Scholar looks at role of evangelicals in 2016 election
Some factions of evangelical Christianity — many of which played an influential role in President Donald Trump’s election — are relying on an outdated version of theological fundamentals, evangelical scholar John Jefferson Davis asserted in a talk on campus on Wednesday.
There are two Protestant narratives in American history, Davis postulated: a liberal, “enlightenment” narrative that places emphasis on scientific achievement and an “Abrahamic” narrative that subscribes largely to traditional biblical law.
While some evangelicals have adapted in the face of modernity and innovation, many still believe that the U.S. was founded as a Christian nation and follow a theistic narrative, said Davis, a professor of Systematic Theology at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary in Boston. However, he cautioned attendees, “let’s recognize that Christendom is over.”
Davis then reflected on his own faith, explaining his belief that one individual’s faith should not be forced on others. “My view is that, as an evangelical, it’s not my job to impose my religion or my morality on anybody else, and that my calling is to impose my religious beliefs on myself,” Davis told a group of more than 20 attendees.
He explained that evangelicalism can be broken up into three segments: Evangelicalism 1.0, 2.0 and 3.0. Evangelicalism 2.0, the late 19th- and early 20th-century era of televangelist Billy Graham, was marked by conflict over how to preserve the essential core of the religion in the face of scientific developments — like the Big Bang theory and evolution — that challenged religious fundamentals, he said.
But while evolution is now taught in schools as scientific fact without issue and more progressive forms of evangelicalism have emerged, some remnants of Evangelicalism 2.0 have carried over to the present day, he acknowledged.
Feeling nostalgia for a Christian-majority or perceived “lost America,” some evangelicals “misguidedly” turned out for Trump during the 2016 election, Davis argued. According to a Nov. 9 Washington Post article, white evangelical voters turned out overwhelmingly for Trump, with around 80 percent voting for the new president.
“I personally think this election is a disaster,” he said, adding that he did not view Trump’s success as a win for evangelicalism. “I view it with apprehension. … We’re in a bad place.”
Moving forward, however, evangelicals must revitalize and reform tradition in the face of modernity to become a better-understood and more inclusive faith, said Davis.
Evangelicalism “has been a series of attempts to reform, renew or revitalize existing traditions, especially in the face of modernity,” he said.
Davis stated that evangelicals were largely “missing in action” during the 1960s Civil Rights Movement and emphasized full inclusion of people of color as the future of modern Evangelicalism 3.0. Additionally, incorporation of female church leaders should be at the top of the agenda, he said, noting that most church leaders have historically been men.
“I think there’s a time for some house cleaning in my tradition in order to get back to what I think is more important,” he concluded.
Davis, who chairs the Division of Christian Thought at Gordon-Conwell, was raised in Christian Science and converted to Evangelicalism while studying at Duke University. Davis has notably argued for Christian egalitarianism, the practice of ordaining women as ministers. His lecture was sponsored by the Kraft-Hiatt Fund, the Program in Religious Studies and the Brandeis Chaplaincy.