Vice President Pence seems to think conservative Christians are winning the culture war. But there isn't much data for the measuring sticks he used to support his idea.
Pence delivered an address at Saturday's commencement ceremony at Hillsdale College, a conservative Christian college in Michigan that is the alma mater of quite a few individuals in Trump world.
Pence tweeted some of his lines from the speech, which focused on the state of Americans' religious convictions.
“We live in a time when traditional values, even religious conviction, are increasingly marginalized by a secular popular culture — a time when it's become acceptable, even fashionable, to malign religious belief. I still believe with all my heart that FAITH in America is rising,” he tweeted.
“The percentage of Americans who live out their religion on a weekly basis — by praying, going to church, and reading and believing in the Bible — has remained remarkably consistent over the decades, even as the population of the United States has grown by leaps and bounds,” Pence added.
The vice president is correct in saying that the Christian faith is deeply important to many Americans. More than 7 in 10 Americans are Christian, according to the Pew Research Center.
But perhaps to assuage individuals fearful that they are becoming more of a minority, Pence may have overstated how prevalent religious practices are in the lives of Americans.
While more than half — 55 percent — of Americans say they pray daily, according to Pew, the poll suggests that differences in the practice among age groups may not have remained consistent overtime.
Of those who pray daily, only 16 percent are in the youngest group, compared with about a third (33 percent) of 30-to-49-year-olds. And about three in 10 (29 percent) of those who pray daily are in the 50-to-64-year-olds, while about a fifth (21 percent) of those who pray daily are people 65 and older.
And while Pence touted Americans' biblical engagement being high, more than half of Americans have read little or none of the Bible, according to a 2017 poll from Lifeway Research.
According to a 2017 Gallup, only about a quarter — 23 percent — of Americans attend church once a week. That number is probably not consistent with church attendance historically in America.
It makes sense that Pence would use a graduation ceremony at a conservative Christian college to promote an encouraging outlook on religiousness in America. With weekly headlines questioning how effective Pence and President Trump have been at fulfilling the promises they made to Americans on the campaign trail, it is understandable that the vice president would want to lead supporters to believe that all is going well — especially with midterms coming up this fall that some conservatives fear will be a referendum on the Trump administration.
But perhaps most important, true or not, Pence's words were meant to communicate to conservative Christians that he and Trump are doing one of the things some Americans wanted them to do most: win the culture war.
After the Obama administration, which many politicos and voters considered to be the most liberal in recent history, religious conservatives felt their power and cultural influence waning. Part of the attraction of the Trump-Pence ticket was that the two promised to be fighters in the culture war.
Tony Perkins, president of the Family Research Council, an influential Christian public policy group, spoke about this on a Politico podcast in January:
Evangelical Christians “were tired of being kicked around by Barack Obama and his leftists. And I think they are finally glad that there’s somebody on the playground that is willing to punch the bully.”
“What happened to turning the other cheek?” the interviewer asked.
“You know, you only have two cheeks,” Perkins responded. “Look, Christianity is not all about being a welcome mat which people can just stomp their feet on.”
And fear has been a regular motivator for conservative Christians as they head to the polls.
A study published in April in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences suggests that white Christian men turned to Trump out of fear of losing cultural influence.
“Status threat felt by the dwindling proportion of traditionally high-status Americans (i.e., whites, Christians, and men) as well as by those who perceive America’s global dominance as threatened combined to increase support for the candidate who emphasized reestablishing status hierarchies of the past,” wrote Diana Mutz, director of the University of Pennsylvania Institute for the Study of Citizens and Politics.
It is possible that Pence is attempting to keep the support of the Christian conservatives who sent him to Washington by telling them that they are winning the war, even if data suggests they're not. Although a quick Google search can produce the needed stats to fact-check the vice president, the myth may be sufficient to absolve some fear and to keep the Trump-Pence administration in a favorable light with white evangelical voters.