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Decoding the Digital Church: Evangelical Storytelling and the Election of Donald J. Trump
by Stephanie A. Martin
University of Alabama Press, 2021
Cloth: 978-0-8173-2084-3 | eISBN: 978-0-8173-9341-0
Library of Congress Classification BR526.M348 2021
Dewey Decimal Classification 324.9730932

A nuanced look at the rhetorical narratives used by conservative Republicans and evangelicals to make both personal and political choices
As a political constituency, white conservative evangelicals are generally portrayed as easy to dupe, disposed to vote against their own interests, and prone to intolerance and knee-jerk reactions. In Decoding the Digital Church: Evangelical Storytelling and the Election of Donald J. Trump, Stephanie A. Martin challenges this assumption and moves beyond these overused stereotypes to develop a refined explanation for this constituency’s voting behavior.

This volume offers a fresh perspective on the study of religion and politics and stems from the author’s personal interest in the ways her experiences with believers differ from how scholars often frame this group’s rationale and behaviors. To address this disparity, Martin examines sermons, drawing on her expertise in rhetoric and communication studies with the benefits of ethnographic research in an innovative hybrid approach she terms a “digital rhetorical ethnography.” Martin’s thorough research surveys more than 150 online sermons from America’s largest evangelical megachurches in 37 different states. Through listening closely to the words of the pastors who lead these conservative congregations, Martin describes a gentler discourse less obsessed with issues like abortion or marriage equality than stereotypes of evangelicals might suggest. Instead, the politicaleconomic sermons and stories from pastors encourage true believers
to remember the exceptional nature of the nation’s founding while also deemphasizing how much American citizenship really means.

Martin grapples with and pays serious, scholarly attention to a seeming contradiction: while the large majority of white conservative evangelicals voted in 2016 for Donald J. Trump, Martin shows that many of their pastors were deeply concerned about the candidate, the divisive nature of the campaign, and the potential effect of the race on their congregants’ devotion to democratic process itself. In-depth chapters provide a fuller analysis of our current political climate, recapping previous scholarship on the history of this growing divide and establishing the groundwork to set up the dissonance between the political commitments of evangelicals and their faith that the rhetorical ethnography addresses.

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