I had spent a lot of my life trying to show that Christians generally and evangelicals, in particular, were not what many critics thought we were. We were open, welcoming and intelligent. We were compassionate and justice-seeking. We cared about all people, not just the ones like us.
And so, on the morning after the election of Donald Trump, I was distraught. As a black person and a woman, I felt betrayed but I felt particular shame when polling revealed that 81% of white evangelicals had voted for him. As far as I was concerned, they couldn’t be reading the same Bible.
Again and again, and UnHerd’s Believers in Trump audio documentary is no exception, we hear how Trump’s Bible Belt voters could almost be excused because they felt their views had been sidelined and ignored by the ‘elites’. We are asked to understand how they had come to feel like underdogs in what they had mistakenly thought was primarily their country.
No. This just isn’t good enough. I refuse to pretend that the white evangelical vote for Trump had anything to do with the faith I’m a part of.
Trump’s support from white evangelicals had nothing to do with religion and everything to do with power. It’s rooted in the “rightness of whiteness”, as Jim Wallis of the Washington-based Christian community Sojourners, said in his interview within the documentary.
How had it come to this? An evangelical movement which a generation ago had felt convicted to create its own subculture – its own television stations and record labels and lines of clothing – because of a biblical imperative not to “conform to the pattern of this world”, has become so hungry to be represented in mainstream American life that it has – in vast numbers – pledged allegiance to a man who many see as a racist misogynist and an adulterer.
“They get in the White House all the time,” Wallis says. “They’ve made their deal, they’ve made their transaction and they’re ignoring his behaviour, they’re ignoring his religious bigotry, they’re ignoring his attacks on Muslims, they’re ignoring his racial bigotry, they’re ignoring his treatment of women, they’re ignoring his personal behaviour, his personal sexual behaviour, they’re ignoring his adulterous lifestyle and those Christians are going to be held to account.”
It’s about power, not about faith.
Many of these voters are more informed by their media consumption than actually reading the Bible. As Wallis says, “Big mega church pastors tell me… I have these people for two hours a week. Fox News has them all week.”
We cannot simplistically lean on faith for explaining white churchgoers’ votes because America’s black evangelicals – who hold the same beliefs about core issues such as abortion – voted very differently. Perhaps it is because for black voters, their racial identity is so very much a part of who they are – because of the way they have been treated for centuries.
If anyone has the right to feel like underdogs or “forgotten”, it is these black voters:
- The Economic Policy Institute reports that the African American unemployment rate is around twice that of whites.
- African Americans are six times more likely to be incarcerated and the total number in prison has tripled since 1968.
- Federal Reserve data reveals that the median net worth of white families is ten times that of black families.
While there are exceptions in any statistics, white people in America are not the underdogs, and white evangelicals are certainly not.
The inequality between whites and blacks in America is due to what Jim Wallis describes as America’s “original sin”. As the Kerner Commission identified 50 years ago, it was “white racism” that caused the “pervasive discrimination in employment, education and housing” for African Americans.
Since his election, Trump has done little to clean up his reputation. In fact, in many respects, it has worsened, particularly when it comes to race. He has described African nations as “s***hole” countries. He claimed there was “blame on both sides” during a clash between white supremacists and counter-protestors in Charlottesville.
Trump supporter Carrie Simms, interviewed in Unherd’s documentary, said:
“As Christians, we have to be discerning. Sometimes we have to make difficult choices between two people. A lot of Christians who voted for Trump initially did not like him, but as they prayed about it, there was this conviction that this was the man that God has chosen… God moved on the hearts of people to vote for this man.”
White evangelicals like Simms made their vote more palatable to themselves by describing Trump’s appointment as God-ordained – clearly in a way that Barack Obama’s was not. Only the most deluded believe that Trump himself is a Christian but many feel that he nonetheless advances their causes. As Franklin Graham, whose late father Billy Graham took a less partisan approach to his relationships with presidents, says: “In my lifetime, he has supported the Christian faith more than any president that I know. That doesn’t mean he is the greatest example of the Christian faith, and neither am I, but he defends the faith. There’s a difference between defending the faith and living the faith.”
It is inexcusable for Christians to stand by a man who perpetuates these racist ideas because they benefit people who look like them. It goes against everything that those who take seriously the biblical example of Christ stand for.
As Wallis says: “Racism is a sin against God and when political leaders use racial resentment and fear as a political strategy for their own gain that’s anti-Christian.”