Blessed are the Elected
President Donald Trump’s executive order last Thursday lifts the risk of religious groups losing their tax-exempt status if they advocate for particular candidates or parties.
“We will not allow people of faith to be targeted, bullied or silenced any more,” Trump said at the ceremony. Ignoring the deep hypocrisy of that statement and this Presidency, Ralph Reed — longtime leader of the religious right — praised Trump’s executive order, saying that direct political influence will remove a “sword of Damocles that has hung over the faith community for decades.” If referencing a fourth century tyrant of Syracuse doesn’t date the content of the bill enough, the theological landscape of the United States has already made the order obsolete — the issue it aims to address is nonexistent in contemporary America.
A net majority (64 percent) of clergy members already speak on social issues, and nearly half of American religious leaders have made their political opinion clear during service, according to members of their own congregations. Every President and Vice President was raised in Christian affiliated families until Barack Obama, who still submitted to Christianity in his adult life.
While the share of U.S. adults who describe themselves as Christians has been declining for decades, over 70 percent still identify as such, and the U.S. Congress is about as Christian today as it was in the early 1960s. Within the 115th Congress, 91 percent describe themselves as Christians. The 87th Congress (1961 to 1962, the earliest years for which comparable data are available) was 95 percent Christian. Among the 293 Republicans elected to serve in the new Congress, all but two identify as Christians. As with Republicans in the general public, Republican members of Congress are overwhelmingly Christian (99 percent). 82 percent of U.S. adults who identify with or lean toward the Republican Party are Christian. Most congressional Republicans (67 percent) are Protestant. A huge majority of Democrats in Congress also are Christian (80 percent), and a 2007 Gallup Poll indicated that 53 percent of Americans would still refuse to vote an atheist President.
There is no limit on white Christian participation in American politics — the GOP has granted ‘religious liberties’ to a voter base that already has every religious and political liberty, and are simply used to having the the status quo reinforce their opinions. Ideological movement away from any privileged class is interpreted as opposition, but the perception that these Christian groups are being ‘persecuted’ can most likely be attributed to their position relative to other faiths in the United States.
Although younger Americans are now much less likely to place profound importance on organized religion, the share of U.S. adults who say they believe in God is still remarkably high (89 percent) when compared to other industrialized nations. However, from 2007 to 2014, the percentage of Americans who identified as Christian fell eight percent, with Protestants contributing five percent alone. In that same time, non-Christian faiths and unaffiliates rose 1.2 percent and 6.7 percent, respectively. Nearly one in three Americans under 35 today are religiously unaffiliated.
Religious ‘nones’ now constitute 24 percent of all college graduates; graduates who identify with Christianity declined by nine percentage points from 2007–2014. About 77 percent of American Hindus have a graduate and post-graduate degree, followed by Jews (59 percent), Buddhists, and orthodox Christians. 43 percent of evangelicals are educated at a high school level or less and only 7 percent have a post-graduate degree.
Conservative Protestants also accumulate the least amount of wealth in the United States; the group (including Baptists, Jehovah’s Witnesses, Seventh-day Adventists, Christian Scientists, etc.) median net worth is only about $26,200. Adherents of Judaism and Episcopalianism accumulate the most wealth, followed by Catholics and mainline Protestants.
Fundamentalist religious people tend to engage in mainstream political activity at higher rates than the average American, and eight-in-ten self-identified white, evangelical Christians say they voted for Trump. White Catholics supported Trump over Clinton by a 23-point margin. Three-quarters of white Protestants approve of the way Trump is handling his job as president, even as his approval among the general public hovers around half that figure (38 percent on May 10, before the Comey story broke). The least educated and most religious in the country support the GOP without restriction.
A step toward religious diversity and American progression has been confused as an attack on sovereignty by a group of aging, stubborn white families. At its core, the executive order was not about the religious liberty of Americans, or just Republican voters — it was about permitting the influence of politics into divinely separate institutions, and opening up a new line of business for Clinton or Cruz campaign boosters. In the process, the GOP hoped to redundantly secure religious voters. This was a substantial win for the establishment, but only marginally beneficial to evangelicals and the GOP.
Because the State now has a clear religious preference, it is subject to unique economic erosion: the GDP of a nation is negatively correlated with its religiosity — the more secular and scientific a population, the more wealthy it becomes. With seemingly limited comprehension of their base and this executive order, Trump and the GOP have exhibited petty partisanship and an affinity for regression.