The Pickett’s Charge Theory Revisited

Pickett

Check out Daniel Cox’s piece at Five Thirty Eight: “Are White Evangelicals Sacrificing The Future In Search of the Past.”  Here is a taste:

After dominating much of American politics for the past 40 years, white evangelical Protestants are now facing a sharp decline. Nearly one-third of white Americans raised in evangelical Christian households leave their childhood faith.2 About 60 percent of those who leave end up joining another faith tradition, while 40 percent give up on religion altogether. The rates of disaffiliation are even higher among young adults: 39 percent of those raised evangelical Christian no longer identify as such in adulthood. And while there is always a good deal of churn in the religious marketplace — people both entering and leaving faith traditions — recent findings suggest that membership losses among white evangelical Protestants are not being offset by gains.

As a result, the white evangelical Protestant population in the U.S. has fallen over the past decade, dropping from 23 percent in 2006 to 17 percent in 2016. But equally troubling for those concerned about the vitality of evangelical Christianity, white evangelical Protestants are aging. Today, 62 percent of white evangelical Protestants are at least 50 years old. In 1987, fewer than half (46 percent) were. The median age of white evangelical Protestants today is 55.

Back in July 2017 I offered-up my “Pickett’s Charge” theory of evangelical support for Donald Trump.  Here is a taste:

…the pro-Trump evangelical movement may represent a kind of last-ditch effort by the Moral Majority generation to reclaim the country in the way that they were trained to do by Jerry Falwell, Pat Robertson, and others back in the 1980s.

Military history teaches us that final assaults are often carried out on a grand scale. Think about Pickett’s Charge–the final engagement of the Battle of Gettysburg.    The Confederate Army attempted to make one last thrust into the Union line before it was turned back once and for all.  Many historians have argued that the loss at Gettysburg sent the Confederate army on a downward spiral that eventually led to its defeat at Appomattox in April 1865.

The Trump evangelicals have found a strongman to lead them.  With control of the White House they are poised, at least for the moment, to initiate a final forward movement  for the purpose of preserving their “way of life” against the social and cultural changes that they have been fighting against for a couple of generations.

It seems like Cox’s stats on generational shifts among American evangelicals, and American culture more broadly, might support my thesis.

Trump Evangelicals and Pickett’s Charge

Pickett

Here’s a theory.  Again, just a theory.

Yesterday I was chatting with a pastor about evangelicals who support Donald Trump. This pastor affirmed a lot of my thoughts about the generational make-up of this group. Most (not all, but most) pro-Trump evangelicals (or evangelicals who voted for Trump) who I encounter are older than I am.  This group looks back on the last fifty years and they see increased religious and ethnic diversity, changes in sexual ethics, and an ever- growing number of legal cases related to the separation of church state (think 10 Commandment monuments, “Merry Christmas” and manger scenes, prayers at football games, etc.).  They are afraid.  They are uncomfortable.  They believe America was once “great” and now it needs to be made “great again.”  They have dug in for one last stand in the culture wars. Trump can help them win.

If this generational argument is true, then the pro-Trump evangelicals, and others who live with this fear, will soon fade off the scene.  If my pastor friend is correct, and I think he just might be, younger evangelicals are less fearful, more open to diversity and immigration, and at least willing to treat those with whom they disagree on sexual ethics and marriage with dignity, respect, and civility.  They remain orthodox in their theology,  but they are not culture warriors.

With all of this in mind, the pro-Trump evangelical movement may represent a kind of last-ditch effort by the Moral Majority generation to reclaim the country in the way that they were trained to do by Jerry Falwell, Pat Robertson, and others back in the 1980s.

Military history teaches us that final assaults are often carried out on a grand scale. Think about Pickett’s Charge–the final engagement of the Battle of Gettysburg.    The Confederate Army attempted to make one last thrust into the Union line before it was turned back once and for all.  Many historians have argued that the loss at Gettysburg sent the Confederate army on a downward spiral that eventually led to its defeat at Appomattox in April 1865.

The Trump evangelicals have found a strongman to lead them.  With control of the White House they are poised, at least for the moment, to initiate a final forward movement  for the purpose of preserving their “way of life” against the social and cultural changes that they have been fighting against for a couple of generations.

Just a theory.  What do you think?

If I am correct here, it seems like the challenge for pastors and Christian leaders is to figure out how to meet the spiritual needs of the Trump evangelicals in their churches. They need to find a way to walk beside them in their place of fear and anxiety and remind them of the “God of all comfort” and the “perfect love” that “casts out fear.”  It would be easy to just dismiss the Trump generation of evangelicals or simply tolerate them until they pass off the scene, but such a demographics-based approach would be a dereliction of pastoral duty.

Pickett’s Charge: History and Memory

The Fourth of July holiday is a time for historians to take to twitter! Since Saturday AM we have been wrestling historically with the question “Was America Founded as a Christian Nation?”  Get a tweet every 30 minutes at #ChristianAmerica?

Yoni Appelbaum, the Washington Bureau Chief at The Atlantic, has turned to twitter to offer some perspective on the 154th anniversary of the last day of the Battle of Gettysburg and its signature moment: “Pickett’s Charge.” Here are his tweets:

Check out our interview with Yoni in Episode 3 of The Way of Improvement Leads Home Podcast.

Donald Trump and Pickett’s Charge

trump-civil-war

While I was at Regent College in Virginia Beach this weekend for the biennial meeting of the Conference on Faith and History I attended a Donald Trump rally. (More on this in a future post).  After the rally I talked with Sarah McCammon, a reporter for National Public Radio, about Trump’s visit to Gettysburg earlier in the day.

Listen here:

https://www.npr.org/player/embed/499067575/499077129

A little backstory.  When I met Sarah in the “press pen” at the rally I was with my friends and fellow historians Susan Fletcher and Jay Green.  Sarah was eager to talk to Susan for a future story she is doing on women and evangelicals.  Stay tuned for that story.  Susan did a great job speaking about her identity as an evangelical woman and her distaste for Donald Trump.

Following the interview Sarah and Susan (and Sarah’s young son) chatted a bit more and really hit if off.  Susan was going to be in Virginia Beach for an additional day following the conference and was looking for something to do.  Sarah graciously invited Susan for coffee and offered to show her around town on Sunday.   I hope they had a great day.

Gettysburg’s "Copse of Trees"

We were talking about Gettysburg the other day in my Pennsylvania History course and I found myself referencing the infamous “copse of trees.”  Any Civil War buff knows what I mean by this phrase.  The copse was the focal point of Pettegrew and Pickett’s famous charge on July 3, 1863, the last day of the battle.  The trees are located within a short stone wall known as “The Angle” in an area of the battlefield often referred to as the “High Water Mark.”

In the middle of my lecture I stopped and referenced Keith Harris’s recent blog post “Is There Any Other ‘Copse’ of Trees?”  Good question.  None of my students had ever heard of the word “copse” being used in another context.  Here is a taste of Harris’s post at his really interesting blog “Keith Harris History“:
But why copse? Why not “patch” or “grove” or “thicket” or something like that? It seems that the word was selected for this particular growth of trees by historian/artist John B. Bachelder back in 1870 – in a book detailing a painting on the repulse of Longstreet’s Assault (at least that is the earliest reference that I am aware of). And the name stuck. As the Battle of Gettysburg ascended higher and higher again into American lore and legend, the copse became The Copse of mythic proportions.
So by my estimation, this little stand of trees has ruined the word for any other copses out there. That is all well and good, I suppose. I mean, no one really uses the word any more to refer to other trees…so what’s the trouble with having only one copse? Maybe other small groves of trees should go by the term “coppice.” It’s almost the same and such a reference won’t confuse any Civil War enthusiasts who happen to be nearby.