How Is The GOP Adjusting To A Less Religious America? : NPR

Donald Trump attends a church service in Las Vegas when he was a presidential candidate in 2016. Trump convinced many white Conservative Christians by wrapping their traditional priorities with his own cultural fixations. Chip Somodevilla / Getty Images Hide caption

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Chip Somodevilla / Getty Images

Donald Trump attends a church service in Las Vegas when he was a presidential candidate in 2016. Trump convinced many white Conservative Christians by wrapping their traditional priorities with his own cultural fixations.

Chip Somodevilla / Getty Images

If Ronald Reagan accepted the 1980 Republican presidential nomination, he finished his speech with a pious one Inquiry.

“I admit that I was a little afraid to suggest what I am going to propose – I am more afraid that we will begin our crusade united in a moment of silent prayer,” he said.

It was the foreword to a presidency designed to help make white evangelicals the staunch Republican electorate they are today.

Fast forward to a 2015 campaign event when Republican adviser Frank Luntz worked to pin down soon-to-be President Donald Trump on a simple question of faith:

“Have you ever asked God for forgiveness?” Luntz asked Trump twice before getting that response, “I’m not sure I have this. I’ll just go and try to do a better job from there. I don’t think so.”

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Trump benefited from white evangelical support that Reagan helped cement, but he also presided over a country religiously very different from what Reagan took over after 1980. Trump’s presidency is an early case study of how the Republican Party has long been associated with conservative Christian values ​​- perhaps trying to deal with a country that is becoming less and less religious.

In fact, the US recently passed a religious milestone: for the first time, a majority of Americans are not church members, Gallup found this spring.

Over the past decade, the percentage of Republicans who are church members has decreased from 75% to 65%. after Gallup. That’s a solid majority, but it’s also a significant drop.

The proportion of white evangelicals is also shrinking, while the proportion of non-denominational Americans is growing.

This makes religion an important part of an impending, long-term demographic challenge for Republicans, says Whit Ayres, a Republican pollster.

“Republicans clearly have a stronger influence among religious followers, especially evangelical Protestants. So any decline in evangelical Protestant affiliation is not good news for the GOP, ”he said.

The result for Ayres is that a party that is still deeply connected to conservative Christianity, and especially white evangelicals, will at some point have to win over more Christian conservatives – for example, among the growing Hispanic electorate – or grow among significantly less religious groups, like young voters.

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A change in tone

For now, it’s fair to say that the Republican Party is openly replacing religious rhetoric with broader cultural war themes, Ayres said.

“As religiosity declines, people interested in culturally conservative ends may not – cancel culture, TV shows and movies that glorify more left values, that slander right values,” he said.

This coincides with another trend in American politics – that people are increasingly focusing their identities on their party affiliations. It’s a trend that can give pastors headaches that have nothing to do with whether church attendance is increasing or decreasing.

Christian Gaffney, pastor of Expectation Church in Fairfax, Virginia, says parishioners pushed themselves back when he preached on things like masks and race.

Gaffney said that conflicts arise for him when the church aligns its life with its partisan identity rather than its Christian faith.

“I think it goes back to the idea of ​​culture wars – the idea that everything is so polarized – and because there is this direction of polarization, Trump gives a lightning rod for one of those poles, one of those sides to really rally and adhere to, ”he said. “My job as a pastor is to show people that it is not about gathering around one side, but about the person of Jesus Christ.”

Despite believing himself to be conservative, Gaffney said that right-wing parishioners accused him of being “liberal” when he challenged Republican orthodoxy.

Christianity vs. Christian culture

Gaffney’s Church is growing. But, by and large, the shrinking American Christian Church may, absurdly, cement the ties between the Republican Party and Conservative Christianity.

“Such data on the shrinking population of white evangelicals or the decline in church membership actually intensifies the relationship.” [between the GOP and conservative Christians]“Said Sarah Posner, author of two books criticizing white evangelical politics.

“As these numbers shrink, demographics are not in [the GOP’s] Like. And so it becomes more and more important to intensify their relationship to win elections and so on, “she said.

Notorious through statements like the statement that he never asked for forgiveness Reference to the biblical book Typically referred to as the “Two Corinthians” Second Corinthians, Trump showed he didn’t have the honest churchgoers of rivals like Senator Ted Cruz, R-Texas, who regularly invoked God at his campaign events.

In fact, at the start of the 2016 primaries, Trump addressed more Republicans who identified themselves as Christians but weren’t regular churchgoers. More devout republican Christians preferred Cruz.

But Trump ultimately won over staunch Christian conservatives. In doing so, he combined traditionally conservative Christian topics such as abortion with his own cultural fixations such as race and complaint politics.

At this point, Posner added, Christianity and politics on the right can get so mixed up that they are difficult to separate.

“There’s a whole constellation of organizations and media and social media and other ways to get these ideas, ideas about what it means to be a Christian, what it means to be an American, what it means to be an American To be Christian, what it means “to be a patriot, what it means to fight the left or abolish culture,” she said.

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Jackson Avery, president of the College Republicans at George Mason University and a Christian himself, said he doesn’t hear his young Republicans talk much about their beliefs, but he still thinks it is good for the party to maintain a Christian identity.

“I don’t think the Republican Party is saying, ‘We’re not just the party of Christians, we’re the party of atheists’ – I think that drives more people out. You know, you only need enough percentage to win, ”he said.

He believes the GOP will not return to its Reagan-era heights, but also suggests that it will not be required to do so, at least in the short term.

“There is this idea where it goes back to Ronald Reagan where he got 60% of the vote,” added Avery. “The Republicans will never, never get that, at least in our lifetime. I don’t think so.”

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