White Evangelicals Fear the Future and Yearn for the Past

Believe Me 3dAs we have already noted, today is the release of the paperback edition of Believe Me: The Evangelical Road to Donald Trump.  As part of the roll-out, I am going to republish some of the piece I wrote back in the summer of 2018 when the hardback appeared. This piece was published at USA TODAY on July 8, 2018:

Donald Trump is about to name his second conservative Supreme Court justice now that Anthony Kennedy is retiring. Conservative evangelicals are celebrating. They have been waiting, to quote the Old Testament book of Esther, “for a time such as this.”

For the last year I have been thinking deeply about why so many of my fellow evangelical Christians support Donald Trump.

I have wondered why they backed his zero-tolerance immigration plan that separated families at the border. I have tried to make sense of why some of them give him a “mulligan” (to use Family Research Council President Tony Perkins’ now famous phrase) for his alleged adulterous affair with adult film star Stormy Daniels. Why did so many evangelicals remain silent, or offer tepid and qualified responses, when Trump equated white supremacists and their opponents in Charlottesville, Virginia last summer?

What kind of power does Trump hold over men and women who claim to be followers of Jesus Christ? Evangelical support for Trump goes much deeper than simply a few Supreme Court justices.

Like most Americans on Nov. 8, 2016, I sat in front of my television to watch election returns, fully expecting that Hillary Clinton would be declared the country’s first female president. When this did not happen, I was saddened and angry. But my emotions were less about the new president-elect and more about the way my fellow evangelicals were using their social media feeds to praise God for Donald Trump’s victory.

I sent off a quick tweet: “If this is evangelicalism — I am out.”

Five days later, I could barely muster the will to attend services at my central Pennsylvania evangelical megachurch. As I stood singing Christian worship songs, I looked around the room and realized that there was a strong possibility, if the reports and polls were correct, that eight out of every 10 people in that sanctuary — my brothers and sisters in my community of faith — had voted for Trump.

I eventually calmed down and decided that, at least for now, I would still use the word “evangelical” to describe my religious faith. The word best captures my belief in the “good news” of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. I have experienced the life-transforming message of this Gospel and I have seen its power in the lives of others.

My raw emotions gave way to my training as a historian and my study of American religion. My distress about Trump’s election did not wane, but I should have seen this coming. Trump’s win was just the latest manifestation of a long-standing evangelical approach to politics.

Read the rest here.