The word ‘evangelical’ is now 'bound to' MAGA Republicans: pastor

The word ‘evangelical’ is now 'bound to' MAGA Republicans: pastor

Being a card-carrying liberal or progressive and being a practicing Christian are by no means mutually exclusive. But as a rule, Christians who identify as left-of-center politically are most likely to be Catholics or Mainline Protestants — not fundamentalist evangelicals. The word "evangelical," in fact, is often associated with far-right MAGA Republicans. And Ryan Burge, a Baptist pastor and political science professor, examines this trend in an essay published by the New York Times on October 26.

Burge, in his article, cites a recent Pew Research poll which found that White supporters of former President Donald Trump were more likely to identify as "evangelical" than they were before 2016. The word "evangelical" has an increasingly negative connotation among Trump critics, but Pew found that it has a positive connotation in the minds of Trump supporters.

According to Burge, many Republicans are identifying with the word "evangelical" for political reasons more than religious reasons.

"The number of self-identified evangelicals has likely not increased over the last few years because evangelicals have been effective at spreading the gospel and bringing new converts to the church," Burge explains. "What is drawing more people to embrace the evangelical label on surveys is more likely that evangelicalism has been bound to the Republican Party. Instead of theological affinity for Jesus Christ, millions of Americans are being drawn to the evangelical label because of its association with the GOP…. Many Americans who have begun to embrace the evangelical identity are people who hardly ever attend religious services."

Burge emphasizes that some of the Republicans now identifying with the word "evangelical" aren't really evangelicals; they're Catholics or non-evangelical Protestants — or in some cases, non-Christian people of faith such as Hindus or Muslims. Trump himself is not an evangelical; he was raised Presbyterian and comes from a Mainline Protestant background, although he has never been known for being very religious.

The Christian Right and the Republican Party have been joined at the hip since the early 1980s, when President Ronald Reagan allied himself with the late Rev. Jerry Falwell, Sr., the Moral Majority, the Rev. Pat Robertson and other far-right Protestant fundamentalists — a trend that made conservative Republican Sen. Barry Goldwater (Sen. John McCain's role model) cringe, as he thought the Christian Right was terrible for the GOP and terrible for the conservative movement. But the Christian Right/GOP alliance continues in 2021, and Trump has been more than happy to reinforce it. In fact, Trump has been aggressively supported by Falwell's son: former Liberty University President Jerry Falwell, Jr.

"In the 1970s," Burge observes, "only 40% of White weekly churchgoing evangelicals identified as Republicans; in the most recent data, that number has risen to an all-time high of 70%. The evangelical coalition of 2020 may not be in agreement about which religion is the correct one or even if religious devotion is necessary to identify as an evangelical. But on Election Day, they speak with one voice — in full-throated support of the Republican candidate."

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