I have talked to several reporters about Donald Trump’s zero tolerance immigrant policy that has separated children from their parents at the Mexican border. After Franklin Graham called the policy “disgraceful,” reporters wondered if immigration might be the issue that finally prompted a significant amount of pro-Trump evangelicals to break with the president.
I answered these questions with a firm no.
Evangelicals I talk to are against the separation of children from their parents, but this is not enough to pull them away from Trump or reject his border policy. When it comes to social and cultural issues, conservative evangelicals have a hierarchical system of morality. Abortion and gay marriage are the most important. The separation of children from their parents at the border might be morally problematic for some evangelicals, but not enough to end their support for Trump.
The only thing that will pull the 81% away from Trump is if he supports a liberal Supreme Court justice, takes pro-choice position on abortion, or refuses to defend the religious liberty of evangelicals in a post Obergefell age.
As I see it, there are four ways in which American evangelicals have responded to the current immigration crisis:
- Group 1 opposes the separation of children from their parents at the border and opposes the Trump presidency generally (Russell Moore, Peter Wehner, Michael Gerson, and everyone on the so-called “evangelical left”).
- Group 2 openly opposes the separation of children at the border, but support Trump generally and will probably vote for him again in 2020. (Samuel Rodriguez, Franklin Graham).
- Group 3 thinks the separation of children at the border is a problem, but they will not speak out against it. Some of them even support Jeff Sessions’s use of Romans 13 to justify the policy. (This is most of the court evangelicals, including First Baptist Dallas pastor Robert Jeffress).
- Group 4 does not see the separation of children at the border as a moral problem because these immigrants are illegal and should have never tried to cross the border with their kids in the first place. They are staunch Trump supporters. (This group includes many of the rank-and-file evangelicals who voted for Trump. I have spoken to many of them).
Over at VOX, Tara Isabella Burton explores the evangelical response to Trump’s immigration policies in a piece titled “Polls suggest white evangelicals will still back Trump after family separation controversy“:
White evangelical leaders did something remarkable earlier this month: They criticized President Donald Trump for his administration’s immigration policy.
From the words of Franklin Graham — a long-time Trump ally and son of iconic preacher Billy Graham — to the wider resolution passed by the Southern Baptist Convention at its annual meeting, white evangelicals have been more and more willing to challenge Trump on issues of immigration and family separation, departing from white evangelicalism’s historic association with Republican Party politics.
But recent polling by the Public Religion Research Institute suggests that these denouncements were not part of a broader break between white evangelicals and Trump. Ultimately white evangelicals will still support Trump — and his wider immigration stance — despite their measured reservations about the policy of family separation.
The Public Religion Research Institute poll shows that support for the family separation policy among white evangelicals was low: Thirty-six percent of white evangelicals support the policy, while 51 percent are opposed to it. Given that white evangelicals are generally supportive of Trump’s policies more broadly, the relative lack of support for family separation is, at first glance, striking.
However, it’s important to recognize that white evangelical support for family separation is higher than those of any other religious group cited in the poll. Sixty percent of white mainline Protestants, 74 percent of Catholics, 82 percent of the religiously unaffiliated, and 87 percent of nonwhite Protestants are opposed to family separation.
Read the rest here.