Saturday, February 02, 2019

Forget flood. Interview ... no, don't

Often, the best answer to a Stupid Question is "no, but thanks for asking." That won't work in this case, because the problem isn't that the hed is asking a question that the story answers; it's asking a question before which journalism must either stand mute or, you know, break out the tools of the supernatural. And that way lies witch-burning.

Earlier this week, the Christian Broadcasting Network's chief political analyst teed up a question for White House Press Secretary Sarah Sanders.

"Does it kind of blow your mind that someone like Donald Trump, who is sitting in the Oval Office," said CBN's David Brody, "I know you can list the accomplishments, but at the same time just from a spiritual perspective, there are a lot of Christians who believe that for such a time as this ..."

"For such a time as this" is the key phrase in that sentence. It's a quotation from the Bible's Book of Esther, in which an unlikely savior delivers the Jews from persecution.

Sanders picked up on Brody's biblical implication and ran with it.

"I think God calls all of us to fill different roles at different times," said Sanders, an evangelical Christian herself. "And I think he wanted Donald Trump to become president and that's why he's there."

While Sanders' statement may have raised secular Americans' eyebrows, many white evangelicals likely agree with her. According to a 2017 survey by Public Religion Research Institute, more than half (57%) say God played a "major role" in the 2016 presidential election.

If your eyebrows haven't already been raised by Axis Sarah, it's hard to see why this would get their attention. But you might have also gathered that you're not going to get the interview that the headline promised.

That view is particularly pronounced among charismatic and Pentecostal Christians, a subset of evangelicalism that puts special emphasis on prophecies, believing that God is omnipotent, immanent and extremely active. That is, all-powerful and present in all areas of existence.

The fullest accounting of this view comes in Stephen Strang's book "God and Donald Trump," in which the Pentecostal publisher writes that evangelicals had been praying for deliverance from an overbearing, hostile (and Democratic) federal government.

Trump, Strang says, was the answer to their prayers.

... But if a majority of Trump's white evangelical base believes that God wanted him to be president, many other Christians do not agree.

Less than half of non-white Protestants (47%) and fewer than a quarter of white mainline Protestants (21%) and Catholics (22%) say God played a major role in the 2016 election, according to the PRRI survey.

Now we're getting somewhere (not, of course, into answering the Stupid Question), but we're straying off into guesswork to do so. These are questions about what people think God did, not what people think God wanted. Specifically,  about what English-speaking Protestants (with a side of Catholics) think, and that seems a rather narrow view of the interaction of religion and politics.

To some extent, the question of God's role in the 2016 election is impossible to answer. After all, who among us can claim to know the mind of God? 

If you need your religion editor to point out that -- with some qualifications, mind -- we can't entirely answer what God was up to in the 2016 election, you're doing it wrong. (Hell, we can't entirely answer what the Russians were up to, and Russia's on the map.) And quite a few among us feel that life is but a joke claim to know the mind of God. Traditionally, we ask them to buy an ad.

If you want to analyze public opinion, fine. Just keep the emphasis on questions that were actually asked -- and entities that actually pick up the phone.

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Blogger Q. Pheevr said...

I salute your perseverance in getting through this piece. I would have given up on it after trying to parse the quote in the second paragraph, which as far as I can tell is complete gibberish.

12:06 AM, February 03, 2019  

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