The night Donald Trump was elected to the office of the President by a thin margin in the electoral college, I was alarmed. I wasn’t exactly sad because my own political views had been voted out, or alarmed that the Republicans secured leadership of all branches of government that night. No, I was alarmed because I knew what was coming. Something “clicked” and what I felt was fear of the metaphorical elephant in the room now realized. We would have to give Trump’s victory a name, a cause, and begin to unpack what that meant exactly. Antonia Blumberg, associate religion editor for The Huffington Post, points to Evangelical turnout in this election.
By all measures, American Christians elected Donald Trump. They made up 75 percent of the voting public, and majorities of all Christian denominations favored the Republican candidate in Tuesday’s election…[and] 81 percent of white evangelicals voted for Trump. Catholics, Mormons, other Protestant groups and an assortment of other Christian denominations followed suit.
81 percent of anything is an overwhelming majority. It’s a landslide, by any measure. And because these numbers defied early polls, surveys, all the research, it was shocking to many Americans, not because Evangelicals voted but because those of us who have lived among Evangelical communities knew what this meant: Our family. Our friends. Our neighbors. The people we talk to at church. Our co-workers. The people we see on the street and nod to. Half of them voted for Trump. And those who sit on the pew with us? 4 out of 5 voted for the candidate who vowed to deport Muslims, tear up Mexican families and put relatives “behind the wall,” who vowed to take away healthcare for the sick and give rights back to oppressive systems who have bankrupted our country. These are the things we are able to name.
President-elect Donald Trump zealously courted American evangelicals during his campaign ― setting up private meetings, putting together an advisory committee composed of top leaders, and repeatedly playing into evangelicals’ fear that Christianity in America is growing weaker.
On election day, it paid off.
Despite his divorces, his shifting positions on abortion, and his disparaging attitude towards women, Muslims, Latinos, refugees, and the disabled, white evangelical Protestants stuck by their man. According to FiveThirtyEight, exit polls showed that white evangelicals chose Trump by a wide margin ― 81 percent to 16 percent. The last time they showed up so strongly for a Republican presidential candidate was 2004, when they chose President George Bush over John Kerry by a margin of 78 percent to 21 percent.
In surveys conducted before the election, no religious group backed the Republican candidate as strongly as white evangelical Protestants ― two-thirds (66 percent) of white evangelical Protestant voters reported they were at least leaning towards supporting Trump. But a closer look at this group and at those who claim the identity of “evangelical” reveals a divide that could have consequences for the future of Christianity in America.
Functionally, we are able to unpack what this means. But it awakens long held suspicions we’ve tried to deny to ourselves. We now face the reality that Evangelicals aren’t “fighting for causes” they see in scripture. Evangelicals are fighting to Make America White Again.
Fred Clark, writing for Patheos, comes close to how I see it. Don’t be offended by his thoughts here, but instead allow them to register as one possible interpretation of how Evangelicalism is shifting. He proposes that White Evangelicalism is, in fact, White Nationalism.
This is evident when you consider the two primary doctrines, the two paramount identifiers of white evangelicalism. One of these was adopted and embellished, the other was concocted from scratch, but both became white evangelical litmus tests in service of white nationalism.
These are, first, “biblical innerancy” — the idea of the Bible as a collection of selective clobber-texts which can be cited as ultimate authority, and, second, opposition to legal abortion because of the claim that human personhood begins at conception. (Or, really, based on growing white evangelical opposition to contraception, the claim that human personhood begins at ejaculation.)
These are the two non-negotiables of evangelical identity. On almost everything else, white evangelicalism can admit a wide array of difference. One can be charismatic or anti-charismatic, Reformed or Arminian, etc. There have been prominent white evangelicals who were annihilationists, and universalists, and monists, subordinationists and super-supercessionists. White evangelicalism can accommodate any of that, but it cannot accommodate anyone who strays from the twin pillars of clobber-text inerrancy and anti-abortionism.
Not exactly a compelling argument, as there are many Latino, Asian, and African American churches that are against abortion and for biblical literalism. Many Christians, even in progressive churches, still hold to these ideas. What makes these two “non-negotiables” unique for white Evangelicals is the way they were weaponized or, “adopted by white Evangelicals in service of the larger agenda of white nationalism.”
I might go further than Clark, suggesting that there are many doctrines which have been weaponized and are now used as tools of White Nationalists. The doctrine of election, for example, proposes that only the “elect” of God will be saved and go to Heaven after they die. Interestingly, it is the white or “Dutch” Reformed communities that emphasize this the most. The teachings of Reformed churches have, in the last twenty years, really bit down on exclusive theology “for the elect” or the “chosen” of God, and has effectively rewritten verses to fit their teachings instead of allowing their teachings be shaped by scripture. The tail now wags the dog, so to speak. Again, what is unique is the way that white Reformed Christians are the ones who emphasize exclusion the loudest and strongest. Note how Clark provides a framework for when and why this happened.
The weaponizing of “inerrant” biblical clobber-texts as the ultimate authority is the older of the two, but it’s still a relatively recent development. It had to be — this approach to the Bible, this use of the Bible, simply was not possible for English-speaking Christians until the 17th century, when English translations of the Bible were finally able to be mass-produced. But the invention of this idea also required a second ingredient — a massive, howling injustice in need of rationalization. Those things arrived at nearly the same time with the publication of the King James Bible and the beginning of the trans-Atlantic slave trade.
Slavery was a morally indefensible horror, an atrocity that was utterly incompatible with the spirit of Christianity — so that spirit had to be exchanged for the letter. This is when and how literalist inerrancy was invented. It was a tool to allow selected clobber texts to be cited as “biblical authority” that trumped that of the Golden Rule.
Historian Mark Noll’s The Civil War as Theological Crisis offers a fine summary of all this. Noll describes this as a “debate” over “the Bible and slavery,” but it’s really an account of the invention of the literalist clobber-texting (anti-)hermeneutic and of what would later come to be called “inerrancy” and a “high view of the authority of the scriptures.”
The purpose of that invention, from the start — and the invention, too, of white evangelicalism as a whole — was the defense of slavery. This was not simply a “biblical” defense of immorality and injustice, it was also a form of self-deception — a device that allowed white evangelicals to defend the indefensible while pretending to themselves that doing so put them on the side of the Bible and of God. The need to think of themselves as good and righteous despite defending the massive injustice of white nationalism led to the invention of a new doctrine that allowed them to pretend that they were good and righteous because they defended the massive injustice of white nationalism.
Full disclosure: I am the “enemy” that must be overthrown in social justice crusades. I am a white, thirty-something male. I was Evangelical for a large part of my life and cannot deny the ways that Evangelicalism shaped me. I believe in traditional gender roles in the sense that men should be encouraged to pursue masculine interests like hunting and sports – though I am not that kind of man. I believe women should be encouraged to pursue “girly” things like baking and emotional labor – though, historically, it has been me in the kitchen and I am often the one who “loves more” in my relationships. But I believe progress makes it possible for me to celebrate with my “traditional” friends without minimizing the way they live their lives, while I live my own a bit differently. Yes, I reject Evangelicalism currently, and have for the last five years after a decade long battle before that. I align closer to Judaism than I do to Christianity because I believe in the providence of God just as much as I believe that I need to be held morally and ethically responsible for my choices. Yes, I think abortion should be legal. Yes, I think premarital sex is okay as long as the participants are safe, everything is consensual, and that there is a bond of love and protection shared by the parties. I do not believe it is a “sin” to love someone of the same sex. Not a little bit. Not a tiny bit. Not at all. But however progressive my views might appear, the fact remains I cannot shed my skin. I am a white male, and thus I am viewed with suspicion and distrust that manifests politely and impolitely everywhere I go. This, I am told, is privilege. I don’t see it that way, but I understand why it is said.
My story, when it is laid out, is not one of privilege. I have been homeless for more than 3 months at least once for every decade of my life thus far. At the time of this writing, my mother and brother were homeless for a month within the last year. They slept in their car in parking lots, my mother praying each night that 1) no one would bother them and 2) that God would provide a place for them to sleep that wasn’t a car. So when people tell me I and my family are “privileged” because we are able to walk into a convenience store and not get shot, I recognize that. But I also recognize the empty piece of that visual – I could (and have) stolen because I am poor. In more ways that we might want to admit, my poverty and the poverty of my neighbor are more similar than either of us would like to admit. Change the color of my skin, and we live parallel lives. The one identifier sets me apart is my skin.
My experience is not unique. Many whites recognize the emptiness of these claims that we are “privileged.” And, unlike me, they respond to these repeated accusations, these lies, with escalating anger. Alec Macgillis writes that the experience of whites today is that of the underclass; white experience has begun to reflect the “culture” of African Americans that they once denounced.
Today, less privileged white Americans are considered to be in crisis, and the language of sociologists and pathologists predominates. Charles Murray’s Coming Apart: The State of White America, 1960–2010 was published in 2012, and Robert D. Putnam’s Our Kids: The American Dream in Crisis came out last year. From opposite ends of the ideological spectrum, they made the case that social breakdown among low-income whites was starting to mimic trends that had begun decades earlier among African Americans: Rates of out-of-wedlock births and male joblessness were rising sharply. Then came the stories about a surge in opiate addiction among white Americans, alongside shocking reports of rising mortality rates (including by suicide) among middle-aged whites.
The Associated Press, in the days and weeks leading into the election, routinely interviewed whites in rural areas, white religious communities who noted that they had had enough of being blamed for the nation’s problems. For all this talk about how powerful whites were, they had to ask “what power?”
For decades, they say, they have been steadily pushed to the sidelines of American life and have come under attack for their most deeply held beliefs, born of their reading of Scripture and their religious mandate to evangelize. The 1960s ban on prayer in public schools is still a fresh wound. Every legal challenge to a public Nativity scene or Ten Commandments display is another marginalization. They’ve been “steamrolled,” they say, and “misunderstood.”
Religious conservatives could once count on their neighbors to at least share their view of marriage. Those days are gone. Public opinion on same-sex relationships turned against conservatives even before the US Supreme Court legalized gay marriage nationwide.
The 2016 election wasn’t about race or gay marriage. Take my word as a white Evangelical. Our sons and daughters are gay, and it momentarily makes us sad because we don’t know what that means. We were raised to believe a “happy Christian home” would be one man + one woman, with the result of grandkids. There was a script to this thing. And, yes, it’s confusing when that script changes. The anger isn’t about race or sex, though – despite what many are claiming. It’s about the ways that whites in rural areas were steamrolled and silenced. To be told your life doesn’t matter, your views don’t matter, your religion doesn’t matter, and that you – because of your skin – don’t matter would be upsetting to anyone. The difference might be that whites had the “privilege” of sharing views with people of other races and narrowly eking out a victory this election. Clark continues:
This new doctrine worked well until it suffered a minor setback at Appomattox and, briefly, the indignity of Reconstruction. But then it rose again, reasserting itself with a vengeance as a “biblical” defense of segregation. It served that purpose efficiently and effectively for nearly a century, during which white evangelicalism grew and prospered, hand-in-hand with white nationalism.
But then came calamity — the Civil Rights Movement turned America upside-down and exposed the disgraceful evil of segregationist white evangelicalism for all to see. Adding insult to injury, that movement was led by Bible-soaked preachers who cited scripture with greater frequency, fluency, and moral authority than any of the defenders of “biblical authority” had ever managed.
There it is again: race. Race and power, specifically.
White evangelicalism was laid bare as white nationalism in all its ugly glory. It’s claims of moral authority and moral superiority were proved to be a sham. White evangelicalism lost all credible claim to the moral high ground, and that dealt a heavy blow to its political agenda of white nationalism.
The only thing to do, then, was to change the subject. And so, with stunning abruptness, white evangelicals adopted a second, and suddenly non-negotiable defining doctrine: anti-abortionism.
This was new and alien. White evangelicals had mostly applauded Roe v. Wade,regarding anti-abortion views as a peculiarly Catholic mistake. The prevailing attitude among white evangelicals, on the rare occasions they thought about it at all, was similar to the prevailing attitude in Judaism — that a developing fetus has great value and moral significance as a potential person, but that this value and significance did not equal the full personhood of infants or adults.
This change from race to abortion as the moral road has been chronicled many times. Randall Balmer’s summary here provides the condensed, readable version.
That belief — the majority opinion among white evangelicals as recently as the mid-1970s — was soon to become anathema. After Nixon’s failed presidency failed to reverse the losses for white nationalism, white evangelicals pulled a 180 and embraced anti-abortionism as their path to regaining moral legitimacy. This would be their ticket to reclaiming the pretense of the moral high ground while still continuing to promote a political agenda of white nationalism.
It’s simple, really: Redefine abortion as baby-killing and you redefine everyone who supports it as a baby-killer. And you’re always guaranteed to hold the moral high-ground compared to a bunch of baby-killers, even if you’re a white nationalist. Who’s worse? Segregationists? Or baby-killers? The baby-killers, obviously. They kill babies. It’s murder.
And thus, with truly stunning speed, the previously alien idea that human personhood begins at conception was adopted and embellished as the core and the essence of white evangelicalism. Within a decade it became impossible to belong to white evangelicalism unless you affirmed this new doctrine and its primacy above all else.
No white evangelical born before 1970 grew up believing this. No white evangelical born after 1980 grew up not believing this.
The period during which this shift took place, by the way, corresponds with the infamous Satanic Panic of the 1980s. This is not a coincidence. Millions of white evangelicals were being asked — being required — to quickly adjust to the idea that the majority of their neighbors and fellow citizens were Satanic baby-killers. It is not surprising that some of those required to swallow this idea did so in colorful terms. (And still do, hence the pre-election panic claiming that members of Hillary Clinton’s campaign staff participated in Satanic blood sacrifices.)
An entire stream of American Protestantism was redefined, in about a decade, into a religious movement organized around the core principle of opposition to Satanic baby-killers. And who were these Satanic baby-killers? Everybody else.
So now white evangelicals were no longer in the morally indefensible position of explicitly defending segregation and white nationalist politics. Now they were able to regard and portray themselves as moral champions battling against Satanic baby-killers, just as earlier generations of segregationist, pro-slavery, white-nationalist white evangelicals regarded and portrayed themselves as moral champions battling against those who disrespected “the Bible.”
Oddly, the political battle against the baby-killers has always been eerily congruent with and indistinguishable from the earlier political agenda of explicit white nationalism. Every vote against the baby-killers also conveniently served as a vote for white nationalism. Every Supreme Court justice hailed as a champion in the battle against the baby-killers also turned out, coincidentally, to also be a proponent of white nationalism. And when it comes down to it, those justices — the ultimate prize in white evangelical politics since the Civil Rights Movement — have largely left Roe v. Wade intact, but they gutted the Voting Rights Act.
Yesterday, white evangelicals again voted for white nationalism. They supported a candidate who explicitly and unambiguously made white nationalism the centerpiece and driving passion of his campaign. The fig-leaf for this support was abortion. And once again we are asked to believe — after centuries defending slavery, segregation and Jim Crow — that it was only about abortion, and that the 100-percent correlation between this anti-abortion politics and white nationalist politics is just an unfortunate and unforeseen coincidence.
That’s not believable.
White evangelicalism is white nationalism. That’s how it came to be. That’s what it’s for. If you can’t see that after yesterday, you’re choosing not to see it.
Clark makes strong points here, and without taking away anything that he said, I would only add that the ascendency of Donald Trump is a combination of several factors that Clark himself notes but, for the purposes of a focused argument, doesn’t chase. There have been numerous changes to Evangelicalism in the last century. Especially the last 60 and especially 40 years, though none of these changes have ever been addressed (i.e. “admitted”) publicly by Evangelical leaders. Instead, Evangelicals trot out the old familiar teachings.
- The Bible is infallible (And thus, so am I since “I’m just telling you what’s in the Bible!”)
- Slavery is in the Bible (It is, but from the outset it is depicted as an awful thing that all people need to be liberated from).
- Abortion is murder (But let’s forget that murder is also murder and the pursuit of violence is something that stops in the writings of the Prophets, and is entirely and categorically shamed in the New Testament).
- “Greed is good” (Actually, I’ve only heard one pastor say this but I’ve heard hundreds talk about how “Godly” American capitalism is good, forgetting that capitalism and the accumulation of wealth are pursuits that are routinely denounced in scripture).
- Don’t question me (Forgetting that Paul encouraged the Bereans to test what he said, and to follow him only as he followed Christ – meaning, essentially, “Watch me, and if I step out of line, don’t do that. Be better than me.”)
By not addressing these changes – within our own lifetime – Evangelicals fail to understand who they are and where they came from. This ignorance, or what I am calling “ignorance” instead of “selective memory,” is a large gap that must be addressed more fully. The void has led many progressives to claim that Evangelicals and Republicans are both “ignorant, uneducated, and stupid.” Timothy Egan put forward a sharp thought to America in Opinion piece for The New York Times.
The Republicans will control everything, including the Supreme Court. Washington is theirs, with minimal checks and balances. And if the forgotten, the undereducated, the Rust Belt survivors think they are going to see a renaissance of their communities, consider this headline from Yahoo Finance on the day after the election: “Trump win is a ‘grand slam’ for Wall Street Bankers”… The strongest resistance should come from the white working class; they will soon find out that Trump will treat them the same way he treated the suckers who signed up for his fraudulent university. When steel mills fail to return to Youngstown, or when new trade deals produce no more magic than the old ones, these economic exiles will wonder how they got betrayed. Look to the euphoria of soon-to-be deregulated Wall Street bankers for your explanation.
The irony here is that Egan’s piece was situated in The New York Times. It references facts and data that are publicly available, but too dense for the average voter. In short, Egan speaks above his audience. It is an elitism that is as blind and egotistical as the ignorance it denounces and it is this kind of elitism is, in large part, what drove and fueled the Trump campaign. In the days that follow, we are seeing Republicans and Evangelicals together taking off the mask of civility and politeness to say, “This is what you get for insulting me for so long. This is what you get for talking down to me. For talking above me, like you are better than me. We showed you.” Even when elitist insults are generalized to all of America, or “only in America,” mockery only galvanizes and reinforces the thing being called out. It radicalizes instead of waking up. The response to Trump winning the election was sharp and immediate, puncturing the fog of disbelief with raw emotion. Those who allowed a delayed grief to fuel their pens and keyboards demanded resistance – riots, for friends and relatives to “get their heads out of their asses” and do something. There was a petition that circulated, demanding a recount.
But that’s not how democracy works exactly.
America had its chance to vote.
One of out of two chose Trump.
The decision was made. No take backs. And we must now come to terms with what that means. It means that, whatever our political opinions, whoever we voted for, we are deeply divided in America and race is a big part of that. It is not, and never was, about Trump or Clinton. It was about us – Americans – and the way we have ignored and dismissed one another. Perhaps that is an understatement, as an overwhelming part of the Middle Class simply abandoned the Democratic Party at the polls, instead turning their hopes over to a Republican government. Jedediah Purdy notes that this isn’t something that “just happens.” It’s a big deal.
Something big seems to have happened, if exit polls are reliable (which is, you can’t say too many times, a big “if”): The parties swapped a chunk of their class constituencies.
More poor and lower-middle-class people voted Republican in this election than the last. More upper-middle-class and rich people voted Democrat. And union voters abandoned the Democrats dramatically.
Exit polls are frequently unreliable, and we need to be cautious in drawing on them. But they also aren’t useless. Comparing CNN 2016 exit poll data with Roper Center data from 2012, we see some very important changes.
Obama won only voters with household incomes under $50,000, but he did it overwhelmingly, 60–38, and lost all higher-income groups — a class warrior after all! Clinton won those lower-income voters by only 52–41. So yes, she won, but with an eleven-point decline in the Democrats’ advantage.
For voters with household incomes between $50,000 and $100,000, the numbers change very little: 46–50 for Obama, 46–52 for Clinton. But go over $100,000, and things get interesting again. Romney won those well-off voters handily, 54–44, as Republicans generally do. Trump barely hung on at about 48–47. That’s a nine-point gain for the Democrats.
Clinton was much weaker than Obama with union-household voters: he won them 58–40, she only 51–43. That’s a sixteen-point loss.
Coming back to the matter of race in this election, Robert Jones of the Public Religion Research Institute (PRRI) conducted the American Values Survey and released the results a few weeks before the election. What the survey found was a deep divide in the country attributable to, you guessed it, race.
Donald J. Trump’s Republican Party looked back wistfully to a monochromatic vision of 1950s America, while the major party fronting the first female presidential candidate celebrated the pluralistic future of 2050, [which is] when the Census Bureau first projected the United States would become a majority nonwhite nation… [The survey] found deep divides in the country on this issue.
Americans are nearly evenly divided on whether American culture and way of life have changed for worse (51 percent) or better (48 percent) since the 1950s. Roughly two-thirds (66 percent) of Democrats say American culture has generally changed for the better since the 1950s, while roughly two-thirds (68 percent) of Republicans say American society and way of life have changed for the worse.
No other group believes things have changed for the worse since the 1950s more than white evangelical Protestants (74 percent), who turned out strongly and gave Mr. Trump 81 percent of their votes, according to the early exit polls. And here’s a finding that signals why Mrs. Clinton came up short: a majority (55 percent) of independents also agreed that American culture and way of life have changed for the worse since the 1950s… The loudest voices of this election turned out to be not the “new America” demographic groups of Latinos, African-Americans and millennials, but Mr. Trump’s aging and raging white Christian supporters.
The waning numbers of white Christians in the country today may not have time on their side, but as the sun is slowly setting on the cultural world of white Christian America, they’ve managed, at least in this election, to rage against the dying of the light.
The most devastating part of the 2016 election isn’t how it ended. It’s that we have fallen back into a cycle of human behavior from which it seems we may never emerge.
After the War to end all Wars, we went and had another one. Again, for a historian it was quite predictable. Lead people to feel they have lost control of their country and destiny, people look for scapegoats, a charismatic leader captures the popular mood, and singles out that scapegoat. He talks in rhetoric that has no detail, and drums up anger and hatred. Soon the masses start to move as one, without any logic driving their actions, and the whole becomes unstoppable.
That was Hitler, but it was also Mussolini, Stalin, Putin, Mugabe and so many more. Mugabe is a very good case in point. He whipped up national anger and hatred towards the land owning white minority (who happened to know how to run farms), and seized their land to redistribute to the people, in a great populist move which in the end unravelled the economy and farming industry and left the people in possession of land, but starving. See also the famines created by the Soviet Union, and the one caused by the Chinese Communists last century in which 20-40 million people died. It seems inconceivable that people could create a situation in which tens of millions of people die without reason, but we do it again and again.
But at the time people don’t realize they’re embarking on a route that will lead to a destruction period. They think they’re right, they’re cheered on by jeering angry mobs, their critics are mocked. This cycle, the one we saw for example from the Treaty of Versaille, to the rise of Hitler, to the Second World War, appears to be happening again. But as with before, most people cannot see it because:
1. They are only looking at the present, not the past or future
2. They are only looking immediately around them, not at how events connect globally
3. Most people don’t read, think, challenge or hear opposing views
Trump is doing this in America. Those of us with some oversight from history can see it happening. Read this brilliant, long essay in the New York magazine to understand how Plato described all this, and it is happening just as he predicted. Trump says he will Make America Great Again, when in fact America is currently great, according to pretty well any statistics. He is using passion, anger and rhetoric in the same way all his predecessors did — a charismatic narcissist who feeds on the crowd to become ever stronger, creating a cult around himself. You can blame society, politicians, the media, for America getting to the point that it’s ready for Trump, but the bigger historical picture is that history generally plays out the same way each time someone like him becomes the boss.
Despite Clark’s piece and what Jones has noted, many Christians were angered by the Evangelical turnout in this election. They have begun to warn Evangelicals of a reckoning.
Thousands of concerned, progressive-leaning Christians watched in horror as the results rolled in ― many of them feeling betrayed by their faith communities. As Christian author Diana Butler Bass noted on Twitter, 81 percent of white evangelicals voted for Trump. Catholics, Mormons, other Protestant groups and an assortment of other Christian denominations followed suit.
Over the last year, Butler Bass and many other American Christians decried Trump’s bigotry, xenophobia and sexism as deeply contrary to the values of their faith. They rejected Christian leaders who cozied up with the Republican candidate, who claimed he was a “baby Christian,” and a champion of conservative causes.
But when election day came around, a majority of Christians in the country cast their vote for Trump. And many of those Christians concerned about the lives of Muslims, Latinos, women, Black Americans, and the LGBT community in Trump’s America were left feeling angry and bereft.
American Christians are now facing a reckoning. Outside of the Trump-favoring majority, there are thousands of progressive Christians ― and even Christians who wouldn’t necessarily identify as “progressive” ― who are appalled by the country’s new president.
Rev. Cameron Trimble, executive director and CEO of the Center for Progressive Renewal, released a statement on Wednesday urging progressive people of faith to “grieve quickly” in order to continue the fight for equal rights. “Our progressive Christian movement is now officially born,” she wrote.
Deborah Jian Lee, author of Rescuing Jesus: How People of Color, Women and Queer Christians are Reclaiming Evangelicalism, has taken a hard look at how evangelicals think about progressive politics. She says that Trump’s win underscores a deep racial divide within evangelicalism.
I’ve been hearing from evangelicals leaders and lay people who are people of color, women and LGBTQ who fiercely opposed Trump and are now stunned to see just how many of their white fellow believers supported a candidate that proudly demeans their humanity. Trump preached xenophobia, racism, sexism, Islamophobia, homophobia, and more, and the white evangelical base said “Amen.”
Lisa Sharon Harper, chief church engagement officer at the progressive Christian organization Sojourners, says that the election showed her how profound racism still is in American evangelical churches.
I woke up from a dream this morning and remembered we are living a nightmare. Our nation’s first African American president will be followed by a candidate backed and promoted by the Ku Klux Klan. What’s worse, white people who claim Evangelical faith (women and men) pushed him to victory.
Soong-Chan Rah, a professor of church growth and evangelism at North Park Theological Seminary, said he felt a “profound disappointment” that a candidate that has rejected Christian values and attempted to marginalize people of color has received the support of the American people.
I knew that America could never, ever lay claim to being a Christian nation, but any pretense of America holding to Christian values has just gone out the window.
Brian McLaren, a Christian author and speaker, said that he is disappointed that the majority of his fellow Christians “supported a man who used racism, misogyny, Islamophobia, and other anti-Christian strategies as an election strategy.” He hoped that younger generations will now forge a new path.
I hope that younger generations of Evangelicals will turn away from the leaders their parents followed in voting for Donald Trump and find a new and better way to be Christian – so their politics will be driven less by greed and fear and more by love. I hope that white Evangelicals will come to terms at long last with the racism and religious prejudice that are deeply embedded in the Evangelical tradition, often at levels Evangelicals aren’t aware of.
Sneha Abraham, director of news and strategic content for Pomona College writes that a love for the church will now keep her away from it because religious leaders failed her, and failed America.
I love the church. But I believe the majority of white evangelicals and their leaders, barring a few, have failed not only the U.S., but failed the collective flock in the stance they took. I believe they have a lost a generation and, as they say in the church, “lost their witness” to future generations. How have they lost their witness?… This past year, the church, which is supposed to be at the forefront of racial reconciliation, supported a racist endorsed enthusiastically by the KKK and neo-Nazi groups.
Russell Moore, who leads the Southern Baptist Convention’s political advocacy arm, said that he is deeply concerned about the impact of Christian leaders who defended Trump and the potential damage it has had within churches, especially among women and younger evangelicals.
One evangelical woman said to me, “I’ve spent all my life saying the church is going to be a place where you can go when you face this sort of thing. Now I’m looking around, and a pastor is saying ‘This isn’t a big deal.'” That’s going to take a lot of work to undo.
Though progressive Christians may mobilize, even grow from this election, Evangelicals have cast their lot with Trump and, in the days that have followed the election, feel ascendent.
Now that he has won, evangelical leaders say they are confident Mr. Trump will deliver on the political promises he made to them. These include appointing a conservative to the Supreme Court, defunding Planned Parenthood, protecting businesses that refuse to provide services for same-sex weddings and rescinding the mandate in the Affordable Care Act that requires insurance coverage for birth control.
And with Gov. Mike Pence of Indiana, an evangelical with a record of legislating against abortion and same-sex marriage, as vice president, Christian leaders say they feel reassured they will have access to the White House and a seat at the table.
“I am confident he will do as president what he said he would do as a candidate,” said Ralph Reed, chairman of the Faith and Freedom Coalition, who helped mobilize Christian voters for Mr. Trump.
Evangelicals presumably feel that Trump will deliver on his promises to restore “law and order” and “Make America Great Again” like it was when whites held power, women stayed home, every child grew up straight enough to give them grandkids, and everybody went to church. These were not the promises Clinton gave them and, it has to be noted, also factored into the decisions that Evangelicals made on November 8th. Michael Wear, a political consultant who served as a faith adviser for President Obama says that
Evangelicals feel embattled, they feel isolated, and Trump understood that and appealed to them on completely Machiavellian terms. But Hillary actually confirmed their sense of isolation by not reaching out to them. Hillary’s lack of outreach basically told evangelicals, “You need Trump as much as Trump says you do.”
To better understand the history of Evangelicalism, each step of the changes that took place in Evangelicalism in the 20th Century, read previous articles on Theology & the City here and here, along with Tim Gloege’s “The Crisis of Corporate Evangelicalism” here.