Believe it or not, most Republicans are not pious, nor are most Democrats godless. Well at least not according to Ryan Claassen, a Kent State University professor and Goshen College alum who delivered the Yoder Public Affairs Lecture on Tuesday night.
The lecture, titled “Godless Democrats and Pious Republicans? Party Activists, Party Capture and the ‘God Gap,’” is a condensed version of Claassen’s book, which reviews past views of the Republican and Democratic parties and analyzes the idea that frequent church visits can influence one to identify with more Republican ideals, otherwise known as the “God Gap.”
The lecture hoped to dismiss the notion that the GOP represents all people of Christian faith, specifically evangelicals, which is constantly affirmed by the media, according to Claassen.
“The lecture was describing the way in which my approach is different than the conventional wisdom that has the Christian right getting evangelicals really excited about politics, mobilizing in a massive way and taking over the Republican party,” Claassen said. “My research suggests that there are far more benign forces at work, that basic demographic change is what’s actually going on.”
The main demographic change that Claassen talked about is the large population of evangelicals in the Republican Party. The Kent State University professor said this is not due to frequent trips to church as the “God Gap” may suggest but due to high reproduction rates of evangelicals, who have been around since the 1960s.
This theory dispels the theory of the “God Gap” and was the thesis of Claassen’s lecture. Claassen also pointed out that although there is correlation between going to church consistently and having Republican ideals, there are many implications of the trends that have been misinterpreted, and demographics were ignored.
Besides analyzing the changes in demographics, Claassen also looked at other attributes that shape political activists, such as voter turnout, partisan loyalty and participation in activism; he compared them to show how political partisan has developed in the past 50 years. Claassen used graphs and statistics to show the trends.
Elijah Lora, a first-year political science major, said he enjoyed the statistical evidence that Claassen provided and is interested to see how political activism will change in the current political climate. Lora also read Claassen’s book “Pious Republicans and Godless Democrats” and said he thoroughly enjoyed it.
Claassen then analyzed the four attributions that affect political activism within the context of seven different religious identities: mainline, evangelical, Black Protestant, Catholic, Jewish, secular and other religions.
“I thought all of the different comparisons [Claassen] made between all of the different types of religions and how they affiliate with the political aspect, especially during this year’s voting season, were very interesting,” said Denise Altheide, a sophomore.
Early in the lecture, Claassen linked his argument to presidential nominees Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton. Using Trump’s misquoting of 2 Corinthians while at Liberty University this past January, Claassen pointed out the fact that not all Republicans are devout Christians who know biblical text. He then mentioned Clinton’s dedicated spiritual life as a Methodist, concluding that not all Democrats are without religion.
The lecture ended with a question-and-answer portion, where many audience members took the opportunity to ask hard-hitting questions such as “How do evangelical Republicans look elsewhere in the United States?” and “Why wasn’t the factor of racism included in your lecture and book?”.
“We’re not at a place where [Republicans and Democrats are] more polarized than [they’ve] ever been…and that’s reassuring,” said Claassen.