White Christian Nostalgia Strikes Back

Data screenshot taken from PRRI/NYT

I agree with the broad outlines of Robert Jones’ argument that this year’s election reflected a backlash of white Christian voters trying to recover their lost paradise one last time. It doesn’t explain everything: for example, why Minnesota stayed blue despite its religious similarity to the states surrounding it, or why turnout for Clinton was down across the nation, or how religious pollsters, like their secular counterparts, missed the final results so badly. (To be clear, those questions can all be answered with varying degrees of difficulty. I’m just saying you have to go outside a religious explanation to do so.) But it does explain enough to get across the point of the election: white nostalgia came out to vote. Black and brown and rainbow hope stayed home.

And though Jones doesn’t address it explicitly, the map he presents of white Christianity does help explain something else. If you look down at the bottom, in the strip of Sun Belt states from Arizona to Florida, you’ll notice that many of them are much lighter than their northern counterparts. In the lightest of them—Arizona, New Mexico, Texas(!), and Florida—Democrats did much better than anticipated this year. That’s of course due to the rising presence of black and Hispanic voters in those states. But those same voters are significantly more religious than their white counterparts, which means that if by some miracle the Democrats win back the White House in 2020, we might be talking about the Rage of Brown, Christian Voters.

This part also seems important:

My organization’s American Values Survey, released a few weeks before the election, found deep divides in the country on this issue. Americans are nearly evenly divided on whether American culture and way of life have changed for worse (51 percent) or better (48 percent) since the 1950s. Roughly two-thirds (66 percent) of Democrats say American culture has generally changed for the better since the 1950s, while roughly two-thirds (68 percent) of Republicans say American society and way of life have changed for the worse.

That, I think, points to why the nation is so bitterly divided, and why it’s going to be so difficult to mend those tears in American society. Until there’s consensus—which means in part coming to consensus on the place of minorities in American society—we’re always going to be at one another’s throats.

It might also point to the church’s role in the Age of Trump. The demographic changes happening in America will not reverse themselves, no matter what the bellicose rhetoric coming from the White House might say. The nation simply cannot deport its way back to greatness. Even whitest Wisconsin and Iowa will eventually have to get used to the idea that the pinkish aren’t going to be able to run the show by themselves for much longer.

The Christian church—where after all, many of these people find a home—can take the lead in educating its members to mourn the past they have lost, and to accept with grace and humility what is coming. We’ve done it before, as with the slow but steady acceptance of marriage equality in the mainline Protestant church. Many of the people who Nancy Ammermann calls “Golden Rule” Christians are dedicated to small, non-partisan ways of making their society better. A project of increasing their declaration of welcome to all people to include minorities might be right in their wheelhouse.

You may say this is not enough, and you’d probably be right. Make no mistake: I think any church to the left of Franklin Graham ought to pushing anti-racism, strongly. But just to help white folks accommodate themselves to what the census is going to reveal after 2050 would be a start, and better even that much than allowing the nation to lurch into racial madness unchallenged.