Trump and the Evangelical electorate

Why have Christian Evangelicals embraced Donald Trump, a two-time divorcee and a serial adulterer?

by
     Donald Trump and televangelist Pat Robertson are photographed at a campaign event at Regents University in Virginia Beach, Virginia on February 24, 2016 [Joshua Roberts/Reuters]
    Donald Trump and televangelist Pat Robertson are photographed at a campaign event at Regents University in Virginia Beach, Virginia on February 24, 2016 [Joshua Roberts/Reuters]

    One of the few things stranger than the powerful influence of Christian Evangelicals on the Trump administration is the embrace of Donald Trump by Christian Evangelicals.

    Incidentally, when we use the word "Evangelicals" here, we are using it in the manner it is most used in US political commentary, to refer to conservative, white Protestants. There are white Evangelicals who are politically liberal. But they are few. They are so few that 81 percent of white Evangelicals who voted in 2016 voted for Trump.

    There are also African American Evangelicals. They vote for Democrats. There are some Latino Evangelicals, though most are not Protestants. 

    Such Evangelicals have long been self-described "values voters" and the "moral majority". The idea of "values" here does not refer to paying taxes for more and better public education, medical care, social services and the like that benefit the society at large and should stem from the Christian values of compassion and care for the poor. It does not refer to defending the oppressed or welcoming refugees.

    Rather, it refers to a very singular idea of "family" and what needs to be done in order to "protect" it. Two of the more powerful religious-political organisations in the US are called Focus on the Family and the Family Research Council. Evangelicals oppose any policy, behaviour or practice that they deem threatening to a monogamous two-gender marriage.

    Trump has been divorced twice. Married three times. He married his second wife after she had their child. He is a serial adulterer who has bragged about it. Yet Evangelicals have embraced him even more fervently than they were appalled by Bill Clinton.

    Back in the 1990s, when Clinton was president, conservative Christians chastised him over with his extramarital affairs and the accusations of sexual harassment he faced.

    One of them was James Dobson, head of Focus on the Family, who in 1998 wrote this about Clinton: "Character DOES matter. You can't run a family, let alone a country, without it. How foolish to believe that a person who lacks honesty and moral integrity is qualified to lead a nation and the world!"

    The intertwining of these things - of seeking 'moral integrity' and voting for Trump, of supporting a Jewish state and believing that Jews cannot go to heaven - is not based on logic.

     

    In 2016, Christianity Today ran an article with the headline, "James Dobson: Why I Am Voting for Donald Trump". In the article, Dobson talked about many things but never Trump's "moral integrity"; he did, however, say, rather forgivingly: "I'm not under any illusions that he is an outstanding moral example, but I do think he's a good father." 

    Pat Robertson, televangelist and head of Christian Broadcasting Network (CBN), called Bill Clinton a "debauched, debased and defamed" leader.

    In 2017, interviewing Trump on CBN, Robertson fawningly told him, "I'm so proud of everything you're doing."

    In the late 1970s, a small group of far-right conservatives came up with a plan to bring white Evangelicals into politics as Republican voters. They picked Jerry Falwell to be the pastoral leader of their idea which morphed into a political organisation called the Moral Majority. Falwell was hugely successful. The centre of his empire was Liberty University. It survived him and is now run by his son, Jerry Falwell Jr.

    Jerry Jr has called Trump a "dream president", who "lives a life of loving and helping others as Jesus taught in the Great Commandment." He most recently defended Trump's alleged sexual misconduct by saying "we are all equally bad, we are all sinners."

    Various apologists for this disappearance of values and taking up the standard that "character doesn't matter", make the claim that Trump's very recently discovered opposition to abortion outweighs everything else, so they overlook the carnal sins, the meanness, the money-grubbing greed; they hold their noses and vote for the one important virtue. Evangelicals enthuse over Trump; they adore him, they embrace him.

    Admittedly, in some areas, Trump has returned their embrace. He has, without doubt, given them the Supreme Court justice they wanted. 

    Certainly, with his pick of Mike Pence as vice president, he also embraced Evangelicals. Pence is a genuine "born-again Christian". This could be a religious designation, but as in Pence's case, it is more generally, and more significantly, a political one. He calls himself, "Christian, conservative, Republican, in that order." He is against the Iran deal, against a Palestinian state, and very pro-Israel.

    The fervent commitment of Evangelicals, like Pence, to Israel, seems to be rooted in a belief that it is necessary for Israel to be back in the hands of the Jews for the second coming of Jesus Christ to take place. According to this belief, the Rapture would send all the good true Christians to heaven and leave behind the bad and non-believers - including the Jews - in an all-inclusive hell on earth. That means that Christian Zionism concludes with an act of the ultimate anti-Semitism. 

    The intertwining of these things - of seeking "moral integrity" and voting for Trump, of supporting a Jewish state and believing that Jews cannot go to heaven - is not based on logic.

    The contradictions point to things that are very different than what people say they're concerned about. Evangelicals - who purported to be values voters, members of the moral majority, and to care about character - becoming dedicated Trump supporters tells us that those beliefs are makeup and masks that people wear so that when they look in their political mirrors, they see good people looking back at them.

    The views expressed in this article are the author's own and do not necessarily reflect Al Jazeera's editorial stance.

    Why do Christian evangelicals have faith in Trump?

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    Why do Christian evangelicals have faith in Trump?


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