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Christianity Today vs. the Myth of Monolithic Evangelicalism

(Yiannis Kourtoglou/Reuters)

Christianity Today exposed the reality of Evangelical division,” reads the headline to David French’s column today for The Dispatch. He notes “the malleability of the definition” of “Evangelical”:

Not all self-described “Evangelicals” share the same beliefs or the same faith habits. Exit poll questions about religious identity are far too imprecise to provide true insight into a complex community. Many people . . . describe themselves as “Evangelical” simply because it’s the best option in a limited exit-poll menu. When they hear “Evangelical” they often interpret it as “politically conservative Christian.”

Thirty-five percent of Americans identify as Evangelical, Pew Research finds. But only a fraction of them, or 6 percent of the U.S. population, are Evangelical according to Barna, a Christian research organization that applies nine theological criteria (e.g., firm belief that Satan exists). It classifies a respondent as Evangelical only if he or she meets all of them.

Christianity Today is a magazine for that 6 percent, David writes: Its recent newsmaking editorial (in which Mark Galli, CT’s editor in chief, argues that the president should be removed from office) “is aimed like an arrow at that audience,” which represents the publication’s “colleagues and peers.”

That may be. We shouldn’t assume, though, that Evangelicals who disagree with the editorial are less committed to their faith. The more you attend religious services, the more likely you are to approve of the president’s performance and, as polls have consistently shown in recent decades, to identify as Republican.

Political disagreement among American Evangelicals correlates with racial and ethnic differences rather starkly, perhaps more so than it does with theological differences or levels of faith commitment. According to this study, from Lifeway Research and the Billy Graham Center Institute at Wheaton College, 77 percent of white Evangelicals voted for Trump. For black and Hispanic voters, the figures were 9 percent and 41 percent, respectively. The president’s approval–disapproval ratings continue to track those election results, roughly, to judge from Reuters/Ipsos, which asks respondents whether they’re “born again Christians,” a label that, while it doesn’t correspond perfectly to “Evangelical,” comes close.

The “white Evangelicals” about whom we hear so much from political reporters and commentators are estimated (by PRRI) to be 64 percent of American Evangelicals in toto. Christianity Today is an institutional voice of American Evangelicals in general, not just of those who are white. Its position on impeachment and removal from office shouldn’t be as surprising as it was to those who assumed that the Christian mind represented by CT is less divided on political questions than it is.


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