Donald Trump is immodest, arrogant, foul-mouthed, money-obsessed, thrice-married, and until recently, pro-choice. By conventional standards, evangelical Christians should despise him. Yet somehow, the Manhattan billionaire has attracted their support. At least 37% of the white evangelicals. The support by Latino and African-American evangelicals is very small.
What then is the basis for white evangelical support? I think there are several factors: Trump is the anti-establishment candidate. White evangelicals feel like outsiders too. While this group votes overwhelmingly Republican they feel that their party has taken them for granted and that things need to be shook up. Trump is shaking things up big time.
Many are also attracted to the anti-immigration stance of Trump. They look around and see an increasingly non-white world and it makes some fearful. For some this is simple racism (which Trump voices in his negative depiction of Mexicans as ‘drug dealers, rapists’). For less educated whites there is fear of competition for a shrinking pool of skilled manufacturing and non-skilled jobs. Trump offers the protection of jobs and a homogeneous white majority via a ‘huge wall’ built between Mexico and U.S.A. This will keep the scary people out (Mexicans, Muslims etc. )
Another attraction is Trump’s conspicuous wealth. Such excessive wealth plays well with those who believe in the ‘prosperity gospel’. The prosperity gospel as preached by evangelists such as Joel Osteen who preach that you will be ‘blessed’ by your faith in Jesus. By blessed they mean blessings of wealth and good health. A fancy car, beautiful home, beautiful family, good health are all signs of God’s pleasure in who you are as a follower of Jesus. This prosperity gospel is a mixture of positive thinking, capitalism, nationalism and evangelical Christianity. Mix it all together and you have Donald Trump.
Of course, many Christians, white evangelicals included, see Trump for what he is… an opportunist and merchant of fear and intolerance. We see his emphasis on consumption, misogyny and exclusion as antithetical to the way of Jesus. We think of Jesus’ words in Matthew 25: 31 – 46: ‘Whatever you do to the most vulnerable of my sisters and brothers you do unto me.’ To paraphrase Jesus: ‘When you visit someone in prison, its as if you are visiting me. When you feed the hungry, welcome the immigrant, stand up for the oppressed and forgotten…it’s as if you are doing this for me.’
Fear has a way of constricting one’s heart, mind and imagination. Trump knows this and promotes this. Fear is his path to the presidency. The anti-dote is the way of Jesus who said, ‘perfect love casts out fear’. May it be so.