More and more white Americans are identifying themselves as evangelical since Donald Trump became president, but one scholar says that development is more of a political trend than a religious awakening.
A recent report from the Pew Research Center revealed the number of self-identified evangelical Christians grew between 2016 and 2020, but that growth did not correspond with an increase in church attendance and came with an increasingly conservative tilt, wrote political scientist Ryan Burge for the New York Times.
"The number of self-identified evangelicals has likely not increased over the last few years because evangelicals have been effective at spreading the Gospel and bringing new converts to the church," Burge wrote. "What is drawing more people to embrace the evangelical label on surveys is more likely that evangelicalism has been bound to the Republican Party. Instead of theological affinity for Jesus Christ, millions of Americans are being drawn to the evangelical label because of its association with the G.O.P."
Just 16 percent of all self-identified evangelicals in 2008 said they never or seldom attended church, but that number jumped to 27 percent last year, and about a third of those non-churchgoing evangelicals in 2008 said they were politically conservative, while that number rose to about 50 percent in 2019.
"Those who became evangelical between 2016 and 2020 had much warmer views of President Trump than those who didn't feel warmly toward him," wrote Burge, a professor at Eastern Illinois University. "The evidence points in one direction: For many Americans, to be a conservative Republican is to be an evangelical Christian, regardless of if they ever attend a Sunday service."
More people who have no attachment to Protestant Christianity are describing themselves as evangelicals, including Catholics, Mormons, Orthodox Christians, and even Muslims and Hindus, but those non-Protestant evangelicals tend to be more religiously devout than their GOP-leaning Protestant counterparts.
"The rapid rise of the nonreligious and non-Protestant evangelical has meant that the tradition did not fade in any significant way over the last decade," Bruge wrote. "But instead, what it means to be evangelical is being radically remade. It used to be that when many people thought about evangelicalism, they conjured up an image of a fiery preacher imploring them to accept Jesus. Now the data indicate that more and more Americans are conflating evangelicalism with Republicanism — and melding two forces to create a movement that is not entirely about politics or religion but power."