Believe Me: The Evangelical Road to Donald Trump will not be released until late June, but several folks have already received advanced reader copies. The first substantial review of the book comes from the progressive religion website Religion Dispatches. Greg Carey, who teaches New Testament at Lancaster Theological Seminary, has provided a very fair review.
Here is a taste:
Messiah College historian John Fea has earned the right to author a book on this topic. His research focuses on American Christianity, including his nuanced, Was America Founded as a Christian Nation? that book put the lie to David Barton’s Christian nationalist mythology, and his critiques of evangelical writer Eric Metaxas, which earned a blocking on Twitter. Fea’s blog, “The Way of Improvement Leads Home,” enjoys wide appreciation. I consider John a friendly and admired acquaintance.
Fea is an insider who teaches at an evangelical college and attends an evangelical megachurch. When he describes the experience of walking into his church the Sunday after the 2016 election, surmising that most of his fellow believers had voted for a horrible person like Donald Trump, I feel his pain.
Fea begins by setting forth the obvious reasons one might expect evangelicals to reject Donald Trump. Trump’s faults extend beyond personal moral failings and “virtually no evidence of a Spirit-filled life.” Other Republican candidates shared conservative policy values, and with greater consistency than Trump, and possessed far more compelling spiritual bona fides. Yet before Trump defeated Hilary Clinton, he defeated those conservative Christian candidates. White evangelicals still support Trump.
Fea walks a fine line between empathy for his fellow evangelicals and critical appraisal. He believes evangelicals hold legitimate grievances against Democrats. He explains that during the Obama administration evangelicals experienced setbacks at a dizzying pace, particularly with respect to matters of gender and sexuality. Obama’s stance on abortion could be taken as a given, but his change of mind on same-sex marriage—if it was indeed a change of mind—was an unwelcome surprise. Fea perceives attacks on religious liberty in the Affordable Care Act’s requirements concerning birth control and the Obama Justice Department’s enforcement of civil rights for LGBT persons. All of these factors motivated evangelicals to believe that they and their movement were under siege.
But evangelicals will also feel Fea’s sting. In Fea’s analysis, three tropes—fear, nostalgia, and power—primarily account for Trump’s appeal to evangelicals. A sense of cultural disorientation tinged with racism plays into the long-standing conservative strategy—the appeal to fear, nurtured by Trump more effectively than any other candidate. If evangelicals disagreed with his policies, “Obama’s biracialism, single-parent upbringing, and global experiences made him a poster child for the demographic changes taking place in the country.” Fea’s chapter, “A Short History of Evangelical Fear,” is worth the price of the book.
Read the entire review here.