The number 81 percent may have permanent resonance among political analysts by now. That percentage represents the number of white evangelicals who voted for Donald Trump in the 2016 presidential election. While conservative Christianity has been tied to voting Republican for many years, the fact that a man so seemingly opposed to Christian values could garner such a high number of votes – regardless of voiced opinions on hot issues – surprised many people. But what feels counterintuitive may in fact make perfect sense when looked at from the proper angle, in this case, from the mindset of a historian.
Enter Messiah College historian John Fea with his latest book Believe Me, a highly readable and convincing “story of why so many American evangelicals believe in Donald Trump” (10). The book tracks through recent developments in US religion and politics, but does so in the context of longer historical developments and patterns. Fea talks about the rise of the Moral Majority with as much ease as he does Jeffersonian America, all developing a single line that greatly expands understanding of our current political moment.
“The primary reading audience is my fellow evangelicals,” Fee explained in a recent interview, “but there’s a secondary audience, and that is anyone who wants to understand why 81 percent of evangelicals supported Donald Trump.”
Both of those groups would do well to engage with Fea’s arguments. His own faith may lend an urgency to his work, but it won’t turn off secular readers. He tackles the topic “not as a political scientist, pollster, or pundit, but as a historian who identifies as a Christian” (6). Media over the past two years as been saturated with takes from political wonks, but getting to the core of the previous presidential election and the ongoing state of affairs requires a historical point of view. Fea, whose previous works include Why Study History?: Reflecting on the Importance of the Past (Baker Academic, Sep 2013) and Was America Founded as a Christian Nation?: A Historical Introduction (Westminster/ John Knox, rev. Feb 2011) , recognizes the tie between what’s been happening in the US and a necessary understanding of the past.
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