I grew up in South Carolina, USA, and I currently live in Tokyo, Japan. I am well versed in religion, various cultures, and world politics.
The Evangelical Vote
For most of American history, the evangelical church did not play a major role in politics. Outside of some strong religious influences during the prohibition era, most Americans were fairly secretive about their political views, and Christians were free to vote for any candidate they deemed worthy of an office no matter what their political affiliation.
However, the rise of the evangelical vote, also known as the Christian Right, began around the Reagan administration and has become a force to be reckoned with ever since. From the 1980s, evangelicalism began to grow, and the association with several nonprofit political and issues-focused organizations gave the movement strong legs as it began to march forward.
According to recent Pew Research polls, 70.6% of Americans still refer to themselves as Christians. Among that 70.6%, we see that evangelicals make up about 25.4%, and a majority of that grouping are quite involved in politics. When it comes to voting numbers in America, the evangelical vote is not just important, but it is a crucial group of voters that can change the landscape of an election.
For perspective, according to exit polls from the 2016 presidential election, 81% of evangelical voters voted for Donald Trump, while only 16% of evangelical voters voted for Hillary Clinton. Trump's biggest wins in the electoral college came from states that had high evangelical turnouts, and Trump won the electoral college in a landslide victory.
Evangelicals and Trump
When it comes to Trump and evangelicals, many would find the relationship between the two to be quite peculiar. I mean, let's be honest with ourselves; President Trump has never been recognized for his displays of Christian love, affection, or humility. He rarely-to-never apologizes for uncouth actions, and he uses aggressive and insulting language towards his opposers on a regular basis.
So why do so many evangelicals flock to President Donald Trump? What is it about his personality and character that has struck a chord with the most influential religious group in the United States?
A Strong, No-Holds-Barred Leader
Evangelical Christians love strong leaders. Biblically, people like King David are revered not simply for their affection towards God but for their ability to fight, battle, and wage war.
Trump's ability to stand up to opposers, insult liberal leaders, and fight various news networks has inspired many evangelicals to do the same. Before the 2016 presidential election, evangelicals often complained about these very things, pointing out the flaws they viewed of atheists, liberals, and the media, but they lacked a certain punch. Once Trump entered the picture, evangelicals learned that there are more effective ways to attack these outlets than simply complaining about them.
The Trump approach is to attack them head on, and although evangelicals have little to justify this behavior, there has been a sigh of relief, the chains have been unlocked, and the punches are being thrown.
An Updated Prosperity Gospel
Another thing Trump has promised that has gotten the attention of a large base of evangelicals is money.
Prosperity gospels have been floating around for generations, and they have suckered in countless Christians over the years. Trump similarly has promised a lot of financial gain under his presidency, and it really excited evangelicals. For years, raised taxes were put in place to help better serve the nation and provide better care and resources for struggling Americans, but many conservatives are strongly against this style of government.
The idea of eliminating certain programs, particularly the Affordable Care Act, became a major priority and a strong campaign for the Trump Administration. Evangelicals will not openly admit this, but like Trump, a large desire is to keep more earned income. Seeing Trump aggressively express wanting to protect his finances has given evangelicals a similar attitude.
One Who Stands for Israel
For Christians, more so than the American Jewish Committee, a president's position with Israel is of utmost importance. When it comes to President Trump, we see a man who is clearly using Israel for political points, and he does not seem ashamed about it at all.
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Trump has spread all kinds of rumors that have stirred tension between himself and American Jews as well as siding strongly with Israel in the divisive Arab-Israeli conflict, something that has caused severe tension in the Middle East. It has even caused a lot of evangelicals to become more hostile and aggressive towards people from the Middle East or ties to the Middle East who oppose the views of President Trump. Trump even retweeted and quoted Wayne Allen Root, a conspiracy theorist and self-proclaimed "Jew turned Evangelical Christian," that he is like the King of Israel and that Israel loves him like he is the second coming of God.
This has given Trump a lot of credibility with the evangelical community, but it has also further irritated relationships with Muslim Americans. Despite the Arab-Israeli conflict being incredibly complicated, evangelicals love that Trump is taking a side, whether that is becoming of a United States president or not.
The Importance of a Wall
Another driving point within the Trump presidency is the call for a better border wall. Even before Trump took office, the accusations, name-calling, and insulting towards our neighbors to the south became commonplace, and evangelicals began to rally behind the idea of protecting our country from "drug dealers," "rapists," and "animals."
The idea of a wall has strong biblical roots, and the history of David and Solomon working towards and completing the building of the temple and its walls have heavy ties to Judaeo-Christian religions. It is assumed that keeping out bad people was the purpose of these biblical walls, but rarely do evangelicals reference the fact that the gates remained open except on the sabbath and in times of war.
At the core of this issue lies some strong and intentional barriers that prevent genuine understanding. Because of Trump's aggression towards immigrants from the south, we have seen a surge of evangelicals also villainizing, insulting, and harassing people with Central American or Caribbean heritage, often including true American citizens.
The Trump Prophecy
In 2018, right before the mid-term elections, a film called The Trump Prophecy was released. The film, created by ReelWorksStudios and Liberty University's Cinematic Arts program, compares President Trump to the first emperor of Persia, Cyrus.
The idea is that God uses ungodly people for his doings all of the time, and Cyrus, a pagan, was used to help free the Jewish population from captivity in Babylon. Trump, through the ideas of this film and many evangelicals, is being used by God very similarly.
The mentality is that many Christians do not have to be so worried about Trump's behavior, because they truly believe that God is using him to free the evangelicals from liberal persecution and "fake news." He is seen as the king that America needs, not necessarily as the king America desires.
Evangelicals Need to Become More Christ-Like, Not Trump-Like
A significant amount of the justification for Trump and evangelicals' behavior rests on the idea that it is biblical. However, the problem with something being biblical does not always mean that it is right.
From Rachael Held Evans' book A Year of Biblical Womanhood, we are reminded of some harsh truths when we use the term "biblical" to justify things:
If you are looking for verses with which to support slavery, you will find them. If you are looking for verses with which to abolish slavery, you will find them. If you are looking for verses with which to oppress women, you will find them. If you are looking for verses with which to liberate or honor women, you will find them. If you are looking for reasons to wage war, you will find them. If you are looking for reasons to promote peace, you will find them. If you are looking for an outdated, irrelevant ancient text, you will find it. If you are looking for truth, believe me, you will find it.
This is why there are times when the most instructive question to bring to the text is not what does it say? But what am I looking for? I suspect Jesus knew this when he said, “ask and it will be given to you, seek and you will find, knock and the door will be opened.” If you want to do violence in this world, you will always find the weapons. If you want to heal, you will always find the balm.
Evangelicals have found their weapons, and they are learning to wield them furiously.
This is why I propose that evangelicals and the Christian right need to revert back to the popular 1990s catchphrase, "What Would Jesus Do?" The behavior and attitude needs to be one of love, grace, and forgiveness, values that Jesus displayed in his own life over and over again. It is not about causing violence and aggression, but as Jesus showed, it is about healing and bringing life.
The term "Christian" also carries a lot of weight, too, because it literally means "Little Christ." If Christians are to wear that title around their neck, then following Jesus' teachings should take even more of a top priority.
Only then will Christianity become an honored religion once again, because there is honor in the name Jesus, there is honor in his teachings, and there is honor in how he lived his life. If evangelicals continue to idolize and mimic the behavior of Donald Trump and other leaders like him, then Christianity will maintain losing its power and become more and more obsolete over time.
This content reflects the personal opinions of the author. It is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and should not be substituted for impartial fact or advice in legal, political, or personal matters.
© 2019 Jason Reid Capp