Tuesday, November 22, 2016

Distributed Thoughtware: The Coming Church Split

In the last post, we looked at why I suspect the 20% of White Evangelicals who voted against Trump were church leaders and the 80% who voted for Trump were followers. What we're going to look at today is what that model would predict.

My model (the "why") is that there is a major split between the values of White Evangelical church leaders and White Evangelical church-goers. That model could be wrong! But if it's right, it's an untenable situation.

Evangelicals are a fractitious lot. We'll split a local church over interior decorating and we'll split a denomination over electric guitars. So there's no reason to believe we wouldn't fracture over politics.

Up until Trump, White Evangelical denominations maintained a measure of unity on doctrinal niceties (Calvinism vs. Free Will, Adult Baptism vs. Child Baptism) and a sense of common political enemy (Democrats are Baby Killers). Evangelicals were pre-selected by politics; only esoteric doctrines divided us.

The problem is, White Evangelicals are arguing very loudly about who the enemy is. While we all agree the Dems are Baby Killers, it's less clear if Donald Trump is Good or Bad. Many church leaders are calling their parishioners' favored candidate Bad, Evil, Non-Christian and at the very least implying that anyone who supports Trump is the same.

The situation looks ripe for a round of denominational purges and splits like we haven't seen since the 60s-70s.

We'll look at variables and concrete predictions after the jump.

The first variable is Trump. His job performance is vital. The ideal situation for revolt against church leadership is one where the real economy booms while Trump takes harsh measures against illegal immigrants and Muslims. This does two things:

1). It makes him a hero to working class White Evangelicals - one they won't accept criticism of.
2). It makes him unacceptable to the educated class - and thus to White Evangelical leaders.
There are any number of ways this variable could work out. If Trump's economy is shitty enough, working class evangelicals will dump him and have new respect for their leaders. If he softens on immigration etc., he may become palatable to educated White Evangelicals.

Here's my "most likely" scenario: Trump's economy delivers for the working class, or at least isn't any worse for them. He doesn't soften enough to make him acceptable to the educated class, but does soften enough to appeal to the middle.

The second variable is the Alt-Right. They've made huge gains in this election cycle, and they're gonna be hungry for new targets (both enemies and potential converts). White Evangelical churches will be prime recruiting grounds for the Alt-West in particular.

The ideal situation for revolt is one where Trump acts as predicted above and the Alt-Right makes a concentrated effort to seize the churches. After all, if Trump starts to deliver on the economy, White Evangelical leadership will be discredited and appear hostile to its own followers. Christian Conservatism will be as dead as the Mainline Churches. This allows the Alt-Right to gain maximum momentum and push for purges/splits.

A concentrated push from the Alt-Right would be important. It's a leaderless revolution, but there are a few nodes of leadership able to lend credibility to tactics and campaigns. If a few of these nodes brought pressure on a few key denominations, it could cause major schisms.

My most likely scenario: assuming Trump delivers enough on the economy and stays controversial on immigration/Islam, the Alt-Right has a major opening. I don't feel comfortable saying that Alt-Right leadership nodes will take advantage of this, but if they do mount a campaign under those conditions - it will be brutal.

So, to sum up, here's what will prove me wrong:

Variable #1

-Trump stays hard on immigration/Islam, delivers on economy, White Evangelical followers abandon him.

-Trump stays hard on immigration/Islam, delivers on economy, White Evangelical leaders love him.

-Trump softens on immigration/Islam, doesn't deliver on economy, White Evangelical followers still support him.

-Trump softens on immigration/Islam, doesn't deliver on economy, White Evangelical leaders love him.

Variable #2

(Assuming most likely scenario that Trump stays hard on immigration/Islam, delivers on economy)

-Alt-West makes a play for control of White Evangelical denominations, fails in the majority of cases

-Alt-White gains more control of White Evangelical denominations than Alt-West

-Alt-Right makes little gains in White Evangelical denominations


-There was no significant statistical difference in support for Trump between White Evangelical leadership and followers in the election.

-White Evangelical followers abandon Trump, Alt-Right still topples leadership of several White Evangelical denominations.


Here's a stretch prediction - if the Alt-Right fails to topple White Evangelical leadership, American religious demographics will trend towards Europe. If the Alt-Right succeeds, American religious demographics will reverse themselves faster than you thought possible. We're talking "New Great Awakening" numbers.


  1. One variable that I think you're overstating is the division of educated leaders versus "uneducated" followers. Most of the evangelical pastors I have known were educated working men - indeed, for churches with only a couple hundred congregants at most, it's ask but impossible to fully support a pastor.

    I'm guessing that the split is actually more northeast evangelicals vs the rest of the country - you know, the same sort as Catholics who will vote for Tim Kaine because muh social justice.

    So I think you will actually see a numbers of churches or smaller denominations cease defining themselves as evangelical in order to not be associated with "those people".

    1. Were the evangelical pastors in your orbit comfortable with Trump or uncomfortable with Trump?

      In my orbit, the higher a person is in a evangelical organization, the less likely they're an unabashed Trump supporter. I'm curious if that holds for other people.

  2. I thought you might find these interesting. I'm attempting to start a simple, talk-to-the-camera YouTube channel. These are my first two videos:



    As always, I am open to criticism.