Yet Another Way to Explain Trump’s Support Among Evangelicals

Yesterday morning while I was driving to Mount Vernon, Virginia for the third week of my month-long stint as a visiting scholar,  I heard someone on the radio talking about Donald Trump as an “authoritarian” presidential candidate.  In a recent rally in Florida, Trump made everyone in the audience raise their hand and “pledge” to vote for him:

Then last night I ran across Katelyn Beaty’s article in the New York Times forum on evangelicals and politics.  Beaty, who is the managing editor of Christianity Today, compared Trump’s authoritarianism with the evangelical propensity to follow charismatic and authoritarian pastors.

Here is a taste:

But there are evangelical leaders with whom Trump would feel quite at home. Like him, they are middle-aged men who refuse to submit to basic checks on their power and ego. Like him, the leaders of many “megachurches” are not known for the classic virtues of leadership — wisdom, patience, and humility. Like him, they are often lone charismatic figures who “get things done”— build new structures, attract more followers (and money) and establish a “brand.”

So long as there is growth, many evangelicals hesitate to address clear and troubling signs of egotism and even spiritual abuse.

The rise and fall of Mark Driscoll reminds us of the limits of such evangelical pragmatism. Leading a once-booming conservative church in Seattle, Driscoll resigned in 2014 over conflict stemming from his self-admitted anger and pride. Church staff spoke of bullying and verbal abuse; women attendees — even ones who agreed with his views on gender — were hurt and alienated by his plain misogyny.

Read the entire piece here.

As a historian, I think it is worth noting that the evangelical fascination with charismatic and authoritarian leaders is not anything new.


3 thoughts on “Yet Another Way to Explain Trump’s Support Among Evangelicals

  1. Professor Fea – thanks for the post. The neuroscientist George Lakoff has written about this subject or question in a few of his books, i.e., what makes conservatives and liberals think the way they do. FYI, Lakoff has a recent HuffPo article, entitled “Why Trump”: Lakoff’s research indicates that in general (they are not monolithic) the conservative/evangelical “moral worldview” stems from 1) adherence to a strict, authoritative father figure; and 2) “a moral hierarchy in which those who have traditionally dominated should dominate. The hierarchy is: God above Man, Man above Nature, The Disciplined (Strong) above the Undisciplined (Weak), The Rich above the Poor, Employers above Employees, Adults above Children, Western culture above other cultures, Our Country above other countries. The hierarchy extends to: Men above women, Whites above non-Whites, Christians above non-Christians, Straights above Gays.” And 3) “empirical research has shown that conservatives tend to reason with direct causation.” I think Lakoff’s three insights helps explain why so many conservative candidates (Cruz, Rubio, Bush etc.) and pundits complain that Trump is not a real conservative in terms of issues and values, and are mystified why he consistently attracts conservative and evangelical voters.


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