Evangelicals and Race: The Real Data

Christianity Today recently attempted to whitewash the data on why 80% of white evangelicals voted for Donald Trump in the 2016 presidential election. They published a study that failed to ask a single question about race, instead trying to explain the huge support for Trump, as conservative commentator David Brooks summarized in a tweet, “Many Evangelicals voted for Trump, reluctantly, because of economics and health care more than abortion and social issues.”

Catch that? Economics and health. Not abortion or other social issues. And certainly not race.

Daniel Jose Camacho quickly responded by writing on the Sojourners website, “The fact that Stetzer and MacDonald can attempt to assess evangelical motivations in this national climate without considering racism is astounding. But that they want to leverage this study to debunk narratives around the 81% of white evangelicals who voted for Trump is a cruel joke.”

In other words, you can’t assess what you don’t measure. And that’s why the study cited in Christianity Today fails miserably.

The study that both Sojourners and Christianity Today should be looking at and studying intently is the groundbreaking research that Dr. Janelle Wong at the University of Maryland did after the 2016 presidential election, which was published this summer in Wong’s book Immigrants, Evangelicals, and Politics in an Age of Demographic Change.

Dr. Wong explains her research in this excellent op-ed for the Washington Post: “White evangelicals are more conservative than other whites on policy issues including welfare, climate change and immigration. Their conservative reaction to demographic change is at the heart of their political agenda and perhaps a response to increasing racial diversity within their own religious community.” (emphasis added)

I spoke with Dr. Wong almost a year ago, back in November 2017, in a wide-ranging, hour-long conversation that included insights from sociologist Dr. Gerardo Marti and pastor Anthony Smith.

As this conversation has heated up again, I just wanted to share this important conversation again and encourage everyone to watch it and consider what Dr. Wong’s research clearly reveals: That race is actually the determining factor for white evangelicals to have even more right-wing extreme views on most political issues than the average conservative white voter. And the implication of that is this: Conservative evangelical religion in this country is deeply tied to white supremacy. Which begs the question: What can be done about that?

Stephen Roach Knight