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An Evangelical Evaluation Of Trump's First Year


Congressional Republicans have dropped the repeal of the Johnson Amendment from the tax overhaul they're hoping to pass this week. That law bars tax-exempt churches from participating in politics. Donald Trump campaigned on that issue. And he promised to get rid of it as president, a favor to an important GOP voting bloc - evangelical Christians.

This past week, though, we saw stark differences in voting preferences between white and black evangelicals in Alabama. So we're going to have an evangelical checkup. Ed Stetzer is the executive director of the Billy Graham Center at Wheaton College, and he joins us now. Good morning.

ED STETZER: Good morning to you.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: All right. I guess we'll start basic. Define the term evangelical Christian as you use it at the Billy Graham Center because, in common parlance, it's become synonymous with conservative, white Republicans.

STETZER: Well, unfortunately, that's not helpful because I wrote an article once that it doesn't mean white Republicans. Actually, the term is defined probably best and the consensus is held by someone named David Bebbington and what's called the Bebbington quadrilateral. Sorry for the big language.

But his idea was there are four key things that define an evangelical, which is a kind of a renewal movement within Protestantism, but that's - biblicism, a high regard for the Bible, crucicentrism, which - just kind of a focus on what Christ did on the cross, dying for sin and in our place, conversionism - that's a key thing - that people need to come to Christ. Jimmy Carter sort of entered the conversation talking about being born again. And then activism, the belief that the - the implication of the gospel are lived out. And so that's kind of the consensus definition. But in political polling, you're right. It's generally become white evangelicals who tend to be a consistent voting bloc for the Republican Party.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Does it matter how often they go to church or what churches they may go to?

STETZER: Typically not. Most polling simply ask the question, are you an evangelical or born again? And many people of old evangelical beliefs actually don't identify as evangelical, particularly African-Americans, as you've already mentioned.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: All right. When you say that African-Americans don't identify as evangelical in the same way, even though they might fit the criteria as you laid out, why is that?

STETZER: Well, first, it's the - they're the highest demographic group that actually identifies with evangelical beliefs but the lowest to identify with the label. A recent LifeWay Research study said, well, in many ways, they see the label as more tied to, well, white evangelicalism than to evangelicalism as a whole.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: I have to mention, obviously, Latinos who are evangelical. They're obviously a big group. How do they fall when we look at their voting patterns and who they might identify with?

STETZER: Yeah, less so as a bloc. And so, you know, many Latino evangelicals hold the same, more conservative social beliefs but don't tend to vote lockstep with the Republican Party like white evangelicals do but neither they tend to be particularly drawn as overwhelmingly as the African-American community has been to vote Democratic.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: When we talk now about white evangelicals, are they happy with what Donald Trump has delivered for them so far? We've seen a lot of his policies really take into consideration some of the priorities of white evangelicals.

STETZER: Yeah. And it's certainly a mix. You know, the most recent approval ratings have actually slipped some among white evangelicals. But by and large, in issues of religious liberty, in issues of appointing - appointment of judges, there's certainly - a lot of evangelicals have been enthusiastic about it. I think evangelicals of color less so. We can actually see polling that says that. And for many white evangelicals - still uncomfortable with many things that are said and the way actions are kind of fleshed out in the Trump administration. But I think, polling-wise, you still have to see that the majority of white evangelicals are supportive of where the Trump administration is.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Ed Stetzer of the Billy Graham Center at Wheaton College, thank you very much.

STETZER: Thank you.