The campaigns of candidates like Roy Moore and Donald J. Trump were plagued with accusations of sexual assault and subject to moral controversy, but despite this, one particular demographic remained their strongest allies – white Christian evangelicals.
Moore’s loss in Alabama’s special Senate election once more put the spotlight on the role of white Christian nationalism in American elections. Exit polls revealed that 80 percent of self-identified white evangelicals voted for Moore, who was accused of molesting several teenagers when he was in his 30s and who has a reputation for being racist, homophobic and sexist.
The Washington Post took note of this, highlighting the “stunning” gap between white evangelical voters and black evangelicals in the Alabama election.
Ninety-five percent of black evangelicals voted for Doug Jones, Moore’s opponent. Unlike their white counterparts, The Post notes that “[black evangelical] faith organizers were able to motivate such voters by urging them to reclaim their own religious values in the public square.” The article also says another factor in the voting gap was that “Jones was able to elevate religious values such as humility and grace, rather than specific social issues that sometimes separate black and white evangelical Christians.”
These results hold a lot of significance. Moore’s crushing loss, thanks in large part to minority voters, not only indicates that the Religious Right’s support of candidates who want to discriminate against LGBTQ people, women and more in the name of religion is backfiring, but also shows that the movement – which already consists of a majority of white evangelicals – is alienating people of color.
A few months ago, for example, when given the choice to condemn comments made by Trump, where he blamed “both sides” (protesters and white supremacists) for the neo-Nazi terrorist attack in Charlottesville, Va., Religious Right leaders remained mum or rushed to Trump’s defense. Supporters of Trump’s comments included Tony Perkins of the Family Research Council, Jerry Falwell Jr. of Liberty University and prominent evangelist Franklin Graham. Falwell went as far as to say that Trump’s comments were “bold and truthful” and that Trump is the kind of leader America needs.
The Religious Right seems to be alienating non-white evangelical Christians.
Religious Right leaders were unable to condemn avowed racists, putting them among a decided majority of the American public. That, along with their support for Trump despite his Muslim ban and other xenophobic policies, has increasingly exposed them as “Trumpvangelicals.”
The movement further aligned itself with white nationalists this year by embracing non-establishment “alt-right” Trump supporters, including Steve Bannon, Trump’s former White House chief strategist and current chairman of conservative Breitbart News, a propaganda website that has been accused of being a front for white nationalist groups. At the 2017 Values Voter Summit, Bannon was welcomed with applause when he vowed to launch “a season of war” against establishment Republicans.
Moore’s loss was a blow to Bannon’s vision, and it was also a blow to the Religious Right. Remarked my colleague Rob Boston in a recent blog post, “Moore’s candidacy was a moral test for the Religious Right. The question was simple: Would the men and women who lead and join groups that are allegedly obsessed with ‘morals’ and ‘values’ continue to back Moore even in the face of credible charges of sexual assault and harassment against teenage girls?”
They failed that test, just as they failed in 2016 when they overwhelmingly helped elect a man who bragged about sexually assaulting women and getting away with it because he is rich and famous.
In 2011, Public Religion Research Institute found that 30 percent of white evangelicals believed “an elected official who commits an immoral act in their personal life can still behave ethically and fulfill their duties in their public and professional life.” By 2016, that percentage skyrocketed to 72 percent.
This, some experts argue, is due to fear. White evangelicals are shifting toward candidates like Trump and Moore who promise to protect their positions of privilege over immigrants, religious minorities, LGBTQ people, women and others.
“The tyranny of fear in white Christian life is especially visible among white evangelicals, who stand out in their opposition to pluralism in America,” Charles Mathewes, a professor of Religious Studies at the University of Virginia, wrote in a Dec. 19 Washington Post column. “White Christians seem unwilling to be guided by the plain truth of our shared faith. Instead of forming judgments about how to live our lives based on how our religious convictions interact with real-life circumstances, we pass off irascible reactions as theological principles.”
As polling data from the Alabama race reveals, the only group the Religious Right is consistently reaching is white evangelicals. The Religious Right’s failure to confront white nationalism and their promotion of anti-LGBTQ, anti-women and anti-religious minority policies are isolating other communities. This may spell a lot of trouble for the theocrats among us as American demographics continue to change.