(If you missed part I, you can find it here).
In an analysis of the 2016 election, the Pew Research Center found that 58% of people who called themselves “Christian” voted for Donald Trump and 39% for Hillary Clinton. However, when they broke the demographics into more precise subgroups, they found that 81% of “White, born again / Evangelicals” (WBAE) voted for Donald Trump and 16% voted for Hillary Clinton. This was the greatest voting margin ever recorded for a group of evangelicals. With this group of WBAEs making up 26% of the electorate and “Christian” making up 52% of the electorate, you could easily make the argument that these groups were the largest voting bloc for making the election of Donald Trump possible. (http://www.pewresearch.org/fact-tank/2016/11/09/how-the-faithful-voted-a-preliminary-2016-analysis/ ) Many people, especially non-Christians who don’t favor Trump, consider the election of Donald Trump as a uniquely Christian phenomenon. (http://www.christianitytoday.com/gleanings/2016/november/trump-elected-president-thanks-to-4-in-5-white-evangelicals.html)
It is too early to have objective information regarding the impact of the evangelical support for Donald Trump on the exodus of Millennials from the Church. You can only make inferences based on supporting data. Time will only tell the full extent of the impact. What I have already established is that Millennials, and others, have been leaving the Church and to a less extent, Christianity in general, by the droves. There is no question about that. Some Christians, however, argue that certain age groups (such as the twenties) have always left the Church, only to come back later, when they are married and “settled down.”
While the leaving and subsequent return may have been true in previous generations, the implication of that trend on the situation today may be in error. A Gallop poll in 2002 (http://www.gallup.com/poll/6124/religiosity-cycle.aspx) suggests that there is a natural decline in “religiosity” from the late teens, until the early thirties, however, the interest starts to rebound (marginally) by the late thirties.
While there could be some return to the Church, it would be easy to over-estimate that return. There is no question that the percent of those who identify with Christianity or church attendance has been on a steady downward turn for almost a century and there is no evidence that is reversing but instead escalating. We are truly living in a post-Christian society.
Amy Gannett, a self-described evangelical millennial, does an excellent job of describing the tension in this past election season in her article, Why Evangelicals are Losing and Entire Generation (https://amygannett.com/2016/07/29/why-evangelicals-are-losing-an-entire-generation/). Amy cites that when she saw the report that the noted evangelical theologian, Wayne Grudem, endorsed Donald Trump (see: https://townhall.com/columnists/waynegrudem/2016/07/28/why-voting-for-donald-trump-is-a-morally-good-choice-n2199564 ), that was her personal last straw with Evangelicalism. She boils down the issue as the evangelical-right seeks a moral view for the country, but they put that morality on a hierarchical tower. The problem is that the Millennials have a very different arrangement of that hierarchy than the evangelical right. I will try to compare the moral hierarchy of the two groups, based on reading many articles and personal discussion with Millennials. I realize that there could be disagreement on the way I have organized this list. I will also point out that Millennials, who still consider themselves evangelical and who still attend church regularly, are skewed towards their adult evangelical counterparts but with many of the mainstream Millennial traits.
|Trump Platform Priorities||Millennial Moral Priorities|
|America First||All Humans of Value / Support Social Justice Issues|
|Business above environmental concerns||Environmental concerns, especially global warming, more important than business profits.|
|Increasing America’s military spending to keep us safe and America, as a Christian country, strong.||Seeking worldwide peace using international organizations such as the UN.|
|Increasing the rights of Christians to discriminate against transgender, gays, Muslim because the Christian ideology is morally superior and the other ideas will hurt our Christian country||As a part of social justice, giving all people the same rights and stopping the discrimination against any people group for any reason|
|Outlawing abortion or at least making it as difficult as possible to obtain. If limiting a woman’s ability to get contraception is part of that effort (un-funding Planned Parenthood) then that is okay, even if decreased access to birth control = more abortions.||The decision that a woman makes must be kept private between a woman and her medical provider. They see abortion, while not optimal, is a legitimate choice in the case of unwanted pregnancies. The Christian Millennials see being pro-life as meaning all life on the planet, not just a fetus.|
|Anti-immigration / refugee based on the narrative that they are dangerous and take our jobs if not our lives.||Seeing immigrants and refugees through the lens of social justice as human beings deserving respect and assistance. The first-world countries are the most culpable for wars (often wars of proxy between Russia and the US) and therefore are even more responsible for helping those harmed by such wars.|
|Reducing the deficient by helping business (increase growth, will increase tax revenues).||Reducing the deficient by reducing spending, especially limiting spending on things like the military.|
|Consider science as an alternative theory if it counters any of the other priorities. For example, because attempts to curb global warming puts restrictions on some business activities (eg. burning coal), the scientific evidence must be seen as only one theory.||Scientific truth is reliable and not the subject of becoming just an alternative theory if it counters another moral priority.|
The Impact of the 2016 Election
Because, at this juncture, there is very little statistical data on the social outcome of the 2016 election we can only use conjecture based on previous trends. I will isolate this discussion to the Millennials for the sake of time. Here is what we know. Among 18-29 year-olds, of those who voted, 37% voted for Trump and 55% voted for Clinton and 8% for a third party candidate.
Another issue, which is not completely captured in the above table, is the sense of what truth really is. During the campaign of 2016, both sides used misinformation in their tactics to defeat the other side. It is coming to light at this time that foreign interests, such as the Russians, did this on a professional level to defeat Hillary Clinton. We do not know yet if the Trump campaign coordinated that cyber attack. The question was raised what is truth anymore? The independent reviewers at Politico ranked Donald Trump as lying the most, with Hillary Clinton a close second or third, while Sanders and Kasich came out as being the most honest. Time Magazine asked on its cover of its April 2nd 2017 edition, “Is Truth Dead?” For decades, the Church has been talking about the fact we live in a post-modern society, where truth as become relative. In the twentieth century, the Church had been the main bulwark against the relativity of truth and in opposition the relativity of truth. To the Millennials, it now appears that the Church has–full-frontally—embraced the loss of truth and facts for the sake of promoting their personal views, the right (political) agenda.
In this Post-Post Modern Age, the idea of absolute truth has been seriously eroded. However, the Millennials have seemed to have turned the corner on that way of thinking. Some call this new age as the Age of Authenticity, because the Millennials and those younger seem to value authenticity higher than previous generations.
The desire for authenticity has always been a function of youth. Most people start out in life having an idealism about honesty and justice. They then allow that idealism to “go to seed,” through life experiences and the assimilation in to the cynical culture of older adults. But this Millennial generation may be more skeptical and esteem authenticity higher than their predecessors. There could be many reasons for that, but the fact they have been so exposed to, and inoculated by false advertising (thanks to the explosion of media sources in the past twenty years), they are more distrustful. In their disparagement, they desire truth to be clear and founded on factual data. For many, this was one of the greatest distractors from Donald Trump, simply because they could not trust him to be truthful.
The Church and the Great Commission
The Church has long held the doctrine of the Great Commission. Jesus’ last words to his followers were: God authorized and commanded me to commission you: Go out and train everyone you meet, far and near, in this way of life, marking them by baptism in the threefold name: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Then instruct them in the practice of all I have commanded you. I’ll be with you as you do this, day after day after day, right up to the end of the age. (Matthew 28:20, The Message). This has commonly been understood that wherever you are, you are to work to teach and make Christian disciples. There were two choices, intentionally going somewhere else to reach people for Christ (missionaries) or to be an influence on the society around you.
Furthermore, scripture also describes the Church as salt and light:
13 Let me tell you why you are here. You’re here to be salt-seasoning that brings out the God-flavors of this earth. If you lose your saltiness, how will people taste godliness? You’ve lost your usefulness and will end up in the garbage.
14-16 Here’s another way to put it: You’re here to be light, bringing out the God-colors in the world. God is not a secret to be kept. We’re going public with this, as public as a city on a hill. If I make you light-bearers, you don’t think I’m going to hide you under a bucket, do you? I’m putting you on a light stand. Now that I’ve put you there on a hilltop, on a light stand—shine! Keep open house; be generous with your lives. By opening up to others, you’ll prompt people to open up with God, this generous Father in heaven. (Matthew 5:13-16, The Message)
If the purpose of the Church (concerning outreach) is to reach the people where you are, then the Church in the west is failing. As mentioned above, with each passing generation the west is becoming less Christianized.
As I have alluded to, it is too early to have supporting data for my final conclusions. However, using a bit of abductive reasoning, you can conclude that we have become less of salt and light to the modern society, by supporting the election of Donald Trump. I’ve heard from many TV and radio interviews, as well as my own conversations with Millennials, that not only do they feel deeply hurt by the election, but that evangelicalism, as a whole, has lost its moral authority due to profound hypocrisy. There is a basis of that hypocrisy as seen through the eyes of Millennials. While most them are unchurched, most have a remembrance of Christianity and the foundational doctrines, such as the Ten Commandments:
1God spoke all these words:
2I am God, your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of a life of slavery.
3 No other gods, only me.
4-6 No carved gods of any size, shape, or form of anything whatever, whether of things that fly or walk or swim. Don’t bow down to them and don’t serve them because I am God, your God, and I’m a most jealous God, punishing the children for any sins their parents pass on to them to the third, and yes, even to the fourth generation of those who hate me. But I’m unswervingly loyal to the thousands who love me and keep my commandments.
7 No using the name of God, your God, in curses or silly banter; God won’t put up with the irreverent use of his name.
8-11 Observe the Sabbath day, to keep it holy. Work six days and do everything you need to do. But the seventh day is a Sabbath to God, your God. Don’t do any work—not you, nor your son, nor your daughter, nor your servant, nor your maid, nor your animals, not even the foreign guest visiting in your town. For in six days God made Heaven, Earth, and sea, and everything in them; he rested on the seventh day. Therefore God blessed the Sabbath day; he set it apart as a holy day.
12 Honor your father and mother so that you’ll live a long time in the land that God, your God, is giving you.
13 No murder.
14 No adultery.
15 No stealing.
16 No lies about your neighbor.
17 No lusting after your neighbor’s house—or wife or servant or maid or ox or donkey. Don’t set your heart on anything that is your neighbor’s. (Exodus 20 1-2, The Message).
Evangelicalism has always been quite critical of and fought against these behaviors within our society. In previous elections, the evangelicals opposed particular candidates based on knowledge of the violation of one of these commandments (usually adultery). However, in 2016, they fully embraced Donald J. Trump, who blatantly, and often unapologetically, violated many of these commandments. In the eyes of the Millennials, the evangelicals simply sold out for financial or party-loyalty reasons and their commitment to Christian principles.
In summary, the loss of this generation, on the twenty-first century Church’s watch is more than a simple error. Evangelicals seem to believe that they can take power in the government and then legislate Christian values on the masses. This thinking is greatly misguided. I predict that the alignment of the Evangelical Church with Donald J. Trump will go down as the biggest debacle for the Church in the twenty-first century.
Where Do We Go from Here?
It does no one any good to mark the boundaries of a problem without suggesting solutions. I will try to do the same. Here are some of the choices that we have.
- The Evangelical Church, which supported Donald Trump, including their most visible leaders (Franklin Graham et al.), could come to a profound repentance. This would mean, giving a clear message to the Millennials that they (the evangelicals who supported Trump) made a huge mistake because the policies of the Trump platform go against Biblical concepts. The chance of this happening is virtually impossible. It is very hard for someone to repent from a very public decision.
- Another approach is to cut our identification with evangelicalism and to create a new Christian label of witness. We need to drive a deeper wedge between the part of the Church that identifies with the political right and American nationalism, and the part that supports the basic Biblical principles. We need to create daylight between them and the rest of the Church. The previous title of Evangelicalism should not be all-encompassing. In the early twentieth century, the term meant that we considered Jesus the only way and therefore the Gospel worthy to be dispersed (evangelism). Evangelicalism means something very different to the Millennial generation. We need a new name or description of what we stand for.
Several appropriate names for Christians, who are not right-politically, are making their way into the English vernacular, such as progressive Christians. That’s a good name. I prefer the term Natural Christianity; however, I must explain what I mean by that. The term, as meant by the Swiss philosopher, Jean Jacque Rousseau, implied a state that was devoid of human modifications. It is a popular adjective today referring to many things. The thinking (which I don’t always agree with) implies that products including food, medicine, and etc. are better when humans have had minimal roles in their production.
When Natural applies to Christianity, it is correct. It implies a very simple and raw form of Christianity, without human political or philosophical influence. Christians certainly can have political views, but they just don’t mix those views with their basic Christian faith. Paul wrote to the Colossians to warn them about such human philosophies mixtures here:
8-10 Watch out for people who try to dazzle you with big words and intellectual double-talk. They want to drag you off into endless arguments that never amount to anything. They spread their ideas through the empty traditions of human beings and the empty superstitions of spirit beings. But that’s not the way of Christ. Everything of God gets expressed in him, so you can see and hear him clearly. You don’t need a telescope, a microscope, or a horoscope to realize the fullness of Christ, and the emptiness of the universe without him. When you come to him, that fullness comes together for you, too. His power extends over everything. (The Message, Col 8-10)
We need to approach the Millennials and all people with a very simple, refreshing, and confirming type of Christianity. Simply that God created all that we see, and he created it pure and great. It has been harmed by the fall so none of it, including our thinking, is perfect. Because God loves that which he created, he sent his son to bear the consequence of that fall and to bestow upon all, a colossal exoneration. We only need to receive it. Going forward, our simple mission is to do justice, love kindness and to walk humbly with God. We have Titanic freedom in the cultural expression of that simple story. It can be within Catholicism, forms of Protestantism, Orthodoxy, and others. It can also be anywhere along the spectrum of political views. But you can’t hold any view that denies justice, opposes kindness, and promotes arrogance and still be considered Christian. We must boldly proclaim our support for these ideals. We must fight for the respect and dignity of all human beings and all of creation because it is God’s stuff. This is how we start to undo the damage, which has been done.
I see this article as a starting point for discussion and welcome other ideas of how we move forward.