Mr. Trump, Evangelicals, The Globe, and Crucial Distinctions

Canada’s newspaper of record, the Toronto Globe and Mail, expresses astonishment that Donald Trump, “a profane, thrice-married worshipper of Mammon,” could poll so highly among evangelicals in Iowa and beyond. The story then goes on to quote some dubious explanations from some dubious sources as to why this could be.

Having spent more than a little time studying evangelicals in North America, let me add the following observations to the mix.

1. The phenomenon of evangelicals supporting a decidedly non-evangelical candidate goes back at least as far as Ronald Reagan. It was Reagan who helped American evangelicals get over their scruples about supporting a clearly non-evangelical candidate—even over a clearly evangelical one (Jimmy Carter). Reagan was divorced and attended church less than any president since George Washington. He apparently knew little Scripture and gave no evidence that prayer, churchgoing, Bible-reading, or any other basic marker of serious evangelical piety importantly structured his life.

Reagan did, however, made the right noises about hot-button ethical issues (notably abortion), even if he ended up doing precious little about them (a record that would extend to both Bush presidents), and he appealed on other grounds to middle America—which is where evangelicals preponderate.

2. What about those “other grounds” in this election? As David Frum, among others, has noted, social wedge issues important to many evangelicals (such as abortion and homosexuality) no longer galvanize the broader base in the GOP. Note that no candidate is addressing any of those in this campaign in hopes of gaining evangelical support…for fear of losing the support of others.

What is being discussed instead are other major questions of domestic and foreign policy. Now, here’s the point about evangelicals and politics. Most evangelical churches do not teach any particular view on these subjects: There is no “generic evangelical view” about immigration policy, or intervention in foreign conflicts, or tax rates, or the minimum wage.

Much more importantly, however, these churches also generally fail to train their congregants in how to think about such subjects in a Christian way. Instead, Sunday after Sunday and small-group-meeting after small-group-meeting, they emphasize one’s personal spiritual life, one’s family life, and one’s eternal life. Such a relentless focus on oneself and one’s significant others leaves evangelicals  to decide about matters of domestic and foreign policy largely on other grounds. By default, therefore, they tend to make up their minds like anyone else of their ethnicity, education, class, region, and the like.

Read the rest of this entry »

More of Me (Irresistible, I Know…)

First, if you don’t SUBSCRIBE yet, please do. I blog only impulsively, even desultorily, and I don’t want to waste anyone’s time checking to see if something new has been posted. Just subscribe (by clicking on that helpful little button over yonder) and let us tell you through your e-mail when a new post is up.

Second, my longtime friend Lorna Dueck gets my vote as Canada’s best religious broadcaster (I only wish that compliment meant more than, alas, it does), and today I added my flyspeck of support to her fine work by beginning a regular blogging gig on her website. Please check it out here.

Thanks for reading, for commenting, and for sending me e-mails of support. This year, though, some cheques would be good, too. Just sayin’.

Posted in Media | 3 Comments

Four Reasons Why Christians Are Smarter than We Used to Be

Calvin College recently hosted a session with four of its most esteemed alumni and former professors: George Marsden, Richard Mouw, Alvin Plantinga, and Nicholas Wolterstorff. You can view it here, and you should:

Even in the space of an hour, time for only four short presentations and a couple of question-and-answer rounds, one can see the power of a confident, but humble, Christian worldview.

I have been greatly privileged to have been shaped by each of these four scholars. George Marsden’s Fundamentalism and American Culture provided me an inspiring early model for the writing of North American church history. George also gave me personal encouragement at key points in the decade or so in which I learned and plied his trade, from a letter (that I still have—of course I do!) kindly praising my master’s thesis that he himself used in his history of Fuller Theological Seminary to his positive verdict, fifteen years later, as one of the two external examiners commissioned by the University of Manitoba to advise them on the matter of my application for promotion to the rank of professor.

Read the rest of this entry »