Young Evangelicals, the Midterms, and the Faith Factor


We’ve passed the midterm elections.

Some said, “Praise God!” Others lamented. The day after the election, colder weather blew into Central Texas, where I live. A friend quipped that the drop in temperature resulted from the sudden halt of hot air emanating from Washington.

The race between Beto O’Rourke and Ted Cruz for U. S. Senate attracted a lot of attention. The race was close. Some thought Texas could surprise everyone and turn blue. Religion reporters wanted to discover if there was a faith factor in how people voted. Would evangelicals continue to support Trump and the politicians who align with his administration? Would the traditional culture war issues continue to carry the most weight (abortion, gay rights), or would another set of issues play a factor (immigration, poverty)?

The New York Times took a look. Elizabeth Diaz writes for The Times:

Young evangelicals are questioning the typical ties between evangelicalism and Republican politics. Many said it had caused schisms within their families. And many described a real struggle with an administration they see as hostile to immigrants, Muslims, L.G.B.T.Q. people, and the poor. They feel it reflects a loss of humanity, which conflicts with their spiritual call.

The Times surveyed over 1,500 responses they received following an appeal to young evangelicals, and conducted interviews to follow up on the emails, letters, and comments they received. They then profiled six evangelicals, asking them how they planned to vote, and why.

Alexandria Beightol, a 22 year old from Marco Island, Florida, voted for Democrat Andrew Gillum. She said, “It is not that you have conservative evangelicals suddenly becoming liberal. It is more a realizing that you could be practicing something that isn’t even Christian at all.”

Hannah Flaming, a 27 year old Republican from Paxton, Nebraska, said, “What are the misconceptions about young evangelicals? That we are hypocritical, heretics, with pitchforks and ropes to lynch anyone opposed to our beliefs. No. We are not this bigoted, noose-tying faith.”

I recall similar coverage following the 2008 election of Barack Obama, saying young evangelicals surprised everyone by voting for a Democratic candidate and ignoring the traditional culture war issues that had so long been a cornerstone of the Religious Right. They were tired of the Iraq War, in favor of health care reform, and attracted to Obama’s message of hope, change, and national unity.

Social justice and activism have long been a part of the preaching and religious life of mainline and left-leaning congregations. Political talk is fairly normal. But in right-leaning and evangelical congregations, it’s more rare, and when it is expressed it is often seen as partisan, particularly by younger congregants who have not yet fully formed their political convictions.

As a result, political discourse in evangelical circles can lead young people to become disaffected, particularly when they find the tone offensive or when they see the poor, widow and orphan being neglected.

The Times report may not signify a trend. But it does provide a more robust picture of young evangelicals as politically diverse, theologically sophisticated, and open to persuasion.