Hi, everyone! I’m AP national religion reporter Rachel Zoll based in New York, and I’ve been talking to conservative Christians in Kentucky and elsewhere about how they feel sidelined as their cultural influence wanes. Especially after losing the fight over gay marriage, they say a chasm has opened between them and other Americans. Some evangelicals, who feel steamrolled by liberals, are drawn to Donald Trump because he condemns ``political correctness’’ and says what he thinks.

Here’s our story on the subject: http://bigstory.ap.org/article/705be97dd9924d3c90f51532c2a99515

Here’s where you can access other parts of the project: http://interactives.ap.org/2016/divided-america/

And here’s my proof: https://twitter.com/rzollAP/status/741291812745269248

Ask me anything -- about this project, what I learned, who I met or anything else!

EDIT: I'm wrapping it up. Thanks for the great questions!

Comments: 232 • Responses: 13  • Date: 

J_Keezey83 karma

Given the tidal wave of human suffering in the world, was there any sense that they should be harnessing their resources for loftier goals than defeating same sex marriage?

rzoll62 karma

Some evangelicals agree with you _ especially the younger ones. They're still confidently proclaiming their beliefs, but they're also trying to emphasize less politically polarizing issues by focusing on helping people with AIDS, trying to stop human trafficking and working to ease climate change. Still, other evangelicals have decided to even more fiercely wage the culture wars.

rstonex52 karma

Did anyone ever explicitly tell you why they felt that homosexuals were such a threat to their way of life? The article seems to revolve around the issues of gay rights and gay marriage, but of all the commandments in the bible, why is this the one they've chosen to focus on so intently?

rzoll33 karma

Have you read Matthew Vines' ``God and the Gay Christian" ? He comes from a conservative Christian family and makes the argument that it's a misreading of the Bible to put gay marriage at the center of Christian life. He contends that it should not be a defining issue _ and he's won significant support for his outlook. However, most evangelicals still consider gay marriage a make-or-break issue. They disagree strongly when they hear Vines and others say you can be gay and in a relationship with someone of the same sex and still call yourself an evangelical. Surveys have found many younger evangelicals think like Vines, so some change is coming on this issue. We just don't know the scope of it yet.

lukesdiner135 karma

This is very broad, but did these evangelicals you spoke with realize and understand that religion and government are not supposed to mix?

rzoll36 karma

Great question. At this particular Kentucky church, the people I spoke with were wrestling with this. They said they realized that Christians who work in government, for example, such as Rowan County clerk Kim Davis, have a duty to follow the law. But they also feel there should be a conscience right to object. It’s not widely known, but there are hundreds, if not thousands, of religious exemptions in government regulations and laws. But public support for those exemptions seems to be waning _ which is more evidence of declining evangelical clout.

ashara_zavros3 karma

there are hundreds, if not thousands, of religious exemptions in government regulations and laws.

Can you give a few examples?

rzoll25 karma

There are religious exemptions from the military draft, for people who want to wear a religious item (a headscarf, for example) at work, and for use of wine or a particular kind of drug for sacramental purposes. Here's an NPR story with more examples: http://www.npr.org/2013/02/21/172613472/who-gets-religious-exemptions-and-why

PillarOfWisdom20 karma

How do you define "evangelical"? Thanks.

rzoll26 karma

That is one of the toughest questions facing religion reporters, academics and Christians themselves. The most extensive definition of an evangelical by people who conduct surveys can be found in the research of the Barna Group. Other surveys only ask people to say yes or no if they consider themselves an evangelical and leave it at that. Some Christians have actually stopped using the term to describe themselves, because they feel it's become synonymous in the public mind with partisanship or bigotry. Even religious leaders who use the term evangelical don't agree how to define it. In the Kentucky church I visited, they mostly don't use the term. They feel like it's a problematic label and only want to be known as Christians.

salctx18 karma

Hi Rachel, during your research have you come across any evangelical that identifies as a Democrat?

rzoll20 karma

Yes. A small portion of evangelicals do vote for Democrats _ in presidential elections at least. Experts who study the evangelical vote often break down evangelicals into three groups: traditional, centrist and progressive. An example of a progressive evangelical is Jim Wallis of Sojourners. Still, evangelicals vote overwhelmingly for the GOP. In 2012, Romney got 79 percent of the evangelical vote.

verify_deez_nuts15 karma

How often have you met folks that were on the edge of losing their faith, or that have completely gone towards an agnostic or atheist route?

If any, can you provide an example of what was the "final straw" for them?

rzoll14 karma

I have spoken with people who have lost their faith _ but not for this particular story. I do know many LGBT folks who left organized religion because of condemnations of gay relationships and bigotry in the church. But I know other gays and lesbians who never lost their faith. They found churches that fully accept LGBT people. I do know a few Catholics, however, who left their churches over the clergy sex abuse crisis.

musicisascience8 karma

How did you become a national religion reporter (I never heard of the position before)? Did talking to anybody change any of their minds about the direction of America's social standards?

rzoll11 karma

There are only a few major news organizations left in the US that have religion reporters. The New York Times (Laurie Goodstein), the Washington Post (Michelle Boorstein, Sarah Pulliam Bailey & more), TIME magazine (Elizabeth Dias) to name a few. But there are many excellent freelancers who write for the Atlantic & other publications. I trained in AP bureaus in a few states before being hired as a religion reporter. I think it's one of the best jobs in journalism! Check out the Religion Newswriters Association to learn more.

two_off6 karma

Did you ask any of them their thoughts on the John Oliver episode about televangelism, and the influence that's had over a lot of people?

rzoll19 karma

That particular John Oliver episode did not come up. However, one of the church members, who opposed Donald Trump, told me that he watched the Drumpf episode and used something in Google chrome (I think) to change all references to Trump on his computer to Drumpf.

Pundredth5 karma

Have you spoken to any evangelicals in New York as well? If so, I'd be interested to hear what differences you noted. I know a lot of evangelicals in Canada and they are a lot different than what we see on the news down south.

rzoll11 karma

Yes, evangelicals in New York are often different than evangelicals in the South. Christian conservatives in New York tend to be more accustomed to talking to people who are secular or at least not involved in organized religion. Also, a very large segment of evangelicals in New York are immigrants, although you can see that same trend in places like Atlanta and elsewhere. There's a myth, though, that New York evangelicals are somehow liberal. It's not true. (See Redeemer Presbyterian in NYC, for example.) NY evangelicals generally don't emphasize the hot-button culture war issues that have become associated with evangelicalism, but they still have a theologically conservative reading of the Bible.

below_average_bob4 karma

I listen to any talk radio station I encounter in order to gain perspective and understanding. Recently I've noticed how often a biblical lecture turns into a political support campaign. How do you feel about the insertion of political ideology into religious commentary. Is it morally correct to interleave politics into biblical teachings instead of being addressed separately?

rzoll9 karma

This is one of the top discussions among evangelicals right now. The pastor of the church I visited is among many Christians who think the mix of politics and religion by the old guard religious right (Falwell, Robertson) was poisonous for the church. There's some new research showing that fewer churches are involved in politics now. Yet, evangelicals also feel its their moral and biblical duty to be active in public life. So don't expect a retreat of evangelicals from politics. Instead, we may see some changes in how evangelicals engage in policy debates and electoral politics.

GreenStrong4 karma

Quote from the main AP article

For evangelicals like those at Christian Fellowship, the sense of a painful reckoning is not just imagined; their declining clout in public life can be measured.

To what extent do you think this feeling is driven by erosion of economic security in the middle and working class? Might the main source of anxiety be the decline of industry, but the change in culture becomes a more understandable bogeyman?

rzoll12 karma

Right _ it's not just religion that is behind this feeling. Nationally, about half of evangelicals are working class, for example. But they are definitely feeling the loss of cultural clout. For years, they've been fighting acceptance of homosexuality, making it a top issue, and they lost _ in public opinion and in the courts. The second-largest faith group (if you will) in the country now are people who say they have no religion _ so they've left organized religion altogether. They're almost the same share of the population as evangelicals. The no religion segment is about 23 percent of the US population, while evangelicals are about 25 percent, according to Pew Research Center. That's evidence that Christian influence is eroding.

TerranFirma2 karma

Since you were in Kentucky, I assume you visited the creationist museum.

What did you think of the place? I found it... odd, to say the least.

Definitely wouldn't recommend it for the outrageously high ticket price, but it was an interesting experience.

rzoll4 karma

I still haven't been to the Creation Museum! I hope to go soon. There's an interesting new book out on the topic _ ``Righting America At the Creation Museum." I haven't yet read it, but it seems to be a critique of the museum and what it teaches.