Unless you’ve been hiding in a media-free bubble over the last several months, you’ve heard innumerable references to the terms “Evangelical Christians” and “Evangelical voters” in connection with the presidential race – especially the Republican candidacy.
What a surprise it was when Donald Trump secured 33% of the vote in the South Carolina Primary last month, with Rubio and Cruz trailing behind at 23% and 22%, respectively. This is a state where more than two-thirds identify as white evangelical Christians.
More recently, the Super Tuesday results this week brought Ted Cruz a win in Alaska, Oklahoma and Texas, his home state. Surprisingly, Cruz, the presidential candidate whose values and record consistently represent Christian principles, garnered only 4 in 10 of the evangelical vote in his sweeping win in the Lone Star state, according to preliminary exit polls.
But how many of those who identify as Evangelicals, truly are? We cannot possibly know the answer to that with certainty. But we can be reminded that self-identification leaves a lot to be questioned, or doubted.
My confidence in statistics, especially those related to religious groups, dwindled significantly after researching Shaunti Feldhan’s book The Good News about Marriage: Debunking Discouraging Myths about Marriage and Divorce for theAFA Journal over a year ago. (See feature.)
Remarkably, Feldhan learned that widely quoted statistics on marriage were unfounded and appear to have been completely made up. As a matter of fact, her discovery prompted an eight-year research project and her book which presented a fresh, hopeful and encouraging picture of Christian marriage.
One of her key discoveries:
Feldhahn told AFA Journal, the rate of divorce is not the same among Christians. Previously reported numbers were based solely on belief systems (stated religion) and not whether those beliefs were actually being practiced in their lives. With the help of Barna Group’s comprehensive research from 2008, Feldhahn and her staff were able to incorporate participants’ answers about church attendance. The results revealed a 27% decrease in the number of divorces among those who had been to church in the last seven days.
And, while church attendance is not the hard and fast identifier of a Christ follower, it does narrow down the field to some degree. Approximately 70% percent of the nation claims some form of the Christian faith. It is difficult to look at the state of our country and believe that 7 out of 10 Americans place their trust in God and His Word for everyday living and breathing.
I’m also not suggesting that Christians are identified solely by the presidential candidate they support, but rather that the media has drawn lines around Evangelicals somewhat carelessly, without properly identifying the term. And we should be aware of that as we evaluate outcomes. To quote Donald Trump, albeit in a different context, “We need to get rid of the lines” – the lines established by mere self-identification.
Unfortunately, too many jump on the bandwagon and follow the crowd or the perceived winner. But, as Christians – believers in the inerrant Word of God – it is our privilege and responsibility to follow Christ and to pursue righteousness. That has been made abundantly clear to us in Scripture.
This presidential race is revealing a great deal about the character of the candidates and the spiritual climate of our nation as a whole. Stakes are high. We know that. We have eight months of the campaign remaining, and it is difficult not to grow weary in the drudgery of it all. Especially, if we perceive that Christians are compromising and wavering – turning from the God we love.
Admittedly – and regrettably – I have lost patience with fellow believers who appear to be experiencing spiritual forgetfulness or blindness. As Christ followers, it is our responsibility to share and expose the truth on every level. Yet, God alone can restore spiritual memory and sight. This issue must be addressed in prayer.
So, let us take heart in the political process. Let us not grow weary in doing good, overflowing with mercy and truth. Let us each be being found worthy of the calling set before us,
“…with all humility and gentleness, with patience, showing forbearance to one another in love, being diligent to preserve the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. There is one body and one Spirit, just as also you were called in one hope of your calling; one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all who is over all and through all and in all. But to each one of us grace was given according to the measure of Christ's gift (Ephesians 4:1-16).”
May Christ define us all – whether political candidate or little ole you and me – not by man-made lines or descriptions, but by our fruit.