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

Political polarization has eased 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.

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

In the young, mobile, tech-savvy church, members who “leaned more far left and far right tended to have the toughest times this past season,” Sinnett said, “and they were also the ones who gravitated away from the church.”

The Seattle congregation’s experience aligns with data released this week by Heart and Mind Strategies, a research and counseling 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 hurts the church’s credibility. One in four say evangelical support for Trump reduced their desire to participate in religion. And among evangelicals, 33% say their leaders’ support for Trump has made it harder to witness personally to friends and family.

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

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

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

Divisions in many churches have reached a breaking point in 2020, with political polarization heightened during Trump’s re-election campaign and pastors struggle to maintain unity on responses to the pandemic. In the aftermath of the disputed election and the riot at the United States Capitol, pastors even found themselves in conversations about conspiracy theories, fear and truth.

Amid the tensions, some congregations have clashed with their leaders, some pastors have left their churches, some members have gone in search of a new church home, and some have cut church life altogether.

But as the election recedes and the outlook for the pandemic improves, things feel much better in most churches than they did in 2020. The effects linger, but the intensity of the debates is escalating. is faded.

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

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

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

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

It can be difficult to disagree about politics in church when so many believers see their voting and political involvement as stemming from their Christian beliefs and their beliefs in right and wrong. According to the Heart and Mind survey, two-thirds of self-identified evangelicals say their faith influences their political beliefs, twice as many as the average American.

The majority of evangelicals (57%) believe their support for Trump in 2020 “showed the moral courage to try to put in place policies and actions consistent with evangelical Christian values,” and more than a third of Americans in all agreed.

Most of those who identify as evangelicals or have evangelical beliefs said evangelical positions on President Trump do not affect their church involvement in any way. But for a significant minority, it has led them to become more involved in their church and their faith.

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

About 80% of white evangelicals voted for Trump in 2016 and again in 2020, according to query data. Trump’s evangelical allies, convened 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 backing him in 2020 based on his record on religious freedom, abortion, and religious freedom. other problems. In the Heart and Mind survey, white evangelicals, over the age of 55, and weekly worshipers were the most likely to agree with such positions, believing that Trump was keeping his promises to champion issues important to people. faithful Christians.

Evangelical critics of the former president, however, said Trump’s brash approach, as well as his remarks about women and immigrants, revealed a character at odds with Christian values. Pastors as Andy Stanley at North Point Community Church in Atlanta, feared that the 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 findings from Heart and Mind align with data released last month by the Pew Research Center showing there was no mass exodus from evangelicalism in the four years of Trump’s presidency. despite pockets of trouble. In fact, the affiliation has grown through the label’s adoption by Trump’s political supporters.

While evangelicalism as a whole appears to have survived the Trump era without major cracks, 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 failings, 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 stood up for issues important to faithful Christians.”

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

Members of the Antioch Baptist Church in Fairfax Station, Va., are “deeply, deeply concerned” about appearances the convention is “in bed with a particular [political] party,” he said.

The Trump administration has “reopened” past wounds of racial trauma for African Americans and brought adult men to tears, Ausberry said. Over the past year, the situation “has not improved because anytime you have racialized pain or trauma that comes back to the surface, it takes time to heal.”

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

In different parts of the country and among Latinos from different backgrounds, opinions have been divided over the president. Some churches have split over elections and some Hispanic believers have changed churches because of politics, Chavez said.

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

Amid the slowing election dispute, 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 the report. Heart and Mind Strategies survey.

Evangelicals under 35, people of color, including Asians and Hispanics, and those living in mountain and midwestern regions were the 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 most likely to say evangelical leaders did a fair or poor job of speaking out about the presidential election (43%). 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 of Shiloh Baptist Church in Saraland, Alabama.

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Barry F. Howard