How Did The New Yorker Get Young Evangelicals SO WRONG?
A recent article in The New Yorker by Eliza Griswold, titled “Millennial Evangelicals Diverge from their Parents’ Beliefs,” claims that younger evangelicals are trending politically to the left, and that their doing so accurately represents the views of the Bible. There are (at least) three claims she makes in this article, which are demonstrably untrue.
1. Most Millennial Evangelicals are Liberals (Wrong)
Griswold casts all young evangelicals as left-leaning political activists.
She cites Ed Stetzer, the executive director of the Billy Graham Center, at Wheaton College in Illinois, who says: “Younger evangelicals are not as ready to jump into patriotism … They love their country. They love their faith. They just don’t want those things inappropriately mixed.” Griswold writes that the ethnic diversification of evangelicalism results in younger evangelicals “speaking out on issues like family separation at the border, climate change, police brutality, and immigration reform.”
But this association between the younger generation and a leftist perspective simply isn’t supported by the sociological data. A poll of 65,000 voters conducted by Reuters found that millennials have become much more conservative from 2016 to 2018, the Democrats losing a 14 point lead to Republicans. A study published in Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin analyzed three nationally representative surveys of U.S. residents, totaling 10 million people, and found that millennials are not less conservative than GenXers or Boomers, but are rather more politically polarized.
A recent study in the Oxford journal Politics, which analyzed the data of the USCID 2006 Survey, and the European Social Survey, suggests that racial minorities are, in the United States, less active in politics, and whites are more likely to protest social issues — in other words, the growth of the social justice movement is more attributable to the extremization of white liberals than the diversification of a group. This should be applied to understanding evangelicals as well.
This gets to the heart of Griswold’s error. The error may have been that her small sampling size included hipster evangelicals who were “clad in black T-shirts with white crosses, Vans, and jeans ripped out at the knees.” What would she have found if, instead of visiting “The Block Church” in downtown Philadelphia, she visited the chapel at Carlisle Military Base chapel and surveyed the religious practices and political views of the millennials there?
The point here is simple: There is a growing conservative movement among young Americans in general, and among young evangelicals in particular. This article ignores that fact, and proceeds on assumptions about the sociological activity of these groups — evangelicals and millennials — that are demonstrably in error.
2. Jesus Was a Leftist (Wrong)
Griswold writes: “These younger believers focus more on the example of Jesus’s life in the Gospels. Jesus practiced a radical love, Colón-Laboy told me on the stoop. “This dude was breaking down gender roles and taking on racial issues that made people around him hate him.’”
This article makes it sound like the only reason a Christian would be politically conservative is if he twisted Scripture to fit his cultural preference. Hermeneutics is a complicated process, and the process of translating what the text meant and what it means for us will create a diversity of views about how it should be applied.
First, in the Christian view, the life of Christ does not represent the sum total of God’s revelation. The Bible is God’s revelation, which includes the Old Testament, the Gospels, the Epistles, and the apocalyptic literature. We must use these writings to interpret one another. So, while in one passage Jesus may be deconstructing the culture, in others he is setting up exclusive boundaries that most liberals today would call Islamophobic: “No one comes to the Father except through me” (John 14:6).
Second, moving from what the Bible meant to what it means for today is a complicated hermeneutical task. The fact that people hated Jesus does not translate into a Christian command: “Go and make people hate thee, for I am the Christ.” The culturally deconstructive acts of Jesus don’t condone all cultural deconstruction everywhere. There is a reason that scholars have debated for millennia about the meaning of these texts. It’s easier to use the stories of the life of Christ in support of pacifist, Marxist, postmodern narrative agendas, but less so what the Apostle Paul writes in Romans 13 or the martial themes in the book of Revelation.
Third, And this has further import for the intended nature of the biblical texts that get to the heart of the distinction between Lutheran two-kingdom theology and Calvinistic, Kuyperian worldview theology. For example, if Jesus commands Christians to sell everything they have and give it to the poor (Matthew 19:21), does that entail that the United States public policy should enforce the redistribution of American capital conceived through a Marxist lens—that is, that profit is left? The full text reads: “Go, sell what you possess and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow me.” Should the United States government compel following Jesus as well? Leftists want a Christian nation when Scripture can be construed to align with a Gramscian hostility toward economic and cultural disparity. Leftism only wants Jesus to the degree that he can be used to sway the Christian population toward socialism. In this regard, nothing is new.
Fourth, Griswold makes it sound like leftism is the natural entailment of the Gospel accounts of Jesus, and as if conservatism is just self-serving misinterpretation — her only evidence being the genius hermeneutical insight of a 20 year-old college student outside a Jazz club. Unfortunately for this view, the same Jesus who transgressed Pharisaical cultural norms also spoke what economists call the Matthew principle, a capitalist concept: “For to everyone who has will more be given, and he will have an abundance. But from the one who has not, even what he has will be taken away” (Matthew 25:28).
3. Roe v. Wade is Commonly Supported Among Evangelicals (Wrong)
One hint that Griswold is writing from a leftist perspective is that she lumps in Roe v. Wade with other social justice concerns without blinking an eye. Her evidence that evangelicals may be reconsidering Roe is the view of Jonathan Merritt: “I’m personally pro-life,” he told me. “But would I pull a lever and overturn Roe v. Wade? The answer is no.” Griswold comments: “Merritt’s view is common among his fellow-believers: that abortion is wrong, and there are ways to work on reducing it without overturning the law of the land.” This is false. A recent Pew survey shows that Evangelicals, about whose views the article explicitly sets out to describe, have the highest rate of any religious group for supporting the overturn of Roe (63%), only after Mormons (70%) and Jehovah’s Witnesses (18%).
I don’t understand the reasoning that Griswold says is common. If you believe abortion is killing a baby in the womb, and there was a single Supreme Court decision that permitted the states the liberty to perform this killing, why on God’ green earth wouldn’t you overturn that decision if it was as easy as pulling a lever? If you were alive in 1942, this would be a philosophically absurd claim: “I’m personally anti-Nazi, but would I pull a lever and end the holocaust? The answer is no.” First of all, you’d be a monster, and second of all, you’d be ethically culpable for millions of deaths — if you had a cost-free preventative power to save millions of lives, and you chose not to do so, you would be culpable of gross negligence, and worse.
Griswold writes in her conclusion: “Some, like Colón-Laboy, are still uncertain about their views on repealing Roe, which might further disadvantage the Latino and African-American communities.” Again, how does taking away the ability to kill the babies in your community disadvantage your community?
Griswold’s treatment of Roe in this article is the golden thread of her leftist bias that explains how she can cast evangelicals, millennials, and conservatism so reductively and inaccurately in such a short space.
And we should also note that those who dismiss those who are enthused about abortion as one-issue voters clearly don’t understand the pro-life position. Try to understand it from the pro-life perspective. In that perspective, a fetus is a human life. Currently in the United States, it is legal to kill that human life. This means we’re practicing infanticide in the United States—there could not be a more heinous evil. Now, you can either disagree that a fetus is a human life—which becomes an easily falsifiable claim at both the scientific and philosophical level—or you can accept that the hysteria about Roe, in fact, isn’t as fervent as it ought to be. But this question of the humanity of the human fetus hangs over the question of abortion—it’s not about womens’ rights; it’s about infant rights. And Christians who are on the pro-choice side of this debate theologically and politically are simply and unjustifiably wrong.
While Griswold does cite several evangelical leaders who identify conservative policy wins as a motivator for the evangelical Trump vote, she contrasts this policy concern with younger evangelicals, like Colón-Laboy.
Yet, an article on “millennial evangelicals” in The New Yorker ought to have been much better. It ought to have taken into account the surging conservatism demonstrated in the Reuters poll before overstating the political homogeny of millennials (noted by many media outlets, including CNN and Time). It ought to have had a working knowledge of how minority and majority groups act politically before overstating the effect of ethnic diversification on the political concerns of evangelicals.
The piece is titled as a descriptive sociological report, but it reads too much like an opinion piece to be taken seriously. The problem is that this piece only tells half the story. Millennial evangelicals aren’t leftists, as Griswold suggests. Millennial evangelicals are just as politically polarized as the rest of American millennials. And this, anyone on Twitter, already knows.