Note: This is a column by my friend Mark Tooley at the Institute on Religion and Democracy. Mark has been a leader in attempting to bring the United Methodist Church back to its roots and that’s been a chore indeed. Yet Mark is on of the brightest minds in the evangelical movement and I believe he makes some interesting points with this column.
Liberty University President Jerry Falwell Jr’s endorsement of Donald Trump has provoked important questions about Evangelicals in retail politics. The senior Falwell, of course, was a founder of the Religious Right who helped rally many Evangelicals to Ronald Reagan and to conservative politics in the 1980s. It’s now common among many younger Evangelicals to bemoan the perceived failures and overreach of the old Religious Right. The younger Falwell has been widely critiqued by many conservative Evangelicals for endorsing a casino magnate not renowned for deep commitment to Christian ethical aspirations. Some lament the Evangelical brand has been further tarnished.
Falwell is just one of tens of millions of American Evangelicals. He speaks for a segment of that highly decentralized demographic. Nobody speaks for all, and perhaps no single figure speaks for most. Strong majorities, typically 70-75%, of white Evangelicals, who altogether are about 25% of America, vote Republican. But millions vote for Democrats. Among this cohort of about 80 million, millions of Evangelicals no doubt support Hillary Clinton or Bernie Sanders. This diversity is true for nearly all of America’s faith communities.
Among conservative Evangelicals there are growing apprehensions, sometimes even panic, about the country’s direction. Some, no doubt including many Trump supporters, hope for a strong leader who can steer America in a dramatically different direction. Others are more downbeat or even ambivalent about intense Evangelical political engagement. The senior Falwell was influenced by the influential late Presbyterian thinker and cultural critic Francis Schaeffer, who instructed a generation or two of Evangelical elites to battle for political and cultural reclamation against encroaching secularism. Schaeffer has fallen from favor, and most even well read Evangelical Millennials likely are barely aware of him.
Read the rest of the column here.