Young evan­gel­i­cals speak out on pol­i­tics

The Beaufort Gazette (Sunday) - - Stay Connected - BY ELIZ­A­BETH DIAS

The role of evan­gel­i­cal Chris­tian­ity in U.S. pol­i­tics has been a hotly dis­cussed topic this year, in­ter­sect­ing with front-burner is­sues like im­mi­gra­tion, the Supreme Court and so­cial jus­tice. Of­ten the loud­est evan­gel­i­cal voices are white, male and … not young.

With just days left be­fore the midterm elec­tions – two years af­ter Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump won the White House with a record share of white, evan­gel­i­cal sup­port – we asked young evan­gel­i­cals to tell the Times about the re­la­tion­ship be­tween their faith and their pol­i­tics.

Nearly 1,500 read­ers replied, from every state but Alaska and Ver­mont. Hun­dreds wrote long es­says about their fam­i­lies and com­mu­ni­ties. They go to prom­i­nent megachurches as well as small South­ern Bap­tist, non­de­nom­i­na­tional and even main­line Protes­tant con­gre­ga­tions. Some said they have left evan­gel­i­cal­ism al­to­gether.

We read every sub­mis­sion and spent many hours in­ter­view­ing re­spon­dents. Here’s what we learned:

Young evan­gel­i­cals are ques­tion­ing the typ­i­cal ties be­tween evan­gel­i­cal­ism and Repub­li­can pol­i­tics. Many said it had caused schisms within their fam­i­lies. And many de­scribed a real strug­gle with an ad­min­is­tra­tion they see as hos­tile to im­mi­grants, Mus­lims, LGBTQ peo­ple and the poor. They feel it re­flects a loss of hu­man­ity, which con­flicts with their spir­i­tual call.

Plenty of young evan­gel­i­cals be­lieve Trump has helped to achieve their big­gest goals, such as curb­ing abor­tion rights and ad­vanc­ing re­li­gious lib­er­ties. But they are sen­si­tive to other is­sues. Many feel po­lit­i­cally in­de­pen­dent, or po­lit­i­cally home­less. There is a fight for what the term “evan­gel­i­cal” even means, and they are liv­ing it.

And the strug­gle is not just with po­lit­i­cal lead­ers, but also within their re­li­gious com­mu­ni­ties.

The young evan­gel­i­cals fea­tured here, all deeply in­volved in their churches, of­fer the tex­tured sound of the ris­ing evan­gel­i­cal voice in the United States, one that is of­ten drowned out by white el­ders. The in­ter­views and quo­ta­tions from sub­mis­sions have been lightly edited and con­densed for clar­ity.

ALEXAN­DRIA BEIGHTOL, 22, DEMO­CRAT, MARCO IS­LAND, FLA.

I was pulled out of Smith Col­lege in 2015 when I told my par­ents that I was re­think­ing the le­git­i­macy of anti-gay the­ol­ogy. I thought, “God is go­ing to have to for­give me. I am not go­ing to die in this cul­ture war.”

I was Repub­li­can like them. Be­fore, I sup­ported what­ever my church told me about can­di­dates and is­sues. I never ques­tioned or read out­side ma­te­rial on these sub­jects. I se­cretly started bor­row­ing books from the li­brary.

I gave a com­mu­nion mes­sage in 2016 – it was, “Our God chooses to die the death of all these marginal­ized peo­ple. He dies like Matthew Shep­ard, like a kid at the hand of the state. He was a refugee.” My church rep­ri­manded me for “abus­ing the pul­pit.” Other mem­bers used it to openly stump for Trump and say hate­ful things about Mus­lims and LGBT cit­i­zens.

The world I was dream­ing about was not the world my church was dream­ing about. The world lib­eral evan­gel­i­cals want to see is the one con­ser­va­tive evan­gel­i­cals hope doesn’t hap­pen.

I’m wor­ried that we’ve done im­mense harm to the marginal­ized in the name of God. You re­al­ize it is not good news at all if you are just bap­tiz­ing cer­tain in­equal­i­ties or bi­ases.

RE­BEKAH HOP­PER, 26, IN­DE­PEN­DENT, CINCIN­NATI

My par­ents are very much among the white evan­gel­i­cal de­mo­graphic that voted for Trump and still proudly sup­port him. I’ve never told them I’ve voted for Democrats. When­ever they read this, they’ll find out a lot.

Last year I was in the car with my mom and her hus­band. Trump had said some­thing. I said, “Well he’s racist and ho­mo­pho­bic.” They were quick to dis­miss that. That was the most I’ve ever talked pol­i­tics with my mom. It was five min­utes.

I am a de­vout be­liever of Je­sus, but I voted for Hil­lary Clin­ton be­cause I be­lieved she would be a good leader for this coun­try. Pol­i­tics is more than just one is­sue; we have to look at all as­pects of each can­di­date and dis­cern who could rep­re­sent us best. Don­ald Trump rep­re­sents no­body but him­self.

There are a lot of old white men in the Repub­li­can Party that use Chris­tian­ity as a weapon to get them­selves elected, but I’m here to tell you that we do not fall for them. The Je­sus those men de­pict is not the Je­sus that healed the sick and broke down so­cial bar­ri­ers. We are not a part of those men’s re­li­gion, and my hope is peo­ple will see that.

ED­UARDO SAN­DOVAL RUIZ, 23, REPUB­LI­CAN, LOUISVILLE, KY.

My fam­ily moved here from Mex­ico in 1999. My par­ents are pas­tors, and we have been Pen­te­costal-evan­gel­i­cal for a very long time.

Be­ing so­cially con­ser­va­tive, yet im­mi­grants, has been in­ter­est­ing at best and con­flict­ing at worst. Most peo­ple in my par­ent’s church are re­cent im­mi­grants. We agree with most of what Don­ald Trump says about God and faith, but we do dis­agree with what he says about im­mi­grants and any mis­con­duct that he and oth­ers may try to jus­tify in his per­sonal life.

Be­ing an evan­gel­i­cal Chris­tian, I have to com­pro­mise. I am choos­ing to pri­or­i­tize my core Chris­tian be­liefs over the im­mi­gra­tion poli­cies the GOP is push­ing right now. That is a point of ten­sion.

I don’t talk pol­i­tics to any­one, not even my fam­ily. We talk about Chris­tian val­ues.

HAN­NAH FLAMING, 27, REPUB­LI­CAN, PAX­TON, NEB,

I’ve al­ways been Repub­li­can, and yes! I am re­ally happy with my vote for Trump.

His elec­tion was huge since half my fam­ily could not see why the other half voted for him, go­ing so far as to say it changed their opin­ion of us. It’s hard enough to be just a Chris­tian, but as a Repub­li­can it’s even harder.

No one cared about us un­til Trump. We have a farm, south of Pax­ton. It’s a town of about 600 peo­ple. Pop­corn is one of our more spe­cialty crops. Wheat, soy­beans. We were tired of hav­ing corn drop 40 cents a day. Fi­nally some­body gets it. So our com­mu­nity is up­beat.

What are the mis­con­cep­tions about young evan­gel­i­cals? That we are hyp­o­crit­i­cal, heretics, with pitch forks and ropes to lynch any­one op­posed to our be­liefs. No. We are not this big­oted, noose-ty­ing faith.

I’m wor­ried we will be si­lenced by oth­ers who shout very loudly.

SCOTT MCINTYRE NYT

Alexan­dria Beightol, a Demo­crat who says she used to be a Repub­li­can, stands at Wes­ley United Methodist Church in Marco Is­land, Fla., this month.

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