Culture Friday – Voting patterns and belief

MYRNA BROWN, HOST: It’s Friday the 2nd of October, 2020. Glad to have you along for today’s edition of The World and Everything in It. Good morning, I’m Myrna Brown.

NICK EICHER, HOST: And I’m Nick Eicher.

BIDEN: Will you shut up, man?!

He’s not talking about me!

BIDEN: It’s hard to get in any word with this clown.

There you have 15 of the most-memorable words from the television spectacle they called the presidential debate this week.

So much of it sounded a lot like this.

DEBATE: Sir, sir … with a billion dollars … that is absolutely … stop! … not true … you’re gonna … Gentlemen! I hate to raise my voice but … he’s on tape … why should I be different from the two of you?

We asked WORLD’s chief political correspondent Jamie Dean for her summary of the debate and this aired on Washington Wednesday. I thought it was a nicely constructed summary.

DEAN: It seemed like the dynamic reflected so much of the division and rancor in the country right now, when what we need are leaders who can model how to talk with people who we disagree with in ways that are respectful and productive. I certainly don’t think that happened last night, so in many ways, I found it to be a sad moment after such a long year.

BROWN: Now, all of this is not to diminish the important responsibility we American voters have and that responsibility doesn’t go away if we’re not really pleased with our options. We have to choose.

EICHER: We do. And some new research from Lifeway tells us that more than 60 percent of those defined as “evangelical by belief” plan to vote to re-elect President Trump. Less than 30 percent plan to vote for the Democrat challenger, former Vice President Joe Biden.

BROWN: The survey shows an ethnic divide—an almost mirror image—among those who are evangelical by belief. In that category, black voters prefer Biden 69 percent to 19 percent. White voters support Trump 73 percent to 18.

EICHER: Those who are evangelical by belief agree with other Americans at large about the top two issues driving their political choices: managing the economy and fighting the COVID-19 virus, but they add abortion and religious liberty as serious concerns as well.

We should add that the survey came out before Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg died and the president named Judge Amy Coney Barrett to fill the vacated seat. So that clearly helps to place those two touchstone issues at the forefront of the campaign.

BROWN: It’s Culture Friday and so let’s welcome in Trevin Wax. He’s senior vice president of Theology and Communications at LifeWay Christian Resources and he’s a visiting professor at Wheaton College.

Morning, Trevin!

TREVIN WAX, GUEST: Good morning, Myrna. Good morning, Nick.

EICHER: Is there anything that really surprised you in your political survey, Trevin?

WAX: No, not really. This was one of those surveys I was waiting for. I love in my role to be able to see Lifeway Research the questions we’re asking and I’m always curious about the responses we’re getting. And I’m usually even more interested when we are repeating surveys that may be tweaked slightly from previous years. And so it was interesting for me to see how similar it is in many ways to the survey we saw from four years ago. But also to see some of the same divides. As you mentioned, there is a very big difference between evangelicals by belief who are African American and evangelicals by belief who are white in how they are making their choice this year. And that’s been the case for quite a long time and I don’t see anything that seems to really be moving the needle to change that in the future. We tend to go along with the party that we belong to and this is another example of evangelicals by belief really mirroring in many ways the parties that they belong to as to how they’re going to choose for president.

BROWN: Here’s what boggles my mind regarding the ethnic divide, if someone identifies as “evangelical in belief,” it stands to reason that person would also be anti-abortion. Proverbs 8:13 says “to fear God is to hate evil” and we know abortion is evil. So how would one explain the statistic mentioned earlier: black voters prefer Biden 69 percent to 19 percent. And Biden is clearly pro-abortion. Traditionally, blacks have voted Democratic. So, I wonder is tradition valued more than the shedding of innocent blood?

WAX: That’s a great question, Myrna. I don’t know that I would say that it’s tradition so much as there’s a constellation of issues leading to a hardening of these dividing lines, partisan dividing lines over decades in which abortion is one of the primary issues for evangelicals by belief. But for many, especially African Americans, it’s not the single issue that they’re looking at. I’m not saying that that’s necessarily right or wrong, just looking at it from a sociological lens and also recognizing how we tend to vote along with the people around us. And it’s fascinating to see the numbers of how many people actually don’t regularly interact with anyone voting for the opposite party. And when you have groups that are closely knit together—whether they be evangelicals in predominantly white churches or evangelicals in predominantly black churches—when they discuss these issues and they discuss their vote, there tends to be a unity that comes around what that vote is going to be. At times, that unity gets tested. So, I think it’s important for us to continue to say that abortion is a great moral evil and then to, as we ask questions, as we listen to evangelicals by belief who have a different perspective as to why that would not lead them to not vote for a particular candidate, to understand the rationale and the reasons for that. 

Many African American brothers and sisters are asking similar questions about how white evangelicals can swallow so much of what they see as just egregious behavior or just certain positions from Donald Trump. As I look at that, I’m grieved that that ethnic divide is so strong. 

But I’m also heartened to know that at the end of the day, Jesus Christ is going to get glory from his people and we rest in his sovereignty. For whatever reason he’s given us these two candidates just now as we saw with the debate, there’s reasons to grieve the fact that these are our two candidates, but at the same time, we know that God has entrusted us with stewardship and we seek to be faithful—as faithful as we can—as we exercise this stewardship of voting.

EICHER: I just the other day received my pre-order of “Live Not By Lies,” by the journalist Rod Dreher. I’ve been so looking forward to reading the book and so, naturally, I appreciated your review of it and your critique that Dreher seems pessimistic to the point of almost joylessness.

Have to say: I have my days of pessimism. I see our freedom at risk, our country’s principles under attack, and I turn often to Dreher’s writing for, I guess, the fellowship of the trenches. I’m not alone, and he’s really a very good writer.

But one thing you mentioned—and you should talk about your experience in a former behind-the-iron curtain country—you mentioned the importance, if indeed we are facing the prospect of having to live as Christian dissidents in a formerly free country, that we be joyful Christian dissidents. Talk about how you do that.

WAX: Well, learning from the experience of people that have gone through something like that, I think a lot of what Rod says is right in how we don’t simply cultivate communities of conviction but communities of joy that are able to be able to withstand persecution. One of my favorite hymn writers Nicolae Moldoveanu—he’s a Romanian hymn writer—some of his songs, they’re beautiful. They’re mournful in their melodic structure and yet have such beautiful words. And there is a story told of Nicolae Moldoveanu when the communists ransacked his house, took virtually all his belongings and he wound up—he was imprisoned later for a time—but after all of his earthly goods were taken away, he’s sitting there on the floor of an empty house writing a song of praise to God that says, “For all that you have given me, I praise you with thanksgiving. For all that you have taken from me, I praise you with thanksgiving.”

There’s something about that unshakable joy in the face of whatever it is that we are experiencing that is contagious and that is important. And I think there has to be a certain cheerfulness in following the savior who says, “Don’t be troubled, I have overcome the world.” Even though the world at times is going to send us through many trials and there’s going to be snares and temptations and tribulations, at the end of the day our victory is secure because we belong to Jesus. And without that sense of joyfulness pervading even some of our—rightly, and I think Rod is right in his pessimistic analysis of a lot of what he’s seeing—without that sense of joy, I’m not sure that that community that he wants us to build together is going to be attractive enough to other people for them to actually see what makes us distinct. It’s not simply the unshakable nature of our convictions, but it’s also the joy that we have in the midst of suffering.

EICHER: Trevin Wax, senior vice president of Theology and Communications at LifeWay Christian Resources, joining us for Culture Friday.

BROWN: Trevin, thanks for the visit as always!

WAX: Thank you so much.

(AP Photo/Patrick Semansky) In this combination image of two photos showing both President Donald Trump, left, and former Vice President Joe Biden during the first presidential debate Tuesday, Sept. 29, 2020, at Case Western University and Cleveland Clinic, in Cleveland, Ohio. 

WORLD Radio transcripts are created on a rush deadline. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of WORLD Radio programming is the audio record.

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