The Changing Relationship of Politics and Religion


Prayers and politics. (Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)

It’s no secret that demographics have shifted in the past 40 years leading to a more diverse, less whiteless Christian America. Evangelical Protestants almost all identify as white, so in light of their diminishing numbers, statements like “things have changed so much that I often feel like a stranger in my own country” make a lot more sense.

But why fear the direction of the country when job security and satisfaction are on the rise, and the economy is doing well? The answer becomes clearer when you realize that the demographics reporting a fear for the nation’s direction is the most likely demographic to identify as Evangelical Protestants. 

Of course, it would be an overgeneralization to attribute white working-class evangelicals’ support for President Trump solely to their fear of being displaced as a dominant force in the American social and political spheres. There were many reasons, not least of which being that they have historically voted for Republicans. However, it would be equally naive to not acknowledge that this demographic was  a major factor in the 2016 elections. The “Christian Right,” as they have come to be called, have been a solid voting bloc for the GOP since the rise of evangelicalism in the 1950s. To understand why, look no further than people like Pastor Billy Graham. The charismatic Southern Baptist minister turned into something of a figurehead for the National Association of Evangelicals(NAE), and attracted millions of converts to the Protestant offshoot with his Biblical fundamentalism.

Graham wed evangelicalism and political conservatism; the same philosophy accounts for the Republican Party’s rationale on keeping same-sex marriage and abortion illegal. Their support base is by and large composed of Evangelicals, and as their numbers shrink, so too does their influence on the direction of the country’s culture and politics.     

Of course, not every Christian is a Republican and vice versa: many mainline Protestants and Catholics lean towards the Democratic Party. Christianity plays a large part in politics for both parties it seems.

So then what happens as less and less people identify as Christian?

Something else fills the void: people look for purpose elsewhere. The rise of Insurrectionist platforms like the Alt-Right and Alt-Left could be seen as an effect of people’s disillusionment with traditional institutions viewed as “establishments,” like the church, and religion at large. As religious affiliation and church involvement begin to fade, people are starting to look to new platforms that meld identity, values, and politics.

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