Jim Wallis: Evangelicals Need to Reclaim Our Stolen Identity

Prayer in North Charleston, S.C., on June 20, 2015. (Photo: Joe Raedle, Getty Images)
Prayer in North Charleston, S.C., on June 20, 2015. (Photo: Joe Raedle, Getty Images)

Evangelical leaders and their flocks, we are told, are supporting Donald Trump for president by overwhelming margins. Despite a campaign marked by bigotry, xenophobia and misogyny, and a candidate whose personal character and sexual morality are completely contrary to their professed values, evangelicals are still rallying to Trump’s side. Or so the story goes.

But there’s a problem with that story.

The term “evangelical” has become political shorthand for white political conservatives who profess to be evangelicals and vote overwhelmingly for Republican political candidates, based almost solely on their opposition to abortion and gay marriage.

This characterization erases the voices of tens of millions of Americans who fit the theological definition of evangelical, but who do not support such a narrow definition of “moral issues” and clearly do not support Trump or his bigotry. These evangelicals are African-American, Latino, Asian-American, Native-American and white. They are younger and older, and they are women and men. They are Christians who believe in the centrality of Christ as savior of humanity and the world, the importance of both conversion and discipleship, the authority of the Scriptures and the “good news” of the Gospel, especially for the poor and oppressed as Jesus himself defined it in his opening sermon at Nazareth.

Some 35% of U.S. adults identify as “evangelical” or “born-again,” according to the Pew Research Center, but only 76% of this group is white. The problem with polls — like one done by Pew that shows Trump’s support among white evangelicals at 78% — is that journalists often report the results as “overwhelming support from (all) evangelical voters.” And that is just not the case.

For instance, a new LifeWay poll shows support for Trump among white evangelicals at 65%, while his support among all evangelicals is only 45%. In an Oct. 9 Reuters poll, Trump similarly won 44.8% of self-described born-again Christians.

The truth is that most U.S. evangelicals do not support Trump. These Christians are victims of a sort of identity theft, as the national conversation conflates them with a narrow demographic of mostly older, politically conservative whites.

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Rev. Jim Wallis is the president and founder of Sojourners. His most recent book is America’s Original Sin: Racism, White Privilege and the Bridge to a New America. Follow him on Twitter @jimwallis.

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