Today our friends at The Trace discussed a new survey of Evangelical leaders which shows a majority (55%) might support stronger gun-control laws, even though this same majority reported that they personally own guns. This survey comes as something of a surprise to the gun violence prevention (GVP) movement, given the fact that Evangelicals overwhelmingly supported you-know-who in the 2016 election, and you-know-who ran as the candidate of the NRA. From now on, incidentally, I’m going to refer to the present occupant of the Oval Office as you-know-who, or YKW for short, because his shenanigans don’t deserve to let him be accorded any kind of proper name. Anyway, back to the Evangelicals.
I think the idea of a possible shift in Evangelical views on guns needs to be understood in a somewhat more nuanced way. First of all, the Evangelical support for YKW in 2016 was basically rooted amongst white Evangelicals, who constitute a majority of the total Evangelical population, but certainly do not represent the Evangelical movement as a whole. If anything, Evangelicalism appears to be growing fastest within the new-immigrant community, most of whom are considered ‘white’ in a racial sense, but share little of the values, outlook and most of all, religious activity and behavior with the traditional Evangelical population which is overwhelmingly located in rural or suburban areas, primarily in the South.
To drive to my office in Springfield I go down the main street of Chicopee, MA, which used to be the location of enormous manufacturing plants owned by Spalding and Westinghouse, but is now just another, inner-city pile of rubble surrounded by crummy housing, welfare offices and mini-marts. On the six blocks of Main Street which I take to get to work, I pass eight storefront Evangelical churches, whose congregations are entirely comprised of recent immigrants, most of whom do not speak English as a primary language and have as much in common with white Evangelicals siting in those mega-churches as I have with the man in the moon.
Given this division within the Evangelical community, it should come as no surprise that a slight majority of the religious leaders responding to a survey conducted by the National Association of Evangelicals would be in favor of stricter gun-control laws. After all, the NAE sent a public letter from its leadership criticizing YKW for his initial order barring immigrants; it also issued a very strong condemnation of white supremacy after Charlottesville (“The NAE condemns white supremacy and all groups, such as the KKK and Neo-Nazis, that champion it.”) and immediately called on Congress to protect DACA after YKW announced his intention to terminate the program over the next six months.
Where did YKW deliver his first commencement speech after taking office? At Liberty University to which he was returning following a campaign appearance at the school in 2016. In both appearances, Trump made no attempt to hide his pro-gun credentials, given the fact that the school’s President, Jerry Falwell, Jr., is a strong advocate of concealed-carry and recently announced the construction of a shooting range where students can get trained and apply for CCW, although Liberty University, believe it or not, does not allow students to walk around the campus toting guns. So much for Falwell’s nonsense about the virtues of being armed.
Obviously, whenever any faith-based group or organization pushes the idea of stricter gun laws, such news should be shared around the community which advocates reducing the violence caused by guns. But in evaluating the impact of such pronouncements, the gun-violence advocacy community needs to fully understand both the motives and the context in which such ideas might arise. Would it have been better had the NAE survey disclosed that a majority of respondents were against stricter regulations on guns? Of course not. But by the same token, to believe that the Evangelical movement as a whole may be moving away from a pro-gun position is to make an assumption which is simply not true.