The evangelical support for President Trump is alarming for Christian ministers like me, who do not share their views and values. But, it is my sense, possibly born of my inveterate optimism, that the Evangelical coalition supporting Trump is breaking down.
It’s an arcane nuance, but Trump only has the continued support of a certain subset of evangelicals, those of a triumphalist mentality, who feel that it is God’s will that their particular brand of Christianity has a divine right to succeed. These people have been at war with the culture for decades. They have advanced their apocalyptic brand through the peculiar grievance that the world is awful, that America is lost, and that it all should be blown up. Thus, their disdain for our American institutions, including public education.
They are found largely in middle class, suburban, megachurch demographic and religious categories. There is a detached gnosticism that marks their theology. The emphasis is not on love of neighbor, but rather one’s own prosperity and alleviation of anxiety. It bears little resemblance to the faith outlined in the Hebrew Scriptures and the New Testament. Harold Bloom, the Yale literary critic, nailed this curious gnosticism twenty years or so ago in a book called “The American Religion.”
But, here is some good news: real, organic, embodied faith communities across the theological spectrum – conservative, moderate, liberal– are not falling for Trump’s toxic mythology. These are smaller, more connected congregations in rural communities, small towns, and urban neighborhoods that are highly contextualized. They are not the disembodied entertainment circuses of the megachurches. We see these congregations thoroughly involved in their neighborhoods, particularly their public schools, and internalizing the pressing human need found in the children. Yes, some of these folks voted for Trump, but they are beginning to rethink the entire program. Providentially, Donald Trump is waking up the church!
This is very optimistic, but I don’t think it is right. I don’t have any statistical evidence. My thoughts are based on the stories I heard from the pro-Trumpers I met this summer in eleven different cities during the Believe Me book tour.
Some white evangelicals are die-hard Trump supporters. These are the people who backed Trump from the moment he announced his candidacy and chose him instead of Christian Right candidates like Ted Cruz or Ben Carson. They are the evangelicals who go to Trump rallies and have Trump signs on their lawns.
Other white evangelicals who voted for Trump in 2016 are not fans of the president, but they are willing to overlook his character issues, his racism and xenophobia, and his disrespect for the office because he has appointed conservative judges. They probably lost a little sleep in Fall 2016 as they contemplated their vote, but in the end they remained faithful to a Christian Right playbook that privileges abortion and the Supreme Court above all other issues.
The first group will vote again for Donald Trump in 2020. A significant portion of the second group will also vote for Trump in 2020, especially if he continues to appoint conservative justices, defends religious freedom (as understood by evangelicals, which basically means freedom for their views on marriage), and runs against a pro-choice liberal.
I have even heard stories from some sectors that evangelicals who did not vote for Trump in 2016 are considering voting for him in 2020 because he has delivered on so many of his promises and the economy is doing well.