Katelyn Beaty is still trying to make sense of the 2016 presidential election.
“Eighty-one percent of white evangelicals who voted ended up supporting Trump,” Beaty said. “This is not something a lot of evangelical leaders or pollsters predicted.”
So when Beaty speaks at 10:45 a.m. Tuesday in the Amphitheater, as part of Week Three’s question “A Crisis of Faith?,” she said she’s going to spend “a good chunk of time trying to make sense of that support.”
Beaty is editor-at-large for Christianity Today, evangelicalism’s flagship publication, where she was the first female, and youngest, managing editor in the magazine’s history.
She spent the weeks leading up to Nov. 8, 2016, writing examination after examination of her faith’s role in the election. She wrote about how young evangelical women saw Hillary Clinton as a role model, but why they wouldn’t vote for her; she curated reactions to the leaks of then-candidate Donald Trump’s gloating about sexual assault; and finally, a week after the election, she wrote about “waking up to an evangelical family I no longer resemble.”
“(The election) was surprising because Trump is not necessarily a person of faith,” Beaty said. “When he speaks about issues of faith, it’s clunky.”
And then there’s his personal conduct. The patterns therein, Beaty said, “call into question his character, and evangelicals in this country tended to be very attuned to questions of character in the voting booth.”
Now, Beaty said, she’s curious as to why evangelical voters turned out so strongly for Trump and what this signals for the faith moving forward. The president has exposed “deep fissures within the movement, and deep divides that already existed for a long time,” she said.
Among the divides: a leadership gap, a gender gap and a generational gap.
“People of my parents’ generation, baby boomers, tend to be a little more conservative on family values and sexual ethics,” she said. “When it comes to the LGBT community, there’s a big gap generationally.”
It makes sense, then, that many evangelicals feel that they have lost the culture wars. Beaty said scholars point to cultural shifts in the ’60s and ’70s, “the most obvious being changes to family structures, a decline in religious affiliations and a challenge to traditional authority, as well as the culture and sex revolutions. All of that created a lot of anxiety for conservatives.”
That anxiety carried into the 1980s, and saw the rise of the religious right.
“You had conservative leaders of ministries using their influence to form political alliances with Republican leadership, who would promise to uphold traditional family and sexual ethics,” Beaty said.
But that stronghold in the modern era leaves evangelicals in Beaty’s generation — millennials — trying to find where and how they fit in.
“(We’re) pretty disillusioned with the effects of religion right now, in how much that movement politicized our faith,” Beaty said. “A lot of millennial Christians want a faith that both speaks prophetically to culture, but that also transcends political divides.”
Millennials, Beaty said, are “annoyed” by the idea they have to ascribe to a particular party because of their faith. She emphasizes that her faith is one that has “always been oriented around love of your neighbor, and service of your neighbor, and the Christian faith exists to bring good news out into the world through service.” And that call to service can get lost in the discourse.
“We can’t be evangelical by withdrawing from the public square,” Beaty said. “We’re in this new time when we need to figure out how to love and serve our neighbors, in spite of perhaps feeling marginalized and misunderstood.”
It is easy, she said, to misunderstand evangelicalism as a “primarily political, not theological movement,” but it’s a mistake to “only understand evangelicals as a voting bloc, instead of a quite diverse set of communities and denominations under this banner.”
Ultimately, Beaty said, to be evangelical means to be a person of good news.
“It’s not about verbal proclamations, it’s about how you live your life,” she said. “Are you generous with your time? Are you serving the poor and the marginalized? Do you want to see racial justice? All of those things are outcomes of the good news.”