Polls show that on immigration, race, and poverty, white evangelical Protestants have surrendered moral judgment and social responsibility.
Ed Stetzer is grappling with a moral crisis. Stetzer, the director of the Billy Graham Center at Wheaton College, is preaching the Gospel to his fellow Christians. And they’re not listening. “White evangelicals are highly motivated to support President Donald Trump around the issue of immigration,” Stetzer, a Trump critic, wrote in Vox on the morning of the midterms. The next day, after reading exit polls, Stetzer lamented that the president’s scare talk about migrants had proved once again to be a winner with white evangelicals. “I’d hoped it wouldn’t be,” Stetzer told NPR. “But it was.”
Stetzer and other evangelical leaders are in the business of saving souls. But today, the souls in peril are in their own flock. Nationalism, tribalism, and a corrupt, ruthless Republican president are reviving old demons and summoning new ones. The “family values” concerns of 10, 20, or 30 years ago—homosexuality, premarital sex, women in the military—have been overtaken by a different set of moral issues, often derided by the right as “social justice.” On these emerging issues, white evangelical Protestants—for simplicity’s sake, I’ll call them WEPs—are, more than any other religious constituency, standing on the wrong side. The problem isn’t that they’re imposing their morality on others. The problem is that what they’re imposing isn’t morality. It’s wickedness.
This isn’t true of all white evangelicals, much less all Christians. It would be false and reckless to condemn all WEPs, just as it’s false and reckless to condemn all Muslims or Jews. The people doing the best work against perversions of Islam are Muslims, and the people doing the best work against perversions of evangelical Christianity are evangelicals like Stetzer. I’ve met some of them through the Faith Angle Forum, a project of the Ethics and Public Policy Center. At a conference last week, I sat with them as we studied surveys of religious voters. Stetzer is right to worry. The numbers are bad.
WEPs are one of Trump’s most loyal constituencies. Eighty-one percent of them voted for him in 2016. That’s 20 percentage points higher than Trump’s vote share among any other religious group. It’s higher than the percentage of WEPs who voted for George W. Bush, John McCain, or Mitt Romney. The wide gap between WEPs and other faith communities in support for Trump persists to this day. Every other group, on balance, views Trump unfavorably. WEPs, by a ratio of 2 to 1, view him favorably.