(RNS] — Many are claiming that white evangelicals finally have what they want, with evidence leaking out that Roe v. Wade is being overturned by the Supreme Court. Giving abortion laws back to the states was the single issue that purportedly caused them to hold their noses and vote for the decidedly non-evangelical Donald Trump in 2016. It was opposition to abortion that purportedly first drew them to the Republican Party in the 1980s.
But, abortion isn’t the only thing that drives white evangelical politics. Other headlines are also high up on the list: Marjorie Taylor Greene (Republican Representative from Georgia), lambasted Catholic assistance to immigrants as “Satan running a church .”
Last Friday, two days after the SCOTUS leak was revealed, a forum of candidates for the presidency at the Southern Baptist Convention focused more on critical race theory and not a pro-life victory.
These events, which target “outsiders” and a supposedly corrupt government, have strong appeal for many white evangelicals, just as Trump’s vilification of the “deep state” and immigrants was a powerful reason white evangelicals went for him by percentages of 81% in 2016 and 84% in 2020.
When asked after the 2016 presidential election which factors were most important in their choice of candidate, white evangelicals put the economy, health care policy and national security ahead of abortion. In 2020, the economy was again the highest priority, followed by the COVID-19 pandemic. Today 46% oppose overturning Roe.
Targeting “outsiders”, (minorities and immigrants), and a supposedly corrupt, “deep state”, is a populist reaction to economic and other stressors that creates us/vs.-them frames and is fed historical and cultural notions about social status (who’s in and who’s out) as well as government (its size and role).
Other Americans share many of these stressors — economic change and shifts in gender roles, demographics, and fear of losing a safe place within society. Some of these stresses are primarily focused on white evangelicals, who have a declining church membership and whose values and beliefs are being replaced by a more secular and liberal society. Consider marriage for gay couples.
When threatened, a group naturally shifts to constraining the “other” that is thought to be the source of duress. It is a defense method first resort. “The more stressful the situation,” psychiatrist Vamik Volkan wrote in his 1997 book “Bloodlines,” “the more neighbor groups become preoccupied with each other.”
Anti-abortion activist David Lane stands outside the Jackson Women’s Health Organization (JWHO), Mississippi’s last remaining abortion clinic, called the “Pinkhouse,” Tuesday, May 3, 2022, in Jackson, Mississippi. Lane and other antiabortion advocates encourage entering patients not to have the procedure. (AP Photo/Rogelio V. Solis)
But what “other”? This is rooted in history. Today’s evangelicals are descendants of Europe’s persecuted Anabaptists, and other Protestant minorities. They developed a keen distrust of elite authority and government officials. The 1620 “Mayflower Compact,” which declared “a civil Body Politick,” also sought to control non-Puritans — others.
With their distrust of government and strong community commitments, evangelicals were the prime builders of America’s self-reliant ethos. By 1850, evangelical churches had twice the employees, twice as many facilities and raised three times as much money as the post office, the largest U.S. government office.
From the late 19th century into the early 20th, however, evangelicals saw challenges to their place in America. People came into contact with new ideas through industrialization and urbanization. The biblical exegesis was challenged by the academic historical-critical school for biblical exegesis. Darwinism brought on the 1925 Supreme Court case permitting the teaching of “un”biblical evolution theory in public schools.
From the 1960s on, the Supreme Court further alienated evangelicals from the society around them, ruling in 1962 that school-led prayer was unconstitutional. Federal government was expanded with the 1964 Civil Rights law and Great Society social services. Then came the sexual revolution and the feminist and gay right movements, yielding Roe in 1973 and, in 2015, Obergefell v. Hodges, in which the Court ruled that marriage should be legal for same-sex couples as for the rest of America.
The white evangelical perspective sees the political cry as a call to authoritarianism, not for authoritarianism. It is a call for freedom from the state and the tyranny secular. In explaining the 2016 election, Tony Perkins, president of the Family Research Council, said evangelicals were “tired of being kicked around by Barack Obama and his leftists” and were “finally glad that there’s somebody on the