The Evangelical Crackup – A Conversation with Paul A. Djupe

DjupePaul A. Djupe is Associate Professor of Political Science at Denison University. He is the former editor of the journal Politics & Religion, and current editor of Religious Engagement in Democratic Politics, a new book series from Temple University Press. With Ryan L. Claassen, he is co-editor of The Evangelical Crackup? The Future of the Evangelical-Republican Coalition. In it, more than two dozen scholars weigh in on the future of white evangelical politics.

ECM: What is the “evangelical crackup,” and why phrase it as a question?

PAD: Well, it didn’t start out as a question! The project was inspired by David Kirkpatrick’s article from 2007 in The New York Times that detailed a splintering of the Christian Right—a fading generation of Christian Right elites, new and less polarizing issues on the agenda (e.g., human trafficking and global warming), and shrinking organizations. Of course, in the run up to the 2016 election, we also thought that Trump would provoke some sort of rebellion given his proudly admitted sins, his profound unorthodoxy, and his past support for abortion and gay rights. Needless to say, 2016 forced new punctuation. But that question mark was always going to work better given the diverse ways that we define and inquire about the political behavior of this important religious group. We began to think about a crackup not just in terms of the religious-political coalition, but internal to the religious group in particular.

ECM: The book has eighteen chapters and more than two dozen contributors. How did you select and arrange these?

PAD: I began arranging this while I was the editor of the journal Politics & Religion and, as such, had an eagle-eyed view of the field. I invited some of the usual suspects who have been doing this a long time, but was lucky enough to know of younger scholars doing excellent work on a wide range of questions—about Latino evangelicals, the emergent church, Christian conservative legal organizations, and others. The volume is much richer for their inclusion. The organization is “political science” in that it follows the political targets. The first group of chapters addresses political targets, such as vote choices, party activists and party platforms, rights support, and state parties. The second thinks about the politics of religious change, looking at shifts in social networks, views of salient groups, and religious movements. The third section loops in public policy targets, such as the spread of “In God We Trust” mottoes in locales across the country. The final section offers big picture thinking about the Republican-evangelical coalition.

ECM: In a chapter co-authored with Brian R. Calfano, you suggest that evangelical elites were not particularly influential in determining evangelical attitudes toward Trump. Can you explain?

PAD: This chapter is key to how I approach religious influence, and it follows a simple premise. In order for elites to have influence, they need to communicate clear, consistent messages. So, we did the radical thing of asking people who attend church whether their clergyperson had spoken out about Trump as well as how supportive of Trump they were. Few clergy of evangelicals had reportedly spoken out (9 percent in September and 23 percent by the week before the election) and perceptions of where they stood on Trump were all over the map. In most cases, people appeared to be guessing. We also asked about their perceptions of evangelical elites—people like Paula White, Rick Warren, Tony Perkins, etc. And here too, many had no idea who these people were and most didn’t know where they stood on Trump. Russell Moore of the Southern Baptist Convention’s Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission (their main advocacy arm) was a prominent NeverTrumper, but perceptions of his Trump support were around 50/50, suggesting that people were guessing. Under these conditions, it’s not at all surprising that partisanship is the best explanation for evangelical vote choices in 2016.

ECM: In his chapter, your co-editor Ryan L. Claassen argues that conservative racial attitudes—rather than “moral” commitments—secured the alliance between evangelicals and Trump. How so?

PAD: Ryan is riffing off of a 2014 piece by Randall Balmer in Politico that argues that the early Christian Right leadership had their roots in efforts to protect segregated Christian private schools. Those schools sprang up when the federal government mandated integration after the 1964 Civil Rights Act. According to Balmer, the shift to social issues like abortion in 1979 (yes, six years after Roe v. Wade) was a strategic decision that would do the work of the racial politics without having to go on the record about race. Ryan, a specialist in this sort of analysis, wanted to see if he could find supportive evidence in public opinion data. He takes advantage of the shift in partisanship of white Southerners across this time period to assess the extent to which the growing Republicanism is more tightly linked to racial attitudes or abortion attitudes. Not surprisingly, he finds evidence for both driving increasing Republicanism, but in the South more of the change (about double) is due to racial conservatism. Together, these two accounts provide a challenge to the typical origin story of the Christian Right linked to Roe.

Read the whole thing at Religion & Politics.

About Eric

Eric Miller teaches in the Department of Communication Studies at Bloomsburg University of Pennsylvania.
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