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Trump and the Evangelicals
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.Published in Religion & Philosophy
Evangelical support of President Trump – It’s sort of like the Harley-Davidson T-shirt I saw once. It said:
“Harley-Davidson – If you have to ask, you will never understand”
That’s funny, but in my opinion inaccurate. I don’t think it’s that hard to understand.
It was to me. I think maybe I pieced it together but I would really like your assistance.
Professor Guerra’s explanation seems pretty apt. I am an evangelical Christian. I opposed Trump vehemently throughout the primaries. I voted reluctantly for Trump in the general because…well…Hillary. He continues to rub my personal sensibilities the wrong way on a somewhat regular basis. However — most of his policy actions are exactly what I wanted to see from a conservative POTUS. Plus, he gets bonus points for pissing off all the right (Left?) people.
So for now, for me, Mr. Trump’s policies outweigh his verbiage. And I can live with that.
I’m with you. Also, I’d prefer to see a better spokesman doing (most) of the things President Trump is doing while either not saying the things he is saying or saying them in better, less offensive, ways. But then I long ago abandoned any hope of getting everything I desire from any political figure. Also I’ve long recognized what a small minority agree with me in terms of policy so any progress toward Liberty and security is welcomed by me and overrides my dislike of the man personally.
As a non-evangelical non-religious ( but not atheist) observer, I break his Christian reaction down into two camps:
those who believe in forgiveness and redemption and recognize that man is flawed, and secure enough in their own basic virtue not to need their morals replicated by some political avatar.
And…. those who aren’t like that so much….
Franco, I think you get it.
I’ve tried writing my theory, but it is not going well. I have become a poor writer and more of an intuitive one than well researched.
My impression is that theology differences in emphasis play a strong role in the anti and pro Trump Christian groups.
First, Evangelicals largely put more emphasis on end-time theology than mainline protestants do. End-time theology places a lot of emphasis on the rise of a global empire ruled by the anti-christ. So globalism is actually going to be a negative for them and something to be resisted by Christians who believe we need as much time as possible to reach everyone with the gospel. Trump’s nationalist, anti-global message may have appealed to a large segment of these evangelicals.
The other is the creation of heaven on earth. I’m noting in my mainline prot church that there are a good number of people who believe we need to make our country look like the church/heaven. Social justice seeks to make heaven on earth. There’s a division in mainline prot churches on whether we are currently living in the age of Christ’s Kingdom or if Satan still holds sway over the earth. Evangelicals are more likely to believe Satan still holds sway and that mission work needs to be primarily spreading the gospel to the corners of the earth and secondarily about earthly comfort. Note that evangelicals are far stronger in global missions than mainline prot.
Mainline protestants want to bring the corners of the world here. They have inverted the relationship between gospel and charity, placing worldly comfort over the gospel.
Mainline protestants are more likely to be pro-immigrant and not concerned with globalism. They will be more concerned about the social justice implications of nationalism and so be more averse to it. Evangelicals are going to be far more first-ammendment oriented for charity and business as ministry because of their focus on mission work, but be averse to globalism as that portends the rise of the anti-christ and something to be fought.
Post millennialism vs pre millennialism remains an important part of US (and really all) politics. It’s basically Dixie vs The Battle Hymn of The Republic. If you read A Nation Aflame by Goldfield this becomes violently obvious.
Moultmon determined that eschatology was fundamentally ecclesiastical. Amil and Premil being functionally identical and both opposed to Postmil. So I basically agree with your analysis. It would make for a good post in its own right.
@jonahgoldberg ‘s excellent Liberal Fascism actually gets at a lot of this as well if a bit unintentionally. Progressive politics are fascistic and based in what Moultmon calls utopian postmil ideology whereas Classically liberal politics are based in an expectation of a constant virtuous struggle with injustice here and actual justice in the “by and by.”
Stina, from the inside, I don’t have the impression that evangelicals have an end-times motivation in any significant sense. I agree that it’s probably stronger than in the mainline Churches, but that isn’t saying much.
A lot of the mainline Churches don’t look very Christian to me at all, any more. I did do some looking into this last month, and while my impression of the mainline Churches was pretty unfavorable, this sense was not as universal as I expected it to be. There did seem to be a couple of mainline Churches that seemed reasonably solid and Christian to me. There were others that looked like Left-wing SJW cabals masquerading as Churches.
I don’t think that evangelicals are adverse to globalism out of fear of the rise of the antichrist. My Bible study group was actually covering the end-times prophecy in Daniel earlier this week, and we raised the possibility that the US might be the fourth “beast” that would give rise to antichrist. Or it might be the Romans (and the European/Western Civilization continuation of the Roman Empire, in a cultural sense), or it could be the rise of China, or it could be something a thousand or more years in the future that we can’t currently foresee.
I think that evangelicals are adverse to globalism because we see a major, anti-Christian culture war being waged in the US throughout the 20th Century and into the 21st, notice that the Left has made huge advances in that struggle, and notice that the Left wants to import a different population that will allow them to further their agenda, which we oppose.
We also notice a rising, militant Islam around the world, and we notice that the Left seems to be on the side of the radical Muslims, for which the most plausible explanation is that they are willing to ally with anyone, no matter how dreadful, in their struggle against Christian Conservatism.
We’re willing to tolerate President Trump, and even support him, to the extent that we think that he is on our side in these struggles.
There is nothing strange about this. Joseph supported Pharaoh, and Daniel supported Nebuchadnezzar. There is nothing usual about God using an unbeliever to advance the cause of the Kingdom. With President Trump, there is even some hope that he might join the Kingdom. He has certainly done a far better job in acknowledging God’s sovereignty, as did Nebuchadnezzar.
Franco, I think that there’s more to it than that. There is middle ground, based on a concern that character is destiny, and a judgment that the President’s flaws are extreme enough that there is no reasonable expectation that he will overcome such flaws. I do not share that judgment, but I think that there are some evangelicals of good will who are in this group.
In my own evangelical Christian circle, I would estimate that about 25% are enthusiastic about the President, about 65% are supportive in the sense of your first “camp,” and about 10% are in the group that I describe. I don’t know of any who are in the “unforgiving” camp that you posit.
There may be some, but my guess is that this is more common among non-evangelical Christians, especially in the subset of the mainline Churches that don’t look Christian to me at all. (As noted above, I do not think that this characterization applies to all mainline Churches.)
“I don’t think that evangelicals are adverse to globalism out of fear of the rise of the antichrist. My Bible study group was actually covering the end-times prophecy in Daniel earlier this week, and we raised the possibility that the US might be the fourth “beast” that would give rise to antichrist. Or it might be the Romans (and the European/Western Civilization continuation of the Roman Empire, in a cultural sense), or it could be the rise of China, or it could be something a thousand or more years in the future that we can’t currently foresee.”
This too seems basically correct and doesn’t really get into the premil postmil discussion. You might be shocked to find that some evangelicals and fundamentalists probably do equate anti Christ with globalism etc. I mean fundamentalists hated Billy Graham (now awaiting resurrection) and some of the crazier ones thought he was the anti Christ. People believe weird stuff. But the major things at play eschatologically are related to issues like legal realism (which I would argue is post mil) vs constitutionalism. Check out my podcast interview with Darren Guerra for some discussion of that sans the eschatological element. A nation Aflame and Liberal Fascism really are important to this discussion as well. Excellent books.
You saw it, too! When asked who I want to see in heaven, I want to see Nebuchadnezzar. I want to know Daniel made a personal difference and that his experiences with God didn’t come up empty.
Yeah, Professor Griffith totally set up a false dichotomy. I think there are several groups. Setting up abortion as the defining distinction is not accurate, as all groups but one are strongly pro-life and put a high priority on abortion.
There is the evangelical left, which is outright left-of-center and reflexively anti-Trump; usually they are “personally” against abortion, or they may even genuinely consider themselves on the pro-life side, but they don’t give it priority. Usually they don’t vote Republican anyway, but with Clinton being the Democratic nominee, some would have considered voting for Kasich, Bush, or even Rubio. They are often suspect theologically, and soft on homosexuality, perhaps even outright “affirming”.
Among conservative evangelicals, there are more groups, with some blurring and overlap between:
The culture warriors, aka Trump-enthusiastic: These enthusiastic Trump supporters are strongly anti-immigrant and anti-Islam, and hard-line culture warriors who tend to like anyone the left hates. They tend not to make a distinction in their minds between Islam or Muslims in general, and radical fundamental Islamists. They are definitely pro-life, but they support Trump because they see him as a champion of their culture war.
Trump-skeptical: I’m not sure what to call this group; maybe Trump-circumstantial would work too. These evangelicals are also strongly pro-life, and usually more traditionally Republican and conservative in their politics; their approach is basically to try to call balls and strikes, remaining neutral overall while deciding each issue on the merits and either praising or criticizing Trump accordingly. They find Trump himself distasteful, and deplore his tweets, but they might (??) tell pollsters they approve of the president’s performance so far. I’d put David French, for example, in this category.
Trump-critical: These evangelicals are usually critical of Trump and probably would consider themselves opposed or disapproving of his performance, with the exception of his judicial nominees. Issues that fire them up: abortion, refugees, racism, the alt-right, religious freedom, persecution, human suffering. They are strongly in favor of welcoming refugees and are pro-immigration and pro-Dreamers. They might not care very much about economic issues or other things that conservatives cite in defense of the administration, and so they remain unmoved. Their conservative theology, opposition to abortion, and concern for religious freedom means they will never support nor be accepted by the left. They see Trump as an appalling un-Christian charlatan. Their opposition might appear reflexive to Trump supporters, but it is based on deeply held ideals. They usually see themselves as being moderate or center-right on the political spectrum, and due to the list of issues they care about, they are pro-life internationalists, which makes them lean toward pro-life Republican “neoconservative” politicians.
There is probably one more group, between the “Trump-skeptical” and “Trump-enthusiastic” – people who took a while to come around, probably voted for him and consider themselves supporters, but less enthusiastically.
Trump is rebellious towards God and his law, and is indifferent to Christians and the Church. The Democratic Party leadership hates God and his Church with their whole Hearts, Minds, and Souls. The choice was easy, and I neither like Trump nor think he is a Christian.
It’s simpler than that in my case. There is one political party that denigrates my beliefs and would like to marginalize me or force me to adopt ungodly principles, and one that doesn’t. I’ll vote for the latter one. It’s not so much about the individual, but the big picture.
I find myself in partial agreement at least with nearly all of the comments. In my T-shirt comment, I didn’t really mean that Trump’s acceptance was impossible to explain, just that there are so many things factoring into it that it is difficult to cover all the bases. I particularly enjoy the references to Pharaoh, Nebuchadnezzar, and the like. Even David, the model king of Israel and type of Christ (the Son of David) committed some whoppers -probably worse in our eyes than anything that Donald Trump has ever done. As the old hymn declares, God’s grace is amazing.
Yeah…they’re both soft “fascists”. The question was which fascist is useful for now.
There is no direct relationship between Christians and Donald Trump. There is, however, and inverse relationship between Christians and Hillary Clinton.
There does seem to be a lot of Marxist class analysis going on here
Not to sound like I’m yelling “Get off my lawn”, but I’m sick and tired of the left saying evangelicals are hypocritical for supporting Trump. Liberals look at them as a bunch of snake handlers who don’t smoke, drink, or dance.
The truth be known, evangelicals know people are not perfect, that they themselves are sinners. Evangelicals also know they have to go through life interacting with fellow sinners. To me, that’s why they can support someone like Trump. They know he’s not perfect, but Trump supports many of their positions. When all is said and done, it’s not simply a matter of having the same beliefs and principles; it’s a matter of implementing those beliefs and principles.
Trump has done this, and principled Republicans still can’t figure out why he’s liked, especially by evangelicals . . .
I didn’t vote for Trump because I am an evangelical. I’m an evangelical thus I had to vote for Trump.
There is a deep chasm between those two sentences and an even deeper chasm between my relationship with Christ and what the Democrat Party stands for.
Every left-leaning evangelical I know (totally non-scientific, granted) moved moved from the Right to the Left in response to what they perceived to be overbearing Fundamentalists, who basically pushed the Somewhat-Less-Than-Fundamentalists out. Relatively minor theological differences were exacerbated by very personal animosities. And as is the case with most denominations, once an official split occurs the divide tends to grow wider and the center disappears. It’s sad.
For lack of more precision, that’s good enough for me. Very Trumpishly spoken, I must say.
Rules for radicals, nuff said
There are two types of reporters out there — those who love America and its founding principles and those who don’t.
NPR is the most egregious of the MSM leftists because they take money out of the general fund of the United States of America and spread it only in support of the Democratic Party. They should never never never be on any platform nor providing a platform with Republicans and conservatives. They are the enemy of this country and its founding principles.
No one seems to know more about who is a real Christian and who is a fake Christian than the non-Christian – particularly one who has taken a semester of religious studies.
I broke down and bought the book “Rules for Radicals” a few years ago. Sadly, Alinsky makes a lot of sense, and following the rules works – just look at how much “progress” the left has made in this country. The election of Trump shook them to their very core. Deep down in their “hearts”, they knew Hillary was going to win, which would have heralded the end of the great American experiment.
Back to the book. Every Republican should read it and take notes. Heck, maybe we could even follow the rules ourselves until we more fully take the country back.