Research Shows That Racial Justice is Becoming a Priority for Evangelical Voters

Most evangelicals don’t consider themselves single-issue voters, and new data suggests racial justice may play a big role in political conversations among believers.

According to a LifeWay Research survey, a majority of evangelicals by belief are committed to pro-life values and racial justice. Both issues can be political dealbreakers.

In the report released today, 52 percent said they “will only support a candidate who a wants to make abortion illegal” and 64 percent said they “will only support a candidate who will fight racial injustice.” Self-identified evangelicals reported similar stances, with 52 percent requiring a pro-life candidate and 66 percent requiring one against racial injustice. LifeWay’s designations represent a multiethnic sample.

Lead researcher Scott McConnell noted that abortion still outranks racial justice on a short list of significant issues for evangelicals. Yet, Christians on both sides of the political spectrum agreed that growing attention around racial justice as a political priority would represent a shift for white evangelicals in particular.

“It would be an invited change,” said Justin Giboney, a Democratic political strategist and cofounder of the AND Campaign, an effort calling Christians to advocate for both social justice and “values-based policy.”

Dallas pastor Robert Jeffress, a vocal supporter of President Donald Trump, said evangelicals care about racial justice, but it’s a “false dichotomy” to suggest Christians “are going to try to fight for social justice instead of the rights of the unborn.” He predicted Trump’s evangelical support will increase in the 2020 election, based in part on his pro-life record—and despite allegations he has been racially insensitive.

Image: LifeWay Research
Image: LifeWay Research

LifeWay Research’s Courage, Civility, and our Democracy report, sponsored by the Southern Baptist Convention’s Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission (ERLC), follows the denomination’s “Gospel Above All” emphasis, encouraging Southern Baptists to transcend political divides following infighting over Trump’s election and presidency.

The survey, conducted in November 2018, also signal evangelicals’ concerns over candidates’ personal integrity and willingness to dialogue with those holding opposing political views.

ERLC President Russell Moore said the results “were occasionally encouraging, frequently surprising, and in some cases indicting.”

“What the responses clearly show is that there are forces driving apart those within the church,” he said. “That shouldn’t surprise us. But it should convict us. My prayer is that this survey and report would be one among many initiatives that can help show us the way forward and help us learn to love one another and stand with courage in the public square.”

Abortion and racial justice

Moore, a Trump critic in 2016, has written that both pro-choice views and lack of commitment to racial justice disqualify a candidate from receiving his vote, even if that means he has to vote for a third-party candidate or write someone in.

The new statistics on voter commitment to racial justice and the sanctity of life, McConnell said, may need to be nuanced before conclusions can be drawn. Some evangelical voters likely did “not want to fully agree” with the statements presented on the survey because they “have had to compromise on these positions in the past.”

Additionally, when asked to select their top three “public policy concerns” from a list, more evangelicals by belief selected abortion (29%) than addressing racial division (21%). Among self-identified evangelicals, abortion (28%) topped addressing racial divisions (18%) as well.

Still, neither led the list of evangelicals’ top political concerns. For evangelicals by belief, that designation went to health care (51%) and the economy (46%). The findings agree with other data suggesting evangelical political priorities tend to mirror those of American voters overall.

Image: LifeWay Research

In a separate LifeWay Research poll in 2016, 36 percent of evangelicals by belief and 31 percent of self-described evangelicals said a presidential candidate’s position on abortion influenced their vote. There is no comparative 2016 data on racial justice because the latest poll marked the first time that issue was included in a list of reasons for selecting a candidate.

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Source: Christianity Today