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Defying the Odds

Defying the Odds
New book about the 2016 election.

Thursday, July 14, 2016

The Evangelicals' Faustian Bargain


Evangelical voters are rallying strongly in favor of Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump. Indeed, the latest Pew Research Center survey finds that despite the professed wariness toward Trump among many high-profile evangelical Christian leaders, evangelicals as a whole are, if anything, even more strongly supportive of Trump than they were of Mitt Romney at a similar point in the 2012 campaign. At that time, nearly three-quarters of white evangelical Protestant registered voters said they planned to vote for Romney, including one-quarter who “strongly” supported him.1 Now, fully 78% of white evangelical voters say they would vote for Trump if the election were held today, including about a third who “strongly” back his campaign.
Robert P. Jones writes at The New York Times:
Today, white evangelicals are not only experiencing the shrinking of their own ranks, but they are also confronting larger, genuinely new demographic and cultural realities. When Barack Obama was elected president in 2008, white Christians (Catholics and Protestants) constituted a majority (54 percent) of the country; today, that number has slipped to 45 percent. Over this same period, support for gay marriage — a key issue for evangelicals — moved from only four in 10 to solid majority territory, and the Supreme Court cleared the way for gay and lesbian couples to marry in all 50 states. The Supreme Court itself symbolized these changes, losing its last remaining Protestant justice, John Paul Stevens, in 2010.

A recent Public Religion Research Institute-Brookings survey shows the alarm that white evangelical Protestants are feeling in the wake of demographic and cultural changes. Nearly two-thirds are bothered when they encounter immigrants who speak little English. More than two-thirds believe that discrimination against whites has become as big a problem as discrimination against other groups. For discrimination against Christians, that number is nearly eight in 10. And perhaps most telling of all, seven in 10 white evangelical Protestants say the country has changed for the worse since the 1950s.
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Mr. Trump’s ascendancy has turned the 2016 election into a referendum on the death of white Christian America, with the candidate appealing strongly to those who are most grieving this loss. Mr. Trump instinctively understood this from the beginning of his campaign. Take his speech at an evangelical college before the Iowa caucuses in January: “I’ll tell you one thing: I get elected president, we’re going to be saying ‘Merry Christmas’ again.” He added that Christianity will be resurgent “because if I’m there, you’re going to have plenty of power — you don’t need anybody else.”
Also at The Times, Peter Wehner writes:
The calling of Christians is to be “salt and light” to the world, to model a philosophy that defends human dignity, and to welcome the stranger in our midst. It is to stand for justice, dispense grace and be agents of reconciliation in a broken world. And it is to take seriously the words of the prophet Micah, “And what does the Lord require of you but to do justly, and to love kindness and mercy, and to humble yourself and walk humbly with your God?”

Evangelical Christians who are enthusiastically supporting Donald Trump are signaling, even if unintentionally, that this calling has no place in politics and that Christians bring nothing distinctive to it — that their past moral proclamations were all for show and that power is the name of the game.

The French philosopher and theologian Jacques Ellul wrote: “Politics is the church’s worst problem. It is her constant temptation, the occasion of her greatest disasters, the trap continually set for her by the prince of this world.” In rallying round Mr. Trump, evangelicals have walked into the trap. The rest of the world sees it. Why don’t they?