As long-time readers know, I routinely mix little faith messages in with columns on politics and social issues. When I started writing about politics and social issues from an evangelical perspective years ago, many editors warned me not to mix religion and politics. Today many news organizations employ religion editors and writers, who often write about politics.
A friend sent a link to a YouTube video of a panel discussion titled, “The Intersection of Religion and Politics.” The panel was sponsored by the Overby Center for Southern Journalism and Politics at Ole Miss and featured two nationally known journalists who specialize in covering religion: Terry Mattingly, a senior fellow at the Center and editor of the daily blog GetReligion.org; and, Richard Ostling, a former chief religion writer for The Associated Press and a former senior correspondent for Time Magazine.
The panel convened last week, February 18, and the writers discussed how religion might affect politics of the 2020 election. Most of the discussion focused on Democratic candidates running for president. The panelists noted voters could elect the first Jewish president in Bernie Sanders or Michael Bloomberg. But, the Democratic Party itself garnered the lion’s share of the spotlight in light of which religious groups supported the party or the candidates.
Pete Buttigieg’s candidacy has drawn attention to the LGBTQ movement as well as the Equality Act passed last May by the House. The Equality Act adds “sexual orientation” and “gender identity” as well as other classes to the Civil Rights Act’s protected groups. How will those who support these initiatives gee-haw with Black church members who have solidly supported Democrats since the 1960s? Would Black Christians support an openly gay and married candidate?
“Nones” have been a rising religious group in America for the past couple of decades. Pew Research Center reported last October America’s religious landscape has been moving away from Christianity. In their 2018 and 2019 telephone surveys, Pew found, “65% of American adults describe themselves as Christians when asked about their religion, down 12 percentage points over the past decade. Meanwhile, the religiously unaffiliated share of the population, consisting of people who describe their religious identity as atheist, agnostic or ‘nothing in particular,’ now stands at 26%, up from 17% in 2009.” The last group has been labeled “nones.”
The panel noted that nones tend to support the Democratic Party. On the other hand, the panelists agreed organizing nones was akin to herding cats (my interpretation) since there are so few organizations for nones. Christians on the other hand are more easily organized through churches or volunteer ministries. In January polling, Pew found, “Among Democrats, Biden ahead with Protestants and Catholics, while atheists and agnostics prefer Sanders or Warren.”
In 2016, 81-percent of White evangelicals voted for Trump while only 16-percent voted for Clinton. The panel noted polls that have continued to show strong support for Trump among White evangelical voters. Considering contrasting party positions on abortion, gun control, and appointments of federal judges including Supreme Court nominees, Trump will likely attract similar numbers of White evangelicals.
President Trump and Republicans have traditionally supported religious freedom more than Democrats, and Trump has firmly affixed a religious freedom plank in his platform. Could religious freedom become one of the hallmark issues of the 2020 race? It depends on how one defines “religious freedom.”
Daniel L. Gardner is a syndicated columnist who lives in Starkville. You may contact him at PJandMe2@gmail.com.