In a recent article for USA Today, political pundit Kirsten Powers argued that conservative white evangelicals support Trump “because they are mad that they can’t impose their worldview on the rest of the country, whether it relates to gays and lesbians, transgender people and non-whites.” Far from being an expression of fidelity to Christianity, such support is merely pragmatic and indeed wrongheaded. “This is not about God. It’s about power.”
My concern with Ms. Powers’ article is that she offers a cynical, reductionist, and condescending generalization of white evangelical support for Trump.
First, the objectification of political intentions is always rather tricky. This is because of the enormous discrepancy between the intentions and experiences of different people and the political process itself. For example, I know Christians who are voting for Trump because of concerns over Supreme Court appointments, others are drawn to his business and managerial experience, still others are concerned about jobs, while others reply with the ‘anyone but Hillary’ refrain, and on and on. When a single meaning or intention is superimposed on all political participants, the individual is left out of the theoretical explanation; not a very liberal thing to do.
To the extent that political power is the object of concern, Ms. Powers’ critique is hardly novel; the religious right has been faulted for its power-hungry pragmatism since its inception in the 1980s. And while its strategies, objectives, and tactics certainly warrant scrutiny and perhaps even scorn, its concern for the political arena is a historically Christian one. From its earliest moments, the church affirmed that Christ was supreme over all earthly powers, that he had in fact conquered sin, death, and the devil, and has thus placed every earthly authority under his rule and reign. This unwavering belief was highly effective in radically redefining the nature of kingship and civil government in Christ-centered terms over the course of 1,500 years in the West. Indeed, our republican form of government and notion of religious liberty were fruits of the Reformation.
I therefore fail to see the infidelity in seeking to align political authority and Christian standards and norms into some kind of congruency. Powers may see this as ‘imposing our worldview’ on others, but I’m curious as to the worldview she uses to fault Christians for this? As the Supreme Court sanctifies abortuaries, as bakeries are harassed and threatened for not celebrating sodomy, as grown men are allowed to use the same bathrooms as prepubescent girls, and as police officers are gunned down by black nationalists, many Christians have come to the conclusion that there is always going to be a worldview which reigns supreme over our society; and they simply think that the current politically-correct one stinks.
In terms of supporting Trump, Ms. Powers fails to consider that perhaps evangelicals are less concerned about Trump’s lack of traditional values than they are about a supposedly conservative political party that has so inadequately protected and preserved those values. Under the current leadership of the GOP, we have seen traditional conceptions of life increasingly snuffed out by an aggressive secularization that is in effect redefining everything. And while Trump’s own personal example may fall short, many believe that his proposed economic nationalism provides a plausible paradigm by which traditional moral values, which most certainly ought to concern faithful Christians, can actually be protected and preserved.
Consider Ms. Powers’ citing of stats suggesting that a majority of white Christians are disposed disparagingly towards immigrants, bothered by those who speak little English, and perceive white people as currently experiencing discrimination comparable to minorities. She follows with the question: What do these attitudes have to do with Christianity? “Nothing,” she boldly asserts.
But a number of Christians I have spoken with consider unfettered immigration as indicative of a wide-open border, and border security is not nothing; historically it falls under the just use of force, which is itself well represented within the Christian tradition. Moreover, a number of Christians recognize that open borders tend to mean open values. Many see the failure to learn English as indicative of a dismissing the very culture and value system that attracted immigrants to America in the first place. By pledging to enforce border security, Trump is the one candidate who is committed to resolving this erosive trend.
And lest we think that there is an inherent animosity between white Christians and immigrants, we need to consider a recent Pew Research Center study that found conservative evangelical denominations to be more racially diverse than their liberal mainline counterparts. And evidence is mounting that the prolife message is in fact a major incentive moving women, Hispanics, and millennials into the Republican Party. As of June, Trump’s support among Hispanics was just four points behind Hillary’s.
Furthermore, when so much of the media turns to the intellectual and moral incoherence of Black Lives Matter to define and delineate what is and is not racism, why shouldn’t whites be confused over the standards of racial discrimination? In light of the recent overtures passed by the Presbyterian Church of America, a predominantly white denomination, consternation over perceived white discrimination doesn’t discount a concern for racial reconciliation; it discounts a secular racial logic that substitutes political correctness for justice and equity. And no major political figure has declared war on political correctness like Trump.
Regardless as to whether a Christian supports Trump, I see little justification to disparage those who do with cynical and reductionist generalizations. For right or wrong, what matters to a significant number of Christians is that Trump stands up as one of them, and has declared an end to a number of public policies that many believe have contributed inordinately to the moral degeneration of the nation.
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