Van Ens: Pushed aside, white evangelical Christians use Trump to push back (column)
White evangelical supporters of President Donald Trump aren’t wavering. Why do they stay strong, when sex, money and fame scandalize the president’s reputation?
Evangelicals refuse to desert Trump, even when the scope and scale of alleged depraved behavior goes public. Porn star Stormy Daniels hedges but doesn’t deny an affair with Trump after his marriage to Melania. She worked at a strip club that enticed voyeurs with the banner, “Make America Horny Again.” Trump’s lawyer paid Daniels her hush money to quiet the storm.
Trump continues to go easy on Russia. A string of Russian real estate deals Trump brokered smell of laundered money. The president strikes a defiant pose as scandals swirl, chiding political enemies and declaring he alone can medicate national ills.
Why do evangelicals practice “out of sight; out of mind” regarding this distasteful conduct?
National Public Radio reported how evangelicals, once Trump’s presidential bid strengthened in October 2016, weren’t disgusted by their hero’s immorality. Prior to Trump’s presidential run, evangelicals supported the GOP “family values” slate.
After his chances of winning the presidency smelled rosy, evangelicals pinched their noses at the stench of Trump’s sins.
In 2016, 72 percent of evangelicals said, “an elected official who commits an immoral act in their personal life can still behave ethically and fulfill their duties in their public and professional life.” Only 30 percent of evangelicals thought so six years earlier.
Back then, evangelicals insisted correct doctrine included moral purity, humility and sex reserved for marriage. Trump’s candidacy shattered these cherished non-negotiables of faith. Evangelicals were less likely to say, “strong religious” beliefs are “very important” to a presidential front-runner. That fell from 64 percent in 2011 to 40 percent in the fall of 2016.
Why the sudden shift?
Evangelicals felt pushed aside in culture wars at the start of President George W. Bush’s second term in 2004. Trump makes evangelicals feel powerful again. He acts like the white savior of culture, now tainted by same-sex marriage and an abortion rights agenda.
Since 2004, evangelicals also worried they lost sons and daughters to the dark side. Their collegians returned home from school with gay friends. Too many young evangelicals spoke of same-sex marriage as a civil rights issue rather than a crusade to save the United States from decadence.
Why has the evangelical witness become synonymous with GOP politics? Trump convinces conservative Christians he can reclaim white-controlled society, thereby restoring evangelical political clout.
Stephen Mansfield, author of books on presidential Christian faith, tells why Trump wins evangelicals’ devotion, even if he doesn’t act Christian. “If religious voters wanted a traditionally religious politician (like Ben Carson, Jeb Bush, Ted Cruz or Marco Rubio), they had an entire slew to chose from in the GOP primary,” observes Mansfield.
“Why did they want Donald Trump? I think the answer is that he didn’t sound like a politician. He was angry. He was harsh — to the point of being crass — and he said, ‘Forget being nice. Let’s kick some butt!’” says Mansfield (Christianity Today magazine, “Why so many chose Trump,” Nov. 2017, p. 69).
Feeling pushed aside since 2004, evangelicals want to kick butt. They are angry their kids support same-sex marriage. They believe getting tough, harsh and brash is the only way to restore white America. An evangelical majority resents cultural slights that make them feel inadequate. Un-evangelical Donald Trump is their “savior.”
The Rev. Dr. Jack R. Van Ens is a Presbyterian minister who heads the nonprofit, tax-exempt Creative Growth Ministries (www.thelivinghistory.com), which enhances Christian worship through dynamic storytelling and dramatic presentations aimed to make God’s history come alive.