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'Evangelical' Losing Meaning Over Time

Image: 'Evangelical' Losing Meaning Over Time
The Rev. Dr. Amy Butler, senior minister of The Riverside Church, speaks during a news conference in the hotel in New York's Times Square on June 21, 2016, where Donald Trump was scheduled to meet evangelical clergy. (AP Photo/Richard Drew)

By    |   Friday, 22 Jul 2016 03:11 PM

Donald Trump seems to have strong support among evangelicals, but a writer in The Washington Post questions whether the term "evangelical" has lost its meaning, and with it, part of its political punch.

Originally, the term referred to a fringe of 18th century Christianity. Today it has become a catch-all used to group white conservative Christians willing to settle for candidates who say the right things and promise to appoint Supreme Court justices they agree with, according to Baylor University history professor Thomas S. Kidd.

Writing for the Post, Kidd attributes this evolution to the "born again" Christian movement's success: By about 1950 many Americans identified themselves as "evangelical." But because of political changes during the '70s and ‘80s, in which voters moved from candidates from traditional evangelical backgrounds like liberal George McGovern and moderate Jimmy Carter to favor of modern conservatives like Ronald Reagan, who adopted evangelical language and goals, but wasn't one himself.

A key political change, according to Kidd, is that modern pollsters often rely on the people they survey to identify themselves, and simply accept those labels, even when they're misapplied. African Americans, for example, are often categorized as "Protestant" because "evangelical" is now strongly associated with whites. Black evangelicals like Thabiti Anyabwile, a pastor in Washington, D.C., support Hillary Clinton over Donald Trump, although she's often perceived as merely as the lesser of two evils.

Because of the vagueness of the term, it's almost impossible to tell just how many American evangelicals there really are. According to NPR, depending on the definition it could be a third of the nation or less than a tenth.

The Pew Research Center counts evangelicals in two ways: self-identification, like many other pollsters, and also by using a denominational system, dividing Southern Baptists and Methodists, for example. Going by self-identification, 35 percent of American adults are evangelicals, but just 25 percent are when grouped by denomination.

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Donald Trump seems to have strong support among evangelicals, but a writer in The Washington Post questions whether the term "evangelical" has lost its meaning, and with it, part of its political punch.
evangelical, donald trump, religion, campaign, gop
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2016-11-22
Friday, 22 Jul 2016 03:11 PM
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