Super Tuesday: Voting and the ‘Evangelical’ Discussed

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As pollsters analyze the voting patterns of “evangelicals” in Super Tuesday presidential primaries, some pastors and theologians have noted the mainstream media’s failure to account for immense diversity among the movement claiming that label.

Voters went to the polls March 1 in 13 states and one U.S. territory, including several so-called Bible Belt states where evangelical voters were expected to exert considerable influence.

Yet confusion over the term “evangelical” has led Southern Baptist ethicist Russell Moore to stop using it to describe himself — at least during election season. Meanwhile, Texas pastor Robert Jeffress said evangelicals generally are united in their values but divided in their political strategies. African American Kentucky Baptist leader Curtis Woods noted black evangelicals tend to be particularly concerned with “social justice issues,” and evangelical left leader Jim Wallis argued the policies of GOP presidential candidates sometimes identified as evangelical favorites have “almost nothing to do” with Jesus’ mission of helping the poor and vulnerable.

Evangelicals are a mixed bag, politically speaking, said Nathan Finn, a church historian and dean of the School of Theology and Missions at Union University.

Some evangelicals “are denominational, and others are non-denominational,” Finn told Baptist Press in written comments. “We come in a variety of ethnicities and worship in a multitude of languages. Though we are all committed to the full authority and sufficiency of Scripture, the necessity of personal conversion, the centrality of the atonement and the mandate to spread the Gospel to all people, we debate among ourselves the finer points of each of these priorities.

“The vast majority of us are pro-life and affirm the biblical view of marriage,” Finn continued, “but these are not the only issues that affect how one votes. Thus, many of us are conservative, others are moderate and some are even liberal” in terms of the role of government. “I think this primary season is demonstrating what those of us ‘in the camp’ have known all along: there is no such thing as ‘the evangelical vote.’ At best, there are evangelical tendencies, but even these have to be qualified based upon factors such as region, income, frequency of church attendance, ethnicity and education level.”

Moore, president of the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission, wrote in a Feb. 29 Washington Post op-ed that the 2016 election makes him “hate the word ‘evangelical'” when it is coopted to reference “election-year voting blocs or our most buffoonish television personalities” rather than the term’s traditional meaning connected with Christian theology.

“The word ‘evangelical’ isn’t, first of all, about American politics,” Moore wrote. “The word is rooted in the Greek word for Gospel, good news for sinners through the life, death, resurrection and reign of Jesus of Nazareth as the Son of God and anointed ruler of the cosmos. Evangelical means a commitment to the truth of God’s revelation in the Bible and a conviction that the blood of Christ is offered to any repentant, believing sinner as a full atonement for sin.”

Moore said he “noticed a few weeks ago” that he “had stopped describing [himself] as an ‘evangelical'” and had begun opting instead for the term “Gospel Christian.”

Moore lamented the “behavior of some evangelical leaders” who “gave stem-winding speeches about ‘character’ in office during the Clinton administration” but “now minimize the spewing of profanities in campaign speeches, race-baiting and courting white supremacists, boasting of adulterous affairs [and] debauching public morality and justice through the casino and pornography industries” — an apparent reference to GOP frontrunner Donald Trump, whom Moore has criticized by name in other venues.

Jeffress, pastor of First Baptist Church in Dallas, told NPR Feb. 25 evangelical voters differ on their views of Trump in part because they take varying views of government’s role in upholding biblical values.

NBC News reported exit polls from the Feb. 23 Nevada Republican caucuses which put Trump’s support among self-professed evangelicals at 40 percent. Texas Sen. Ted Cruz drew 26 percent support among evangelicals and Florida Sen. Marco Rubio 23 percent.

“Evangelicals are divided between what I call the idealists and the pragmatists,” said Jeffress, who has introduced Trump at rallies but not officially endorsed him. “The idealists are the ones who … would say if we could just get a strong Christian in the White House, perhaps we could return our nation to its Judeo-Christian foundation. But then there are the pragmatists who say, as much as we would like to have a faith-centered candidate, perhaps our country has moved too far to the left for that to happen, and so let’s get the most conservative candidate who is electable. And many of those are going for a Donald Trump.”

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SOURCE: Baptist Press
David Roach