes to the heart of evangelicalism, which calls us to go and make disciples of Christ. There’s a natural growth component in our faith, as more people are brought to the saving love of Jesus.

It would be a convenient — even satisfying — storyline for the Post to dismiss evangelical voters. But as everyone should know by now, it would be a short-lived celebration. By the next election, the press will be back to writing the headline it hates: that evangelicals are just as involved and engaged as ever.

The opinions expressed by columnists are their own and do not necessarily represent the views of Barb Wire.

Tony Perkins is president of the Washington, D.C.-based Family Research Council. He is a former member of the Louisiana legislature where he served for eight years, and he is recognized as a legislative pioneer for authoring measures like the nation’s first Covenant Marriage law. (Via FRC’s Washington Update. Tony Perkins’ Washington Update is written with the aid of FRC senior writers.)
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