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Ever since Trump’s election, the lopsided statistics concerning Evangelical involvement in his victory have not gone away. They continue to be trotted out as though they were a shocking revelation of some kind of hypocrisy within the Christian right. So, of course, in response to the National Prayer Breakfast, NPR had several guests on to discuss Christianity in relationship to the Trump Presidency.
Larry Mantle began by questioning Professor Marie Griffith of Washington University:
I’m curious about the President’s base which includes significant numbers of evangelicals who despite his behavior have in some ways made their peace with him…
That’s a fascinating question and everyone I know who studies American religion and politics has been trying to figure out this question from one angle or another … It’s almost as if there are two completely different versions of Christianity that have emerged over recent years.
The one is sort of represented by the pro-Trump side and kind of the priorities there. Of really abortion being the most important issue above all. The voting issue. A willingness to overlook all kinds of behavior that would have toppled presidential campaigns, you know, for forever in American history.
And another version that’s really very strongly anti-Trump. Another version of Christianity that really sees the core values as being about justice and love of the neighbor and caring for others and, you know, I don’t want to oversimplify that but you really do have this profound division within American Christianity itself that’s on display now.
What she has done here is set up an unfair dichotomy between two sorts of Christians. The first are characterized as being pro-Trump and anti-abortion. The second are anti-Trump and all about “justice and love of the neighbor and caring for others.” It’s very difficult to find the actual root of the disagreement here beyond being pro/anti-Trump because what has been said about the second kind of Christian is very vague and overly positive. It’s a bold-faced attempt to slant the discussion to the left. Because, despite her protestations, Griffith is attempting to communicate a very simple reality: some Christians are good and some are bad. It’s obvious in her characterization which is supposed to be witch [sic].
But if we look more closely, her dichotomy becomes patently absurd. The reason the so-called pro-Trump Evangelicals are pro-life is that we are deeply concerned with “justice and love of the neighbor and caring for others.” We believe that unborn children are in fact humans protected by the 14th Amendment with a natural God-given right to life. In other words, we believe that unborn children are deserving of justice. That unborn children are, in fact, not only our neighbors deserving of love but neighbors who are very much at risk because it is legal to kill them for any reason whatsoever.
Griffith doesn’t go into which policies the anti-Trump Christians are actually for because within her worldview she doesn’t need to. For her being anti-Trump and not having a principled stance on abortion are simply identical to “justice and love of the neighbor and caring for others.” But the most important person in this discussion hasn’t been mentioned yet: Hillary Clinton. Because, unless the claim is that Evangelicals shouldn’t have voted at all, it’s hard to see how voting for a kleptocrat like Clinton is actually being for “justice and love of the neighbor and caring for others.” The list of her sins is quite long. Benghazi for starters. And, of course, her militant stance on unregulated abortion. Then, add in the decades of aiding and abetting a known sexual predator. An insidious habit that she apparently extended to her faith advisor Burns Strider.
So, it isn’t a grand mystery as to why so many Evangelicals voted against Clinton. But the truth is more complicated than a binary of anti- or pro-Trump. Professor Darren Guerra of Biola University explains that Evangelical support for Trump fell into three categories during 2016:
Jacksonian Evangelicals made up about 30-35%. These are the core Trump voters. They probably will not abandon him no matter what. They tend to be less religious or politically conservative falling more along American populist lines. The second and by far the largest group are the Tocquevillian Evangelicals. They are Tocquevillian in the sense that they attend church more often than Jacksonians, have high levels of religiosity and higher levels of social capital. In other words they are active in their communities in ways the Jacksonians are not. These are mainstream Evangelicals who came to Trump late. Certainly after the Republican convention. Their support for Trump is contingent and transaction-based mostly on threats to religious liberty. The last and smallest group are Evangelical elites. Elites had a higher social cost to pay for supporting Trump and generally did not. Falwell being a notable exception.
In other words, there are more than two kinds of Christians in this country and trying to fit all of them into two opposed categorizes isn’t going to help anyone.