The Pope's Big Gay Surprise | Crooked Media
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October 30, 2020
Unholier Than Thou
The Pope's Big Gay Surprise

In This Episode

This week we’re looking at the church, and more specifically, who’s welcome inside. First, Phill chats with Gerald Posner, a journalist and Vatican expert, about Pope Francis’ widely praised but incredibly vague comments surrounding civil unions for gay couples. Then, author and researcher Robert P. Jones joins to talk about Southern Baptists’ unholy history with segregationists, and the slow and unsteady march of white Christians towards racial justice.

Follow Gerald Posner’s work here

Learn more about Robert P. Jones and the Public Religion Research Institute here

His book is White Too Long: The Legacy of White Supremacy in American Christianity

 

 

Transcript

 

Phillip Picardi: From Crooked Media, this is Unholier Than Thou. I’m your host, Phillip Picardi. Well, everybody ready or not? Election Day is less than one week away. Unfortunately, we can’t guarantee we’ll know who our next president is come the evening of November 3rd. What we can say is that especially recently, this election has been one marked by religion. And I say religion and not faith because I mean the institution and not the practice. This became evident most recently this week when Republicans rushed to confirm Amy Coney Barrett to the Supreme Court. They prioritized her appointment, one condemned by activists all across the spectrum, over working to approve another stimulus plan for the nation’s struggling working class. What we’ve explored in many past episodes on this podcast is just how much the religious right has been fighting to engineer this moment for decades. And a little bit we’ll hear more about the insight of conservative Christianity from the author, Robert P. Jones. Jones, a former Southern Baptist, has disavowed his religious upbringing. Now he’s working to show American Christians across the spectrum of ideology about their own complicity in white supremacy. But first, I wanted to take a moment to follow up on a story that received widespread applause and attention last week.

 

[voice clip] Pope Francis has stirred up a long-standing issue inside the Roman Catholic Church how to treat same sex couples.

 

Phillip Picardi: In the forthcoming documentary about his life, “Francesco”, the Pope says on camera, “Homosexual people have a right to be in the family. They are children of God. They have a right to a family. Nobody should be thrown out of the family or made miserable over this. But we have to make is a law of civil coexistence, for they have the right to be legally covered. I stood up for that.” The press rushed to report this story as the pope declaring his support for same sex civil unions. Gay rights advocates responded with a mix of surprise and trepidation. My father texted me self-righteously to say the Pope supports gay marriage. In the words of Miss Oprah Winfrey while interviewing Lindsay Lohan: so what is the truth? To help me explore the Pope’s history and his remarks, I’m thrilled to welcome Gerald Posner, the award winning author of 13 books, including God’s Banker: A History of Money and Power at the Vatican.

 

Phillip Picardi: Gerald, thanks for being here.

 

Gerald Posner: It’s always good to talk about one of my favorite subjects, the Vatican.

 

Phillip Picardi: The Vatican! Yes, luckily, me too. In fact, my middle name is Francis. I think my father was once upon a time hoping I would become a priest. Obviously, that didn’t happen. The whole abstinence thing wasn’t really for me. You know what I mean.

 

Gerald Posner: I think the whole abstinence thing isn’t even sometimes really for priests.

 

Phillip Picardi: Yes. As we’ve seen in great detail. Well, first of all, I’m wondering if you can give me your reaction to Pope Francis’s remarks about, quote “civil coexistence for gay people.”

 

Gerald Posner: There are a lot of times that you can say, it’s a 2000-year old institution like the Vatican, about time. Francis had been a hard liner when he was the archbishop and cardinal in Buenos Aires, been against same-sex marriage and been against adoption. The question was, was he changing his mind slowly? And so the fantastic part about this is, although it doesn’t change church doctrine, they’re so clever. So a lot of people may not know, they just may think it happened in a documentary the other day that he was quoted. Actually as a 2019 documentary that he gave to Mexican journalists in this large interview in which the Vatican also set up its own cameras. And then they run a copy of the interview. And afterwards, the Vatican edited out the part where he gave this answer, which is so interesting. So it was actually opening this up a year ago, that ran on Mexican television. Nothing was made about that. It actually jumps at that point. Then they let a documentarian get access to the film archives inside the Vatican who put this all together. And everyone around Francis now says, oh, we’re so shocked, we didn’t realize he was using that little clip of film. Of course, they knew it. It’s their way of floating it out there, showing that he’s changed his view of it, he’s loosening up the process. All of the conservatives will go crazy for a while, but it moves it further along toward full acceptance at some stage.

 

Phillip Picardi: One thing I want to clarify, because the way that this was reported in the mainstream press, it made it sound like the pope is approving of gay marriage or even a same-sex civil union. But when I read the quote of what he actually said, that is not exactly my takeaway. Was that your take away?

 

Gerald Posner: Francis is a master at being able to say things in a very wonderful political sort of generic sense that then people put into it what they want and they interpret it in the widest possible interpretation. So if you remember early on when he was first elected and he was asked even then about the entire issue of is the church going to loosen its rules on homosexuality being a sin and he said, who am I to judge? Well, the feeling was by God he was opening up the door! But then his actions didn’t follow that.

 

Phillip Picardi: Right. Who am I to judge is not exactly a political statement, you know what I mean?

 

Gerald Posner: We know who he is to judge because I was raised a Catholic. I mean at Sisters of Charity and Jesuits. I get it. He’s the pope. So he actually can judge even if we disagree with him. But in that sense of saying, who am I to judge, he give the feeling as though he was going to change doctrine and he doesn’t. So in many ways, and I ran into this because I looked at the money in the Vatican, and Francis promises a lot, he seems to be the reformer. He’s definitely more liberal than his predecessor. But that’s like saying comparing him to Benedict is like night and days. Anybody would be more liberal. But he doesn’t always follow through with the actual doctrines that make changes in the church.

 

Phillip Picardi: I do feel like the way Pope Francis is perceived by the general public is that he is this more progressive and more liberal Pope. And you could have the impression that maybe he’s sort of like—and please forgive this analogy, both Gerald and the people listening—maybe he’s kind of like President Barack Obama, who had a Republican-controlled Senate and House, and so he wants to do all this stuff, but maybe he can’t because his hands are tied. Is that what’s happening here?

 

Gerald Posner: OK, so in the beginning in 2013, when he becomes Pope, I would have said that’s absolutely the case. He’s inherited this sort of orthodox hierarchy of all these conservatives. So Francis has to really be careful. All the knives are out for him. Then by the time he’s in there for three or four years, now I’m starting to have second thoughts in terms of why he’s not pressing harder. And here’s why. He has now appointed 60% of the cardinals who will elect the next pope. He just appointed 13 new cardinals, including the first African-American cardinal ever out of Washington, D.C. He’s a progressive. 60% of those electors are his choices. So then you would think they would share his view. He owns the church now. He’s got it. He has the hierarchy. So maybe if he wanted it. Now he’s Barack Obama with a Democratic House and a Democratic Senate. And the question is, why isn’t he pushing those issues through as he’s older that are important to him at a time when he has a lock on the church. And that I don’t know the answer to, unfortunately.

 

Phillip Picardi: This actually extends to a lot of different issues that may appeal to younger or more progressive Catholics. Can you tell me a little bit more about what some of those other stances might be?

 

Gerald Posner: What about the idea that it took Francis to say if you get a divorce in the Catholic Church, you can go back and maybe take the sacrament, you can at some point have communion again. And they haven’t even sanctified divorce, even though Catholics get divorced at record rates. And that’s the end of it. What about women, possibly for the priesthood? Instead of being second class citizens, this sexist hierarchy, where only men can perform the idea of the sacraments and women can just go along and pray all the time as nuns? What about the idea of allowing priests to marry? What about the idea of finally addressing the pedophilia scandal so that when priests are defrocked because they’ve committed so many crimes that are considered so heinous, they’re kicked out of the priesthood—400 of them done in just the last decade—that they then inform the local civil authorities. And even inside the finances, which may not be of interest, especially to younger followers of the church. But the church has been so steeped in corruption and mystery and doing things with the Mafia in the past. I thought he would be the person who would clean it all up. And he has cleaned up a lot of it. But there are still things I scratch my head at.

 

Phillip Picardi: Do you think that it is a superficial commitment to change, or do you think that there’s some reality to it?

 

Gerald Posner: I think he’s sincere. He does get a lot of pushback from the old timers, there’s no doubt about that. It’s not an easy process. But I think that for him, it’s almost like sometimes putting up a trial balloon, putting it out there to see what the reaction is. And remember, there’s something really unusual going on with Francis that we’ve never had at any other time in Catholic history. And this is like a two thousand year point. The idea of a living Pope, an ex Pope, retired Pope, still alive. So the problem would be is if Francis went far enough down the line of opening up the Catholic Church to the new world, and you had the old Pope finally coming out publicly and saying, by the way, I disagree with this. I’m telling you that I was the Vicar of Christ on Earth, although I’m not now, this is wrong—that could make a schism inside the church. That’s the last thing Francis wants. So having a living pope who’s quiet right now is something you don’t want to stir them up enough that all of a sudden he’s appealing to try to get a faction to break away inside the church.

 

Phillip Picardi: That kind of schism might be exactly what the Catholic Church needs. All of these other sects of Christianity have broken off and they have a progressive wing and a more regressive wing or whatever you want, whatever you want to call it, however you want to call it. But Catholicism has largely maintained a very monolithic belief in the Vatican.

 

Gerald Posner: The Vatican has this unusual idea, and it’s all built around that little plot of land the size of a postage stamp. The idea that it is both a government, which it is, and at the same time it’s a religion which thinks it’s the true inheritor to Christ. So although it is a monolithic religion, it’s an odd one because people go to church on Sunday or call themselves Catholics if asked in an interview or in a poll, but they don’t follow much of what the religion says. Most Catholic women, everybody I know, is using a pill or an IUD or something else, and as a result, they’re flaunting religious feelings. They still consider themselves to be Catholic. Catholic women will sometimes have an abortion. Big sin in the Catholic faith, still consider themselves Catholic. Gay members of the Catholic Church will still consider themselves good Catholics and go to mass, even though the church technically says that’s still a sin. So the idea of this monolithic faith is odd because we allow everybody under the umbrella, even the 80% who don’t follow the rules, who say the Pope’s a good guy, but I’m not going to follow that rule because it doesn’t fit me.

 

Phillip Picardi: Do you think the Pope is this progressive bastion that the mainstream press loves to paint him as?

 

Gerald Posner: I would like to think so, the, on my best days. And then on the days when I’m running into some sort of heads, a brick wall, trying to get something from the Vatican about some reform that they promised a year and a half ago on reforming the Vatican Bank and it’s still not done or disclosing some documents from 50 years ago that they still haven’t released, then I think no. Coming back to this is for people who don’t remember in 2012 or earlier the previous Pope, I mean, he was a real sour and dour only-by-the-rules conservative head of the church with no charisma, no personality that anybody liked. And Francis was everything different. And so we’d like to think different also means full reformer, but he is not going to turn the church upside down.

 

Phillip Picardi: In the States, we’ve just confirmed Amy Coney Barrett to the Supreme Court. Like many proud Catholics, she is pretty notorious bigot. Do you think that’s simply what the Pope said is going to help to work to change the hearts and minds of anti-gay Catholics?

 

Gerald Posner: He was asked, as a matter of fact, why he had come to this, because he’d been so firmly against it when he was the cardinal of Buenos Aires. And he said, you change, you do evolve. And I think that the Pope has broken the first Big Lie, it’s coming not just from a cardinal, not from a commentator, it’s coming from the Pope himself, so that there will be a lot of Catholics who will start to think about in a different way. That it’s the beginning of a slow, gradual process to those traditionalists.

 

Phillip Picardi: This tension of the Pope is akin to God, and we have to be reverent of the Pope, but then also of conservative Catholics saying, well, he doesn’t speak for me has, been an interesting phenomenon to watch, has it not?

 

Gerald Posner: We have this odd thing, as you know, Phillip, of infallibility for the Pope. The Pope can be infallible, but is only if he invokes it, and they never invoke that. So we don’t see an infallible Pope. We see a fallible one time and time again. There’s always a risk, just like in a presidency here in the US, that we could go backwards with the next election and have a Pope that’s a traditionalist and brings us back into the 1950s instead of into the 2020s. But I think that the die is cast, that we are moving toward a more progressive future in the Catholic Church.

 

Phillip Picardi: My last question is that I actually had to delay my wedding this year due to the coronavirus pandemic. So I’m just wondering, in your opinion, should I hold my breath to walk down the aisle at a Catholic church with my husband next year?

 

Gerald Posner: I would have two ceremonies. I would do this one, if you have it, in the beginning, part of 2021, have a great celebration and make it a real day to celebrate. And then when the church finally changes that policy and you’re able to walk down the aisle of, whether it’s St. Patrick’s or the local church in your own city, do it again. It’ll be worth it. But I would not wait for the church to change it. You might be waiting a little bit longer than 2021.

 

Phillip Picardi: Yeah, I think I’ll be gray in the hair and long in the tooth. Gerald, thank you so much for joining me. I really appreciate it.

 

Gerald Posner: Thanks so much.

 

Phillip Picardi: After the break, my interview with an ex Southern Baptist.

 

[ad break]

 

Phillip Picardi: All right, y’all. Now that we finished our detour in the Vatican, it’s time to get back stateside. Religion is a major motivating factor for many American voters, whether they’re casting their ballot for Democrats or Republicans. But so much of the press about religious voters is centered on white conservative Christians, and they’re apparently unlikely allegiance to Donald Trump. But according to the ex-Southern Baptist Robert P. Jones, white conservative Christians and Donald Trump actually have one key thing in common: it’s called racism! Robert, thanks for joining us.

 

Robert P. Jones: Yeah, of course. I’m glad to be here.

 

Phillip Picardi: Now, I’m told that you grew up Southern Baptist in the South. Can you tell me a little bit about what that experience was like for you, especially growing up?

 

Robert P. Jones: Yeah, no, that’s right. I grew up Southern Baptist, mostly in Jackson, Mississippi, you know, and it was kind of an all-encompassing world. I mean, I was that kid and my family, we were at church as many as five times a week. I went to a Southern Baptist College just outside of my hometown, Mississippi College, and then went to a Southern Baptist seminary as well. And our family actually goes back six generations, you know, there in, in that red clay of middle Georgia. So and they’re all really Baptist all the way, all the way back, as far as I can tell, a few Baptist preachers along the way, but certainly occupying Baptist churches all the way back.

 

Phillip Picardi: So if you grew up and were kind of engulfed in this environment and you said you even went to seminary in this environment, how did you kind of break away enough to realize that Christianity played a major role in forming some of the racial hierarchies that are causing so much discord in American society today?

 

Robert P. Jones: You know, looking back on it, it is right, I mean, that language of breaking out is, I think, accurate, because when you’re in that world, it really is hard to see out of it. I grew up, I was in elementary school in the 1970s, and I remember the first Black kids showing up at my school and got absolutely no conversation or explanation from my church about it, what that was all about. Just all of a sudden—it was an all-white school, it was a public school, and then the next year it was integrated. But that even the word integration wasn’t even used. I mean, it just wasn’t literally was not spoken of, really got no explanation about it, no talk about civil rights. And so basically, it was Mississippi dragging its feet for nearly 20 years after Brown v. Board of Education. You know, before they actually got around to integrating the public schools. My parents did us, my siblings and I, some favors by at least insulating us, I think, from the worst sorts of overt racism that in that previous generation had been there. And I think that created some distance. And then it was really getting some teachers. I mean, I remember sitting in a seminary class in a Baptist history class and having a professor who finally told me the full story of the beginnings of my home denomination, and that is in 1845, the Baptist in the South put forward a candidate for, to be a missionary who was a, who was a slave owner. And the Baptist in the north rejected it. And when they did that, Baptist in the south formed The Southern Baptist Convention. That’s why that word Southern is in there, to indicate this alignment with what became kind of the Confederate, you know, world view. But certainly to make, I mean, so the Genesis story of my own denomination that I didn’t learn until my early 20s was, to put it very starkly, that it was a religious domination of Christian domination whose purpose was to make the enslavement of other human beings on the basis of their skin color compatible with the gospel of Jesus Christ.

 

Phillip Picardi: So to recap, when I see a Baptist church in New York, they may not hold the same principles as, for example, a Baptist church in Mississippi. That the southern is not just a denotation of geography. This is also noting a belief system or a founding principle.

 

Robert P. Jones: Yeah, it became the denominational name. But it is worth noting that this is not just a Baptist story. Every denomination, every Protestant denomination of any size split over the issue of slavery. The Methodist split, the Presbyterian split, the Lutheran split, the Episcopalians split. And the Episcopalians, I think, which many people associate with New York and kind of the Northeast, were actually the home denomination of both Jefferson Davis, the president of the Confederacy, and Robert E. Lee.

 

Phillip Picardi: So, Robert, are you telling me that racism exists across all sects of Christianity?

 

Robert P. Jones: Yeah, I hear a little faux shock in your voice. [laughs].

 

Phillip Picardi: I was raised Catholic, honey so this is no surprise to me.

 

Robert P. Jones: Yeah, no, I mean, I think that’s right. I think people love to point fingers and sort of say, OK, this is a white evangelical problem, it’s a southern problem, but I think one of the big reveals of the book and look, using not only a lot of historical research, but a lot of social science research of public opinion attitudes TODAY—not 100 years ago, but today—you know, does reveal this, this commitment really to white supremacy, is still there. So, you know, even when I looked at a whole range of questions in the book and current public opinion data around kind of holding more racist views, especially denying the existence of systemic racism, from Confederate monuments, Confederate flags, to the killing of African-American men by police, you basically see white Christians of all kinds really scoring very high on what I ended up calling in the book, a racism index.

 

Phillip Picardi: Yes!

 

Robert P. Jones: And I scored that index from 1 to 10, with 10 being holding the most racist attitudes, one being holding the least. And what was remarkable really is that white evangelicals scored eight out of 10 on that index, but white mainline Protestants scored 7 out of 10 and white Catholics scored also 7 out of 10. We still see them scoring very high, particularly around anti-Black attitudes, in the surveys.

 

Phillip Picardi: So basically, you created a racism index for the book. It’s a set of 15 survey questions that were designed to assess attitudes towards white supremacy and Black people. And so essentially what you did with your book is you gave this survey to white Christians across all sorts of denominations, is that right?

 

Robert P. Jones: Yeah, that’s right. The index, the description is right. And it was, this came at a nationally public, you know, probability sample survey, nationally representative survey of over 2,500 Americans that was conducted in 2018 and a follow up survey in 2019 as well. So it’s a very large and robust sample that included white Christians. When I compare the scores of white Christians across these questions to the scores of whites who are not Christian, right, those who claim no religious affiliation, the differences are really stark. So whereas you have white Christian scoring between seven and eight on this racism index, whites who are unaffiliated only score four out of ten. They’re much closer to the views of African-Americans who score two on this index.

 

Phillip Picardi: Isn’t that interesting?

 

Robert P. Jones: If you ask the question whose views are closer to the concerns and experiences of African-Americans among whites? It’s certainly not white Christians. It’s whites who have no religious affiliation.

 

Phillip Picardi: Now, Robert, do you still identify as Christian?

 

Robert P. Jones: I do, yeah. I don’t really identify with a denomination. So I would say I’m kind of generally, you know, I identify as a Protestant Christian.

 

Phillip Picardi: So what I feel like you’re talking about in this book is a failure of American Christianity, right, because Christianity cannot also be racist, cannot also be intrinsically tied with the oppression of marginalized people—that’s certainly not one of the founding principles of Christianity. And of course, you could ask any Catholic, any Protestant, any evangelical Christian, right, whether they believe racism is wrong, all of them will say—well, I would think they would say racism is wrong—And yet, you know, your book points out that they’re not exactly practicing what they are preached. So what happened?

 

Robert P. Jones: Well, you know, look, this is a really personal book for me. So, you know, I weave my own, you know, family story, and my own journey on these issues. This really is still in progress. As a white Christian, I can say, yes, this is a massive failure that involves enormous self-deception on the part of white Christian, everything from, you know, white Christian beliefs justifying the treatment of indigenous people here in the U.S. Like my own family gets to Georgia, for example, by being given land from the federal government in 1815 from what they called a land lottery. Now, how did that land become available to be given away? It was only after Cherokee Indians had been removed in what was called the Indian Removal Acts. That’s how my family gets land in Georgia, right? And that was really buttressed by a belief, really, in the superior of white Christian civilization, that this was as God had designed it, really was for white Christian people to be at the top of the pyramid and others to be below there. So there was a, it was justified by Christian principles. As was slavery.

 

Phillip Picardi: Right. Yes. I mean, yeah, going back to slavery is important here because a lot of folks don’t necessarily realize that the colonization of the land that we are sitting on was largely blessed and affirmed by the church. These early so-called explorers believed that they were carrying out their God-given mission by forcibly converting people to Christianity, whether that was enslaved people or as you pointed out, indigenous people. So how is it possible to find a way to be an ethical Christian in America?

 

Robert P. Jones: Well, I think the only way possible is to tell a truer story about who we are and how we got here. But I think there is no possible way really to be an ethical, faithful, authentic Christian without acknowledging this history. You know, we sort of acknowledge it here and there, but we don’t acknowledge, you know, is that how how recently this was? You know, just in my parents’ generation, this was not implicit or, you know, it was overt. And to that rhetorical question you gave earlier, if you had asked people in 1960, if you’d gone to my parents White Baptist Church in Macon, Georgia, and asked people in 1960, do they think that, you know, white Christians were meant to be or were the superior race and religion in the country? They would have just without blinking, said yes. And Christianity really played the role of legitimizing that worldview. I mean, there’s no stronger way to legitimize a cultural worldview than to connect it to the very will of God, right?

 

Phillip Picardi: Yes.

 

Robert P. Jones: And that is really the role that Christianity played, was connecting this idea that whites were destined to, yes, civilize, quote unquote, “civilize the world” you know, and to put other people under really under their foot, you know, literally or under their knee to take it straight to things that we’ve seen just over the summer. And this was, this was seen to be, you know, the will of God.

 

Phillip Picardi: If you’re a white Christian who is invested in racial justice and you do want to be able to have a real reckoning with the church’s past and your religion’s past in racial oppression throughout history, where do you start?

 

Robert P. Jones: I would say that the materials are closer at hand than I think many white Christians think they are. And that is, I think, with our own family stories. I should say, preface this by saying this is a question that only someone who grew up white can actually even ask themselves, because it’s a nonsensical question if you’re a person of color in this country. And that is to ask, where did race show up for me, like as a child or as an adolescent growing up? Where does it enter into my consciousness, right? Only a white person can really ask themselves that question and have the privilege that it was mostly invisible to them. But when I started asking that question, I mean, that’s where I think just this little thread appeared. And as I began to journal and begin to kind of pull that thread, you know, I found it was connected to more things than I thought. And then I began to have conversations with my family, with my friends growing up and kind of checking out those memories. Is that right. Did that really happen that way? What was that about, like when that Black kid came to visit our church, for example, and it caused an emergency deacons meeting to figure out what we were going to do? It created a crisis just by an African-American kid coming to church one Sunday, you know? So how was that? What was going on there? And then I think the other thing, there’s a ton of really great resources. I mean, I am hoping that this book is one of those resources to kind of help people think about and have a structure to kind of, as I try to lay out my own journey that maybe that helps as well. And then but I do think having these conversations in their own churches. Why is our church where it is? Like geographically located where it is? Because if it’s a church of any age, you know, it’ll be probably located in an area that was once designated as a quote unquote, “white area” of the city. If it’s out in the suburbs, most likely is because that church was a white flight church. At the end of the day, I think what really matters here is for white Christians to decide finally that we’re just going to do two things: we’re going to tell the truth, and we’re going to love our neighbors— and that our neighbors aren’t just the people in our church, right.

 

Phillip Picardi: There’s going to be so many conversations about Christians and the role that Christians play in American politics in the coming weeks. And I think one of the big concerns among folks has been that Trump has this grip on white evangelical Christians. And we keep pointing the finger at white evangelical Christians because they not only bankroll Donald Trump, they also vote for him in droves. The churches are effectively used as political locations to elect Trump and other people who are who are far right and far right oriented. Do you think that we have somehow overstated the role that white evangelical Christians play, or do you think that we need to start talking about all white Christians the same way that we are dissecting the white evangelical Christians?

 

Robert P. Jones: White evangelicals do stand out among even white Christians, right?

 

Phillip Picardi: Yes.

 

Robert P. Jones: But maybe not as much as everybody thinks. I think that’s the corrective. I think you really hear people mostly talking about white evangelicals and not talking to other white Christians, but it’s worth noting that in 2016, perhaps everybody knows this number, that 8 in 10, it was 81% of white evangelicals, according to the exit polls, voted for Donald Trump. But it’s worth noting that a little more than 6 in 10 white Catholics and a little bit less than 6 in 10 white mainline Protestants also voted for Trump. Trump didn’t create this pattern. It’s actually been there really since Reagan. You can describe the religious landscape since Reagan as white Christians voting for Republican candidates, really, whoever they are, and really everyone else in the religious landscape—so Christians of color, Latino Catholics, Latino Protestants, African-American Protestants and the religiously unaffiliated, all majorities voting for Democratic candidates. What set that pattern—this is really worth noting—was not abortion. It was not same-sex marriage. What set that pattern was white Christian resistance to the civil rights movement, because prior to 1965, all those white Christians were Democrats, right? And the thing that made them switch parties really was the Democratic Party becoming the party supporting civil rights for African-Americans. And once that became clear, there really was this literal white Christian flight of folks from the Democratic Party to the Republican Party. The one thing I would say, we just released a survey at PRRI at this week, our American Values Survey, that’s showing a little bit of daylight. And that’s the one caveat I want to offer here between white evangelicals and other white Christians in their support for Trump. It looks like while white evangelicals are right there, we still have 8 in 10 saying they’re going to, they’re going to vote for the president. But among white mainline Protestants and Catholics, it does look like there is some pulling away from President Trump. And in fact, what we’re showing among white Catholics is that it looks like that Biden is actually ahead right now. White mainline Protestants are kind of divided. But among white Catholics overall today, we’re seeing, we’re seeing Biden up.

 

Phillip Picardi: Biden is Catholic himself. I think that’s worth pointing out. And so there may be that contributing to it. Obviously, Trump’s mishandling of the coronavirus and everything else withstanding. I guess what I’m saying is I’m glad they finally got the point.

 

Robert P. Jones: Yeah, well, the one, just one quick caveat on this. I think one of the things pulling them, it is the coronavirus, but it is also his handling of the protests for racial justice this summer. Like we’re seeing direct evidence of movement now among white mainline white Catholics. Their views, for example, on the killing of African-American men by police five years ago when we asked a question about that, their views look no different than white evangelicals did. So about 7 in 10, for example, said that the killing of African-American men by police were just isolated incidents, right. That they weren’t part of a pattern of discrimination. And today, white evangelicals, still 7 in 10 say that, but the views now of white Catholics, white mainline are, have dropped more than 10 points. They’re down under 60%.

 

Phillip Picardi: And those numbers have remained steady even as we’ve had a few months of distance from the initial week of protests after the death of George Floyd?

 

Robert P. Jones: The big shifts had really come from 2015 and 2018 but over this year they’ve been fairly stable.

 

Phillip Picardi: I wonder in closing, as we talk about the future of Christianity and regardless of whether we’re talking about mainline Protestantism or Catholicism, many of these churches are led by white men. Do you think that there is a possibility for the church to ethically move forward if the composition of their leadership does not change? In other words, can white Christians ever fully realize the true purpose of Christianity in America if they are only being led by white men as their ultimate arbiters of faith?

 

Robert P. Jones: The leadership is overwhelmingly white, it’s overwhelmingly male. The problem, and I think the challenge for many white Christian churches is that many of those younger people over the last couple of decades have left, right? So the energy that would be there for agitating and pushing for change, they’ve kind of pushed for change by leaving, rather than staying inside of those structures and pushing. What I expect will happen is that the real reforms will come outside of the current structures. I don’t think I know what that looks like. I am more hopeful today than I was when I turned this book in for publication a year ago. You know, even in my home state of Mississippi, just to take one quick example, when I turned the book in a year ago, there’s no way I would have imagined that my home state of Mississippi would have removed the Confederate battle flag from its state flag, which it did over the summer. And that before the legislature and the governor did that, the white Baptists in Mississippi would stand up and say this is the right thing to do. Now, one of my old seminary classmates was the president of the Mississippi Baptist Convention, who held a big press conference urging the governor to do this and 19 years ago, the state held a referendum on this exact question and there were no white religious voices anywhere willing to speak up. So, you know, there’s, with monument’s being toppled, those kinds of things, I think there is a moment of effervescence and a moment of opportunity here that white Christians can seize and that I hope that we do, because at the end of the day, yes, we owe a great debt and need to figure out how we repair the damage that we’ve done by upholding white supremacy for so long in this country. We have distorted our own faith in order to make it compatible with white supremacy, right? And so there is this great healing, I think, that needs to take place even within our own congregation.

 

Phillip Picardi: For me, when I think about the future and reckoning with these pasts, I do look at the incredible work that has been done by Black activists who have been leading this work, and I know that if we want the church to follow suit, the church has to look a lot different. And I think that’s an important thing for us to consider as all of us move forward, hopefully in a post-Donald Trump America. Robert Jones, thank you so much for joining me. I really appreciate it today.

 

Robert P. Jones: Oh yeah. It was great to be with you.

 

Phillip Picardi: That’s all for our show today. If you liked what you hear, please subscribe, leave a review, make the voting plan, and send your prayers up that Donald Trump loses bigly at the polls. And as always, if you need any more information on voting, volunteering, phone banking, etc., visit, VoteSaveAmerica dotcom. We’ll see you next week and hopefully we’ll have something to celebrate. Until then.

 

Unholier Than Thou is a Crooked Media production. Brian Semel is our associate producer and Sydney Rapp is our assistant producer, with production support from Reuben Davis. The theme song is by Taka Yasuzawa, and the show is executive produced by Me, Lyra Smith and Sarah Geismer. Thanks for listening.