New research indicates what people already knew: Evangelicals overwhelmingly vote for conservative candidates. But many churchgoers don’t vote that way for the reason pastors would hope, and it’s mostly white evangelicals who are politically conservative. Evangelicals of other ethnicities vote much differently, and that group is growing.
All this leads to a far different understanding of what evangelical Christians really care about, and how important it is for the church to develop a more inclusive understanding of what “evangelical” looks like in America.
“IT’S THE ECONOMY, STUPID”
It was during former President Bill Clinton’s first campaign that lead strategist James Carville coined this blunt but memorable axiom. His point was, at the end of the day people care about their pocketbooks, so focus the campaign on that. While it’s commonly believed Christians care less about economics and more about hot-button social issues like abortion or religious freedom, poll results indicate Carville was right: It’s still all about the economy.
In a recent survey by Lifeway Research only 4 percent of those polled said abortion was the most important issue in the 2016 presidential campaign, with 10 percent saying it was Supreme Court nominees, and 7 percent saying religious freedom. These results were dwarfed by the top two answers of improving the economy (26 percent) and maintaining national security (22 percent), and look nearly identical to the priorities of non-evangelical voters.
It’s tempting to think these results skew this way because people label themselves “evangelicals” without knowing what that means. In an attempt to keep this from happening, Lifeway’s poll defined “evangelical” based on answers to four core theological questions about the Bible, Jesus’ crucifixion, salvation and evangelism. What this would seem to indicate is, while evangelical Christians are viewed as voting on core social issues such as abortion, gay marriage or Supreme Court nominees, these barely crack the top five.
“For churchgoers and those with evangelical beliefs, their pocketbook and personal safety are paramount,” said Scott McConnell, executive director of Lifeway Research. “Moral issues aren’t a priority for many of them.”
RACIAL UNITY IS GOING TO REQUIRE MORE POLITICAL INCLUSIVITY WITHIN THE CHURCH
One of the more discouraging realities of our current political climate is not just the differences between political parties, but the tendency within the church to think if someone votes differently they are a less serious Christian. This way of thinking is only going to lead to deeper schisms within the church along ethnic lines. If there are brothers and sisters stacking hands on the Gospel essentials, we have a biblical mandate to work through the inessentials to understand why some are deeply worried about Clinton and religious freedom or are terrified of Trump’s rhetoric.
Especially since the polls show we are mostly voting by our pocketbooks, it might be good for us to show a little humility in our political discussions and not be so quick to adapt a “moral high ground” in our conversations.
We need to do this for reasons far more important than our next President. It’s about our church family, attempting to be more unified, showing our country where its true hope lies.