Experts Aim to Measure President Trump’s True Effect On the Evangelical Church

FILE- In this Oct. 30, 2016, file photo, Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump stands during a service at the International Church of Las Vegas in Las Vegas. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci, File)
FILE- In this Oct. 30, 2016, file photo, Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump stands during a service at the International Church of Las Vegas in Las Vegas. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci, File)

Continuing evangelical support for a scandal-ridden president is undermining the conservative white church and could even spell the death of Christianity in the United States, according to some experts on American culture, politics and faith.

But how will anyone be able to tell if that’s true given that religion has been in a well-documented national decline for decades already?

Statistically, it will be difficult at best, said Robert P. Jones, CEO of PRRI and author of The End of White Christian America.

“These trends have been in place well before [Donald] Trump,” Jones told Baptist News Global. “That’s going to be the tricky part in terms of measuring a Trump effect.”

That effect may also be hard to detect because it’s unlikely to be dramatic or sudden, said Stephen Mansfield, author of Choosing Donald Trump: God, Anger, Hope, and Why Christian Conservatives Supported Him.

“I don’t think it’s going to be an upheaval that causes church closures and destruction,” he said. It’s more likely to be a continuing departure of young evangelicals and African Americans from conservative churches and movements.

“We are seeing a gradual drift,” Mansfield said.

But the longstanding descent of faith in America has been much more than a drift.

White Christians represent less than half of the U.S. public. PRRI reported in September that 43 percent of Americans identify as white Christians, and only 30 percent of them are Protestants. By comparison, 81 percent of white Americans identified as Christians in 1976, and 55 percent were Protestants.

White evangelical Protestants are right in the middle of the decline with mainline and Catholic Christians, PRRI reported.

Meanwhile, white evangelicals are aging. The study found that 62 percent of them are 50 or older, which is the same for white Catholics. Just under 60 percent of while mainliners are 50 or older.

Age — and particularly youth — is a major factor for experts tracking the potential impact of Trump support on the future of evangelicalism.

The Pew Research Center has published a series of surveys over the years tracking the rise of Americans claiming no particular faith.

“The growth in the number of religiously unaffiliated Americans — sometimes called the rise of the “nones” — is largely driven by generational replacement, the gradual supplanting of older generations by newer ones,” Pew said in a 2012 study. It reported that a third of young adults are in that category.

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SOURCE: JEFF BRUMLEY 
Baptist News Global