What’s Next for Evangelicalism?

Evangelicals love President Donald Trump, as we all know. And every time a new poll shows evangelical support for Trump at a steady high, the commentariat wrings its hands. These Christians have fallen for a cut-rate King David, a charlatan Solomon, a false prophet. But the evangelical movement is not monolithic. America’s megachurches aren’t lined up neatly in a row, all marching to a Republican cadence. Evangelical support for Trump maps onto racial lines: He belongs to white evangelicals, who put their might behind his presidency.

However, white evangelical Protestants declined from 23 percent of the population in 2006 to 17 percent of the population in 2016. In 2017, they declined to 15 percent of the population, the Public Religion Research Institute has found. The decline can be partly attributed to the millennial generation’s relative non-religiosity, but there are other factors at work. Immigrants are changing American politics, and they’re changing American churches, too.

Janelle Wong, a professor of American studies at the University of Maryland and author of the new book Immigrants, Evangelicals, and Politics in an Era of Demographic Change, tells me that Latinos and Asian-Americans are key sources of growth for evangelical churches. And they differ from white evangelicals in certain key areas. “I think what’s surprising is that non-white evangelicals, especially Asians and Latinos, sometimes show higher rates of religiosity, like they go to church more. Or they exhibit a more fundamentalist kind of orientation,” she explained. “And even though they show higher levels of religiosity, they are much less conservative on almost every issue, except for abortion.”

On climate change, Black Lives Matter, and immigration, non-white evangelicals have little in common with their white brothers and sisters in Christ. Trump didn’t just accelerate an identity crisis in his party, which faces its own future demographic challenges—he also created the same problem for one of the party’s most loyal factions. White evangelicals are ascendent now, but is the Trump era their last hurrah?

In the ecosystem of American politics, the white evangelical is a well-studied creature. His habits make headlines. We know that he usually attends church at least once a week, and that it’s also common for him to attend two to three services a week. He usually opposes abortion rights and same-sex marriage rights. He probably believes God created the world in seven days. He may refer to himself as being “born-again” or he might not, but ask him if he thinks the Bible is God-breathed revelation to be interpreted literally by believers, and he will usually say yes.

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