Salon Magazine has accused the Republican Party of being out of touch with “post-Christian America,” warning the GOP that if it doesn’t renege on its alliance with Christianity, it will soon become irrelevant.
Ted Cruz’s failure to get the GOP nomination, Matthew Sheffield proclaims in Salon, “is a perfect window into trends that will set the pace of American politics for decades to come: Americans are moving away from Christianity, including people most likely to vote Republican.”
To back up his claims, Sheffield cites the 2014 Pew Research study finding that 23 percent of Americans say they’re “unaffiliated” with any religious tradition, up from 20 percent just three years earlier.
The trend away from religion, and Christianity in particular, Sheffield argues, is the real cause of Republicans’ woes and their failure to win the last two elections.
“The likely reason why Republicans have declined in popularity among the non-religious is GOP’s long habit of identifying itself as a Christian party,” he states. “The later attempt to add in a “Judeo-” prefix has done little to stop the bleeding.”
While the statistics showing a rise in the religiously unaffiliated are undoubtedly sobering to people of faith, Sheffield fails to mention that the very same Pew study showed that over 70 percent of Americans continue to identify as Christian. That means that to an overwhelming majority of Americans, God matters.
And while Sheffield rightly notes that atheists overwhelmingly vote Democrat, he comes up with the unlikely conclusion that Republicans should slough off their historical friendliness with religion in order to keep up with social trends. In other words, Republicans should repeat the Democrats’ mistakes of alienating the pro-life community, religious believers, and traditional families in the hopes of pandering to the relatively small group of religiously unaffiliated.
While observing that “the religiously unaffiliated appear to have a real preference for Democrats,” Sheffield insists that Republicans could cut into the Democrats’ voter base if they would just abandon the illusion that Americans still care about God.
“While secular people have always favored Democrats for as long as the data goes back,” Sheffield says, “the situation has actually become even worse in recent years for the GOP.”
If the GOP would just sell its soul and dump its religious constituency, Sheffield suggests, things would go a whole lot better. This includes a full embrace of same-sex marriage and other positions at odds with Biblical morality, in the name of political expediency.
“Regardless of what happens to GOP candidates in November, Christian conservatives face a choice,” Sheffield concludes. “They can embrace identity politics and become a small group of frustrated Christian nationalists who grow ever more resentful toward their fellow Americans, or they can embrace reality and render unto Caesar the things which are Caesar’s.”
Many other plausible theories could be advanced as to why the Republican Party lost the last two elections, none of which would involve its supposed over-dependency on the Christianity of its base.
Nonetheless, a more important consideration should be made here.
Although the Republican Party espouses no particular religion and many of its members care more about the economy and national security than religious belief, the GOP has been a home to many people of faith, including those who have felt betrayed by the Democrats’ callous treatment of believing Christians and Jews.
What Sheffield seems not to realize is that for many Americans, the choice of being Christian is not just a means to a secular end. Embracing or rejecting faith in God is not the result of a political calculus whose ultimate goal is mirroring societal trends and thus achieving popularity and victory. To let social surveys dictate one’s political platform, raising a finger to the wind every time fashions change, is to have the shallowest of views of the meaning of politics.
Many Americans still believe that political parties should ultimately be guided not just by pragmatism and polls, but by deeply held convictions concerning the common good, justice, truth, and the welfare of all citizens.
And for many, those convictions not only tolerate religious faith, they are born of it and sustained by it.
Follow Thomas D. Williams on Twitter Follow @tdwilliamsrome