I wish I would have seen this study when I was writing Believe Me: The Evangelical Road to Donald Trump. It provides statistical evidence for an argument I have been making ever since Trump announced his presidential candidacy.
Sociologists Andrew Whitehead, Joseph Baker, and Samuel Perry have found that evangelical support for Donald Trump is directly related to the belief, common among conservative evangelicals, that the United States is a Christian nation.
This supports my argument that evangelical support for Donald Trump is based on some pretty bad history. As many of you know, I have been writing about this bad history for a long time. A good place to start is my Was America Founded as a Christian Nation: A Historical Introduction.
Here is a taste of Whitehead’s, Baker’s, and Perry’s piece in The Washington Post:
The more someone believed the United States is — and should be — a Christian nation, the more likely they were to vote for Trump
First, Americans who agreed with the various measures of Christian nationalism were much more likely to vote for Trump, even after controlling for other influences, such as political ideology, political party and other cultural factors proposed as possible explanations…
No other religious factor influenced support for or against Trump
Second, we find that Americans’ religious beliefs, behaviors and affiliation did not directly influence voting for Trump. In fact, once Christian nationalism was taken into account, other religious measures had no direct effect on how likely someone was to vote for Trump. These measures of religion mattered only if they made someone more likely to see the United States as a Christian nation.
Read the entire piece here.
These sociologists used the following questions to decipher the ways that evangelicals think America is a Christian nation:
- “The federal government should declare the United States a Christian nation”
- “The federal government should advocate Christian values”
- “The federal government should enforce strict separation of church and state” (reverse coded)
- “The federal government should allow the display of religious symbols in public spaces”
- “The success of the United States is part of God’s plan”
- “The federal government should allow prayer in public schools”
Now here is how people like David Barton and other Christian nationalists try to historicize these questions:
- The federal government should declare the United States a Christian nation because it was founded as a Christian nation and secular liberals have been steering it away from its Christian roots since the mid-20th century.
- The federal government should advocate for Christian values because the founding fathers advocated for the role of Christianity as a way of bringing morality and order to the republic. (This, I might add, is only partially true).
- Separation of church and state is a myth because it is not in the Constitution. The doctrine of separation of church and state was created by the Supreme Court in 1947 when Hugo Black said that there is a “wall of separation” between church and state and it is “high and impregnable.”
- The federal government should allow the display of religious symbols because America has always allowed for such symbols. Just look at the Rotunda of the Capitol building or coins.
- America is exceptional because God is on its side more than He is any other nation. The United States is the New Israel–a chosen people. And because George Washington and other founders talked about God’s providence this must be true.
- The Federal Government should allow prayer in public schools because prayer has always been part of the American education system, separation of church and state is a myth, and many of the Founding Fathers were men of prayer.
There are, of course, serious historical problems with all of these statements, but my point here is that all of these points must be addressed from the perspective of American history. They must be pulled-up from the roots. In many ways the evangelical support for Donald Trump is a historical problem and the failure of evangelicals to study it. This is something akin to Mark Noll’s Scandal of the Evangelical Mind.