Here’s a theory. Again, just a theory.
Yesterday I was chatting with a pastor about evangelicals who support Donald Trump. This pastor affirmed a lot of my thoughts about the generational make-up of this group. Most (not all, but most) pro-Trump evangelicals (or evangelicals who voted for Trump) who I encounter are older than I am. This group looks back on the last fifty years and they see increased religious and ethnic diversity, changes in sexual ethics, and an ever- growing number of legal cases related to the separation of church state (think 10 Commandment monuments, “Merry Christmas” and manger scenes, prayers at football games, etc.). They are afraid. They are uncomfortable. They believe America was once “great” and now it needs to be made “great again.” They have dug in for one last stand in the culture wars. Trump can help them win.
If this generational argument is true, then the pro-Trump evangelicals, and others who live with this fear, will soon fade off the scene. If my pastor friend is correct, and I think he just might be, younger evangelicals are less fearful, more open to diversity and immigration, and at least willing to treat those with whom they disagree on sexual ethics and marriage with dignity, respect, and civility. They remain orthodox in their theology, but they are not culture warriors.
With all of this in mind, the pro-Trump evangelical movement may represent a kind of last-ditch effort by the Moral Majority generation to reclaim the country in the way that they were trained to do by Jerry Falwell, Pat Robertson, and others back in the 1980s.
Military history teaches us that final assaults are often carried out on a grand scale. Think about Pickett’s Charge–the final engagement of the Battle of Gettysburg. The Confederate Army attempted to make one last thrust into the Union line before it was turned back once and for all. Many historians have argued that the loss at Gettysburg sent the Confederate army on a downward spiral that eventually led to its defeat at Appomattox in April 1865.
The Trump evangelicals have found a strongman to lead them. With control of the White House they are poised, at least for the moment, to initiate a final forward movement for the purpose of preserving their “way of life” against the social and cultural changes that they have been fighting against for a couple of generations.
Just a theory. What do you think?
If I am correct here, it seems like the challenge for pastors and Christian leaders is to figure out how to meet the spiritual needs of the Trump evangelicals in their churches. They need to find a way to walk beside them in their place of fear and anxiety and remind them of the “God of all comfort” and the “perfect love” that “casts out fear.” It would be easy to just dismiss the Trump generation of evangelicals or simply tolerate them until they pass off the scene, but such a demographics-based approach would be a dereliction of pastoral duty.