Many evangelical leaders stood opposed the candidacy of Donald Trump this year. Despite this, evangelicals voted (whites in particular) for Trump in near record numbers. Why was there such a disconnect between evangelical leaders and their followers?
Most of the objections to Trump’s fitness for the White House had to do with his behavior. Trump did this. Trump said that. He’s obviously a sinner. How could anyone believe his claim to be a Christian, much less vote for him?
The objections point to Trump’s external behavior. His outward sins.
The church isn’t a safe place for sinners. Most of my friends have been kicked out of churches or they’ve suffered abuse from leaders because of their sinful behavior. Church leaders themselves risk being removed from leadership if it’s discovered that they’ve indulged in sin. It’s no surprise then, that Christian leaders gauge others who aspire to lead by the same standard.
For many church leaders, it’s all about external behavior. As long as nothing is being said about a politician’s outward sin, they can be supported. But as soon as a little dirt is found, support must be withdrawn. Lest they be forced to explain why they’re supporting an obvious sinner. Wayne Grudem’s indecisiveness over supporting Trump is an example of the kind of political gymnastics leaders put themselves through.
Religion is a cruel master.
When white evangelicals looked at Trump, they saw something different. They weren’t looking through the lens of religion. Or fear of what others might think. They felt like they were in the crosshairs of a gunman.
During the last eight years, Christianity and conservatism have been under attack by the left. Conservative taxpayers are fed up with paying for abortion. Every time a mass shooting occurred, President Obama used it as an opportunity to lecture Americans about stricter gun control. The IRS targeted churches and non-profits for harassment. The President insisted Christian beliefs on gender identity are wrong and Hillary stated that core beliefs of Christians will have to change. And then there’s Hillary’s view that we should impose a no-fly zone over Syria. That might seem like a harmless suggestion, but once you impose a no-fly zone on a nation, and they ignore it, you’ve committed yourself to a war against them. Combine that with the President’s threat to wage a cyber war against Russia and evangelicals saw World War III approaching.
Conservative evangelicals have felt not just marginalized, but threatened by their government. The agenda of the left has become an existential threat to the right. And when you threaten someone’s way of life, you should expect them to do whatever is necessary to save themselves. And that is exactly what they did.
Evangelicals on the right saw Trump as the only thing standing between them and four more years of oppression from the left. When someone is willing to protect you from a bully, you don’t ask about their theology. All you care about is that they might help you live to see another day. So ignoring their leaders, evangelicals voted into office a man they hoped would be their champion. Not a savior. More like a bodyguard. Trump, they reasoned, may not help us spread the gospel, but at least he doesn’t seem hostile to us.
According to exit polls, 81% of white evangelical men and 75% of white female evangelicals voted for Trump. That’s more support from these groups than a Republican candidate has seen in decades. In voting for Trump, white evangelicals turned the executive branch of government over to someone who is perceived by many to be a bigoted and dangerous man.
The Other Side
Liberals, minorities, and non-Christians it turns out, are also feeling threatened. They like the changes the Obama administration has made. Those changes make them feel safe. And they were looking forward to the same kind of treatment under Hillary.
But Hillary lost. Their champion was defeated. And now they feel like Trump is a threat to their existence.
Someone had to lose in this election and it wasn’t the one the media predicted. They seemed so certain of the outcome. No need to prepare anyone for the possibility that Trump would actually take office. And now people are shocked and afraid because Trump did win. And for the last year, the media has portrayed him as a monster.
If the media had any integrity, they would retract the campaign rhetoric they created that portrays Trump as a 21st-century Hitler. They created the hysteria we’re seeing. And they could undo the damage if they wanted to. But that’s not going to happen.
No, there’s only one path out of this pit. But it’s a path that will lead to peace and prosperity for everyone. Because that’s how God rolls.
Trump will have to demonstrate fairness and equality after he’s inaugurated. He’ll have to show that his agenda and his administration do not aim to disadvantage anyone. He’ll have to prove that he’s an honorable man and that the things that were said about him aren’t true. That’s the only way the fears (on both sides) will ever be calmed.
I believe Trump is up to the challenge. If there’s anything he enjoys, it’s proving his critics wrong. And he has a lot of critics. I think he’s going to make America safe for everyone. And I believe it will happen sooner than many of us expect.
You might pray into that.