One year after the election, Trump’s effect on the c …… | News and reports


Political polarization has faded in most American churches a year after the 2020 presidential elections. But there are notable exceptions to this trajectory, and new research has revealed lingering effects of evangelical support for former President Donald Trump.

Remnants of tension are evident in congregations such as Seattle’s Downtown Cornerstone Church, where Pastor Adam Sinnett was surprised “at how difficult it is to truly cultivate unity in the midst. [our] political differences.

In the young, mobile and tech-savvy church, members who “lean more to the far left and far right tended to have the most difficult times in the last season,” Sinnett said, “and they were also those who gravitated away from the church.

The Seattle congregation’s experience matches data released this week by Heart and Mind Strategies, a research and advisory organization. A survey of 1,000 American adults conducted in August found some remaining sources of political conflict for evangelicals.

About half of Americans believe that evangelical leaders’ support for Trump has damaged the credibility of the church. One in four say evangelical support for Trump has reduced his desire to participate in religion. And among evangelicals, 33% say their leaders’ support for Trump has made it more difficult for their friends and family to testify personally.

The political strife the church has endured in recent years “shows the world that Jesus doesn’t really unite people like we say,” Sinnett said.

In downtown Cornerstone, political differences appear “in three main spheres: personal relationships, small groups and more specifically around leadership decisions” on whether to address social issues and submit to government on COVID-19 restrictions, among other issues.

“It’s sort of an accusation against the church that we are much more comfortable in our ideological circles than with people who have totally different political perspectives but who worship the same Jesus,” Sinnett said.

Divisions in many churches reached breaking point in 2020, with increased political polarization during Trump and pastors’ re-election campaign struggle to maintain unity on responses to the pandemic. In the aftermath of the contested election and riot on the U.S. Capitol, pastors even found themselves in conversations about conspiracy theories, fear, and truth.

Amid the tensions, some congregations clashed with their leaders, some pastors left their churches, some members left in search of a new church home, and some took a complete break from church life. .

But as the elections recede and the outlook for a pandemic improves, things are feeling a lot better in most churches than they were in 2020. The effects persist, but the intensity of the debate is waning. is off.

The question for analysts is whether the apparent easing of political tensions among evangelicals stems from increased spiritual maturity or simply from the changing cycle of news. Author and theologian Jonathan Leeman thinks it’s a combination of the two.

“There are risks of division over the things that make the news,” said Leeman, co-author of How can I love church members with a different policy? “Now we are not talking about a presidential election,” and the division fades. “Everyone’s talking about vaccines and mask warrants, so that’s where you’re going to feel the cracks. “

Yet Christians seem to be learning in 2021 to separate “whole church issues,” which Christians must agree to be part of a congregation on together, from “Christian freedom issues,” which are not so clear in this. the Scriptures, he said.

“At least a few more people are starting to grasp the idea of ​​Christian freedom as a crucial doctrine that allows conversation temperatures to drop at least slightly,” said Leeman, editorial director of 9Marks in Washington, DC.

It can be difficult to disagree on politics in church when so many believers see their vote and political engagement as a result of their Christian beliefs and their belief in right and wrong. Two-thirds of self-identified evangelicals, according to the Heart and Mind survey, say their faith influences their political beliefs – twice as much as Americans on average.

The majority of evangelicals (57%) believe their support for Trump in 2020 “showed moral courage in trying to carry out policies and actions consistent with evangelical Christian values,” and more than a third of Americans in the together agree.

Most of those who identify as evangelical or have evangelical beliefs said evangelical positions on President Trump did not affect their involvement in the church anyway. But for a significant minority, it made them become more involved in their church and their faith.

Among self-identified evangelicals, 30 percent say they are more likely to attend Sunday services because of the way their pastors addressed Trump in the last election, 27 percent say they are more likely to donate to their church; and 33 percent are more likely to testify to friends.

About 80% of white evangelicals voted for Trump in 2016 and again in 2020, according to query data. Trump’s evangelical allies, summoned by friend and televangelist Paula White, included leaders like First Baptist Dallas Pastor Robert Jeffress, Gateway Church Pastor Robert Morris, and Samaritan’s Purse President Franklin Graham.

Some evangelicals who opposed Trump in the 2016 election, such as Southern Baptist Theological Seminary President Albert Mohler, ended up supporting him in 2020 based on his track record of religious freedom, abortion and death. ‘other problems. In the Heart and Mind survey, white evangelicals over 55 and church weekly worshipers were most likely to agree with such positions, believing that Trump had kept his promises to defend the issues important for faithful Christians.

Evangelical critics of the former president, however, said Trump’s brash approach, along with his remarks on women and immigrants, revealed a character at odds with Christian values. Pastors as Andy Stanley at the North Point Community Church in Atlanta, evangelical association with Trump would damage the reputation and reach of the church. In the survey, a minority of evangelicals believed the same, concerned about the impact on evangelical credibility and Christian witness.

But surveys so far have not reported a significant impact on evangelical affiliation. The new Heart and Mind findings match data released last month by the Pew Research Center showing there has been no mass exodus of evangelicalism in the four years of Trump’s presidency despite pockets of unrest. In fact, the affiliation grew thanks to the adoption of the label by Trump’s political supporters.

While evangelicalism as a whole appears to have survived the Trump era without major cracks, the division remains for some black Christians.

The Heart and Mind Strategies poll found that 64% of black evangelicals identified with the feeling that “evangelical leaders’ obsessive support for Trump, coupled with his personal failures, is doing more harm than good, tarnishing many causes.” An identical percentage of white evangelicals (64%) agreed that they supported Trump because “although he was not a perfect person, he was an advocate on issues important to faithful Christians.”

These racial differences were manifested in the departures of several African-American pastors from the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) last year. Now Marshal Ausberry, outgoing SBC first vice president and outgoing SBC National African American Fellowship president, has said the suburban DC congregation he pastors may leave the SBC this year.

Members of Antioch Baptist Church in Fairfax Station, Va. Are “deeply, deeply concerned” by appearances the convention is “in bed with an individual [political] party, ”he said.

The Trump administration has “reopened” the racial trauma wounds of African Americans and made adult men cry, Ausberry said. Over the past year, the situation “has not improved because every time you experience racialized pain or trauma resurfacing, it takes time to heal.”

The Hispanic community appears to reflect the broader trend towards political appeasement, according to Javier Chavez, Georgian pastor and professor of world studies at Truett McConnell University. The 2020 election cycle was “difficult” for Latinos due to “political noise”.

In different parts of the country and among Latinos from different backgrounds, opinions clashed over the president. Some churches split in the election and some Hispanic believers changed churches due to politics, Chavez said.

This year, however, “it’s a different story.” Currently, “the discussion of political ideology isn’t really what’s going on in my community,” said Chavez, pastor of Amistad Cristiana International, a Spanish-speaking, primarily Mexican, Central American church in Gainesville, Georgia. “Right now, the concern is economic: inflation, the constant noise of an approaching economic crisis, house prices. “

Amid slowing electoral disputes, half (52%) of evangelicals agree they are “proud that some members of the evangelical community seek to separate Trump’s gospel message from toxic politics,” according to Heart Inquiry and Mind Strategies.

Evangelicals under 35, people of color, including Asians and Hispanics, and those living in mountainous and Midwestern regions were most likely to agree.

Many of them probably have their own leaders in mind. Self-identified evangelicals gave their pastors higher marks in their handling of the 2020 elections than evangelical leaders in general.

Respondents were more likely to say evangelical leaders did a fair or poor job in talking about the presidential election (43%). When asked about their own pastor or church leader, however, just over half (51%) gave them positive ratings.

David Roach is a freelance reporter for CT and pastor at Shiloh Baptist Church in Saraland, Alabama.

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