Are Trump Evangelicals really a Myth?
Trump is making a lot of evangelicals very uncomfortable. What is really making them uncomfortable though is the idea that so many evangelicals are supporting him. It first came to my attention when Jerry Falwell Jr. decided to support Trump. But, there have been several evangelicals who have come out in support of Trump, but, more notable is the movement against Trump by many evangelical leaders especially within the Southern Baptist Convention which has been so staunchly Republican for the last several decades. Russell Moore, president of the SBC Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission, has been very vocal about standing against Trump.
But, while Moore has been admirable in his admission that Trump’s positions are antithetical to the Christian faith. What he has been less clear about is that MANY evangelicals are actually supporting Trump. Respected Baylor University history professor Thomas Kidd has been even more obtuse on this issue. For a good while he has been arguing that the “evangelicals” who support Trump are those evangelicals who went to VBS when they were kids but don’t go to church today. In late March he tweeted a story saying “he said it, not me!//’Trump’s strongest support among racist ‘evangelical’ who aren’t active in church'”. A few weeks later he wrote an opinion piece in which he claimed, “In many media circles, the myth of the “Trump evangelicals” has been dispersed. Many of the “evangelicals” who support Trump turn out not to go to church.”
But, is this true? A closer look at the article that Kidd tweeted about is in order. It is true that the author of the article says, “Trump’s strongest support [is] among racist evangelicals who aren’t active in church” and he even says in the next bullet point that “Trump’s least support [is] among evangelicals who attend church regularly and do not hold racist stereotypes.” But, Kidd completely down plays the second clause of each assertion. Race plays a huge role in supporting Trump, or not. In fact, that is actually the point of the article. Near the very beginning of the article the author points out:
The common thinking is that these new “Trumpvangelicals” are backsliders who don’t really care about evangelicalism or who aren’t that religious. That would be great for evangelicals’ elites: See, these so-called evangelicals are voting for Trump because they’re not really evangelicals.
But most (all) of the commentary on evangelicals is conjecture sans data. We know from exit polls that many are choosing Trump, but no one really knows why this is happening.
The author rightly points out that it would be convenient for evangelical leaders who oppose Trump if those evangelicals voting for Trump were evangelicals in name only. But, the author then points us to a survey which gives us important information- The American National Election Study pilot study for 2016. We are no longer “sans data.”
Here is some of the important data: Evangelicals have warmer feelings toward Trump than any other Christian group. On a scale of 0-100 (100 being completely positive and 0 being completely negative) evangelicals scored 56, Catholics scored 43, other Protestants scored 41, and black born-again Christians scored 23. Not only did evangelicals have warmer feelings towards Trump than other Christian groups but we were the only ones to have a positive average toward him.
But, that doesn’t deal with the real concern. Are these “real” evangelicals or “baptized as children” backsliders? It turns out they are real church attending evangelicals. According to the author, “There aren’t differences between those who are more religious and less religious. Taking into account other factors, those who attend church every week are no different from those who never darken a church door.” So religiosity and church attendance aren’t the determining factors for Trump support. This completely undermines the direct assertions of Dr. Kidd and the intimations of Russell Moore.
Why do people support Trump?
It turns out that the biggest factor is actually racism.
So yes, those who show the least support for Trump are non-racist evangelicals who regularly attend church and the most likely to support Trump are the racist evangelicals that don’t go to church. But, when you couple those truths with the finding that Church attendance makes no difference on if people support Trump or not, what we are left with is the realization that we have a lot of evangelicals sitting in our churches who support Trump. We have a lot of racists sitting in our evangelical churches.
The article also points out that there are a lot of shades of racism. Racism against blacks has a long history in our churches and was certainly an issue in the study. But, the biggest racial/ religious issue was anti-Muslim sentiment.
I was recently called a “Hate-Monger” on my Facebook page for sharing an Elizabeth Warren quote which included this statement, “Trump has built his campaign on racism, sexism, and xenophobia.” Now the person who called me that isn’t an evangelical and we weren’t talking about evangelicalism in the thread. But, it seems clear that those are the exact qualities that inspires positive feelings about Trump.
So why do I care?
Shouldn’t I just be happy that strong Christian voices like Moore and Kidd are denouncing Trump. In one way yes. I am very happy to see Christians standing against Trump’s hate. On the other hand, we need to admit our problems. The reality is both that there are many evangelicals who support Trump and that we have a great deal of racial prejudice sitting in our churches. These are both things we need to repent from.
Trump infamously said, “I’m not sure I have ever asked God’s forgiveness. I don’t bring God into that picture.” Evangelicals have been rightly critical of such a statement because it flies in the face of Christian faith and soul saving contrition. In a later interview on the subject Trump said, “Why do I have to repent or ask for forgiveness, if I am not making mistakes?” I feel this is where a lot of evangelical leadership is. They are trying to distance the church from support of Trump. If that is done successfully we don’t have to confess any issues or ask forgiveness. The reality is that there are siginificant issues in the evangelical church. There are things we desperately need to confess and wrongs we need to seek to right.
The data is clear- many evangelcials support Trump. The data is also clear that racism and xenophobia reside in the church. I think we could also show that sexism resides within the evangelical church. So, while Elizabeth Warren is right that “Trump has built his campaign on racism, sexism, and xenophobia”, it is also true that we have allowed those same sins to fester within our churches.
We don’t need to obfuscate the truth of evangelical support for Trump. We need to do is confront what it really means about our churches, repent, and seek to Love Loudly.