Tim Carney’s piece on Trump-voting evangelicals is getting a lot of play and for good reason. He looks at churches outside the urban, suburban bubble, the ones that Christianity Today and The Gospel Coalition try to own. And he finds that evangelicalism is not nearly as monolithic as scholars and evangelical leaders have said. He may even give reasons for abandoning evangelicalism altogether.
But Carney also opens a window on those Protestants where neo-Calvinist influence has had the longest shelf-life. In some cases, the results should hearten the redeemers of every square inch:
Trump’s single worst county in all of Iowa—far worse than Polk County (where Des Moines is) or Story County (home to Iowa State), or Johnson County (University of Iowa)—was Sioux County. Trump finished fourth place there, behind Ben Carson. Ted Cruz won every precinct of Sioux County.
Sioux is home to Orange City and Sioux Center, and it is the Dutchest county in America. Dutch ancestry is probably one of the best proxies the Census has for religious attendance.
Jordan Helming, a transplant whom I met at a Jeb Bush rally in Sioux Center, was astounded by the religiosity of the place, including the sheer number of churches. “There are 19 of them in this town—a town of 7,000 has 19 churches.”
Different strains of Reformed Christianity dominate in this overwhelmingly Dutch county, from austere old-world Calvinism (“the frozen chosen” they call themselves) to more evangelical flavors. Attendance (often twice on Sundays) is high, and the churches build strong community bonds.
“You care about your neighbors,” Helming explained, “you care about your environment, but you also take care of it yourself—don’t rely on the government.”
Carney does not mention that these Iowans also selected Steve King to represent them in the House of Representatives.
Reinforcing that uncomfortable detail are Carney’s tabulations of Michigan’s voting habits:
Back in the 2008 and 2012 Republican primaries, analysts saw the GOP electorate in two categories: (a) establishment Republicans or (b) Evangelicals. The Establishment types voted for Mitt Romney or John McCain in 2008, and the “evangelical vote” went for Mike Huckabee in 2008 and Rick Santorum in 2012.
It turns out we were all oversimplifying things. That supposedly “evangelical vote” was a combination of two electorates: (1) the evangelical vote and (2) the rural populist vote. The 2016 primaries illuminated this distinction.
In Michigan, for instance, 2012 saw Romney carry the stretch of the state from Ann Arbor to Detroit, while Santorum won most of the rest of the state. Four years later, it was much more complex: Kasich won Ann Arbor, Trump won Detroit and most of the rural counties, while Cruz dominated in the handful of counties around Holland and Grand Rapids, where the Dutch Reformed church dominates.
Cruz would likely be better than Trump. But why don’t Christian Reformed institutions own up to being oh so Republican? You’d never know from reading the Banner, Reformed Journal, Pro Rege, or In All Things. If the leaders of Evangelicalism, Inc. could be so out of touch with non-urban Protestants, are the professors and pastors in the Christian Reformed and Reformed Church of America world all that connected?