Since the rise of Trump in the primaries, headline after headline has read something like this: “Why did evangelicals support Trump?” I recently wrote a Dear John Letter to the Evangelical Church, and in it I wrote that my main complaint was not that evangelicals supported Trump in the general election but that they supported him in the primaries. In the general election it is somewhat understandable that single issue voters would vote for him when their only reasonable alternative was Hillary Clinton, but that doesn’t explain his widespread support in the primaries.
The church was established to serve the world with Christ-like love, not to rule the world. It is called to look like a corporate Jesus, dying on the cross for those who crucified him, not a religious version of Caesar.1)Dr. Gregory A Boyd, “The Myth of a Christian Nation: How the Quest for Political Power Is Destroying the Church“
The reason offered by most pundits is that white evangelicals overwhelmingly support issues such as overturning Roe v Wade, small government, deregulation, rejection of policies supporting human-caused climate change, and the second amendment. While all of those things are true, they still don’t explain why evangelicals voted for him in the primaries. They also don’t explain why evangelicals have married certain political issues that have nothing to do with Christianity–such as small government, climate change, and the second amendment–to their religious beliefs.
The Rise of the Christian Right
In Matthew 7:24-27 Jesus talked about the difference between those who built the foundation of their house on rock and those who built it on sand. When we look at faults in any movement it is useful to go back to the beginning and examine the foundation it was built on. In the case of the Christian right it is quite enlightening.
The theologically conservative Christians were the largest tract of virgin timber on the political landscape.2)Morton Blackwell
If you are against segregation and against racial separation, then you are against God.3)Bob Jones
In the 1970s evangelicals, under the guidance of Jerry Falwell, Sr., and other conservative Christian leaders, began to align themselves with the Republican Party.4)https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Christian_right The Republican platform of 1980 called for the overturning of the Equal Rights Amendment and the restoration of prayer in public schools. This was done at the behest of the Moral Majority and other conservative Christian organizations. There was also some support for overturning Roe v. Wade and restricting taxpayer funding for abortion. Additionally, the counterculture of the 1960s, combined with other factors, had caused many Southern Democrats to switch to the Republican Party. Unfortunately for them, the adoption of Nixon and Goldwater’s racist Southern Strategy had also caused many Republicans to switch to the Democrat Party.5)https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Southern_strategy In many ways that Democrat and Republican parties had swapped places. The Democrat Party became more liberal–especially in the area of civil rights–while the Republican Party became more conservative. The Republican Party needed voters and in evangelicals they saw an opportunity to get them.
This was the foundation of the modern Christian right, and the problem is immediately clear: evangelical leaders had an agenda that they wanted to promote and they saw that they could do it through the Republican Party; The Republican Party had an agenda that they wanted to promote and they saw they could do it with the support of evangelicals. Thus, an unholy alliance was formed.
The Current State of the Christian Right
Wikipedia provides a summary of many of the Christian right positions.6)https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Christian_right In the interest of time I will not list all of them, but there are certain issues that I, as a former evangelical, view as important to the rise of Trump. Trump, like the Republican party of the 1970s, was not afraid to openly support the desires of the Christian right, no matter how radical they might be.
Some of the issues that are important to the Christian right are:
- Teaching of creationism and intelligent design instead of, or along with, biological evolution
- The removal of sex education from schools or, alternatively, support for abstinence-only education
- Small government, economic liberalism (deregulation) and fiscal conservatism
- No separation of church and state, with some lending support for the US adopting Christianity as its official religion7)http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2015/02/25/republicans-christian-america_n_6754032.html
- Overturning Roe v. Wade and restricting access to abortion
- Opposition to policies seeking to limit climate change
- Support for the second amendment; opposition to most forms of gun control
- Strong opposition to many sexual matters, such as same-sex marriage, gay and transgender people in the military, and gender neutral bathrooms
The unholy alliance of the Political Right and the Religious Right threatens to destroy the America we love. It also threatens to generate a revulsion against God and religion by identifying them with militarism, ecological irresponsibility, fundamentalist antagonism to science and rational thought, and insensitivity to the needs of the poor and the powerless.8)Rabbi Michael Lerner, “The Left Hand of God“
There are three major problems with this list.
First, many of these issues–such as climate change, small government, economic liberalism, fiscal conservatism and the second amendment–have nothing to do with religion. Those are political and scientific issues, not Christian ones. If anything, many of these issues stand in opposition to Christianity! We are instructed to take care of the earth, so we should support environmental causes. We are instructed to care for the poor and those in need, so we should support policies that do that. We are called to care for the children, so, in light of the fact that 48 children and teens are shot every day,9)http://www.bradycampaign.org/key-gun-violence-statistics we should support policies that make it harder for children to access guns.
(I should interject here that I don’t think that the Christian Left should seek political power either. The point that I am making is that many political issues that are adopted by the right actually oppose Christian values.)
Second, Trump offered radical support for many of these issues, more so than other Republican candidates:
- He supported penalizing women who had abortions, although he later flip-flopped.10)http://www.cnn.com/2016/03/30/politics/donald-trump-abortion-town-hall/
- He is strongly opposed to human-caused climate change, calling it a myth invented by the Chinese.11)https://twitter.com/realdonaldtrump/status/265895292191248385?lang=en
- He offers radical support for small government, going so far as to saw that he will require two regulations to be removed for every new regulation that is created.12)https://www.donaldjtrump.com/press-releases/donald-j.-trump-delivers-groundbreaking-contract-for-the-american-vote1
- His support for the second amendment is just as radical, with him saying that people in the Pulse Nightclub should have been carrying guns so that they could have exchanged fire with Omar Mateen. (He conveniently ignored the fact that there were armed people who did exchange fire with him, to no effect.)13)http://www.kansascity.com/news/politics-government/article84832892.html
- Trump is a strong opponent of “political correctness”–a catch all term for anyone seeking rights that the Christian right doesn’t think they should have.14)http://www.wsj.com/articles/trump-vs-political-correctness-1479233123
- And, perhaps most importantly to many of the Christian right, Trump has vowed to stop the mythological “war on Christmas”15)http://www.rightwingwatch.org/post/christianity-is-under-siege-donald-trump-vows-to-stop-christianity-from-becoming-weaker-weaker-and-weaker/
A third problem that is less obvious is that much of the Christian right of the 1950s, 60s and 70s was openly racist. Most people in the Christian right today do not view themselves as racist (although after living in the South for years I think that racism still underlies much of white Southern culture), but it still exists. When I was in college in Louisiana I briefly attended a church where the pastor talked about the “n—–s”. I left that church immediately and went to another much more inclusive one. In that second church an African American father of nine told the story of how his son came home with marks on his neck. A teacher at the “Christian” school that his children attended had accused his son of stealing a pencil, grabbed his neck, and slammed him against the wall. The father stood in front of the church in tears, thanking them for accepting his family. You know it’s bad when a father goes out of his way to thank people in a church for not trying to strangle his son.
That was in 1997. Racism is still alive and well in the South, even in Christian churches.
Trump is a racist, and many people in the Christian right view that as a good thing.
WWJD (What Would Jesus Do)
When I read the New Testament I find it hard to imagine Jesus voting for a self-proclaimed sexual predator like Trump.16)https://www.theguardian.com/us-news/live/2016/oct/07/donald-trump-sexual-comments-women-leaked-recording That aside, Jesus made it clear that political power is not the correct way to spread the gospel. History has shown time and time again that marrying religion and politics ends in disaster. Let me say that again: There is not a single incident in history where Christianity and political power have successfully mixed. Remember the Crusades, Spanish Inquisition and Thirty Years’ War, the latter of which took an estimated eight million lives?17)https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Thirty_Years%27_War Mixing politics and Christianity didn’t work then and it won’t work now.
However, that is not just my opinion. It is supported by Scripture.
Matthew 4:8-1018)https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=Matthew+4%3A8-10&version=NIV records Jesus being tempted with political power. He was taken to a high mountain and shown all of the kingdoms of the world. He was offered authority over them and he rejected it. The point of the story is the same, whether you take it literally or parabolically: Christ chose to reject political power and focus on spreading his message organically through individuals. After all, if salvation is by grace through faith, as Protestants believe, then political power does Christians no good. You might be able to force your agenda down someone’s throat with political power, but you will never be able to change their heart.
The evangelical desire for political power has caused irreparable damage to the spreading of the gospel,19)http://religion.blogs.cnn.com/2013/07/27/why-millennials-are-leaving-the-church/ 20)http://www.prri.org/wp-content/uploads/2013/07/2013-Economic-Values-Report-Final-.pdf and I am convinced that Jesus would not condone it. As a Christian who is passionate about following Christ, I cannot condone it either.
References [ + ]