Evangelicals and the U.S. election

Nov 21, 2016 by

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One thing about the recent U.S. presidential election: Nobody can say religion didn’t matter.

By now the story is very familiar; 81 percent of white evangelical voters supported President-elect Donald Trump; Hillary Clinton only attracted 16 percent — an important factor since members of this group make up 26 percent of the American electorate.

A slim majority of Catholic voters (52 percent) also supported Trump, versus 45 percent for Clinton. Seven in 10 American Jews, meanwhile, voted Democratic.

Why did so many evangelicals vote for Trump? Well, for one thing, he actively courted them.

According to Ralph Reed of the Faith and Freedom Coalition, “he [Trump] went after them unapologetically, did faith-based media, and made an ironclad pledge on judges.”

Unnoticed by the mainstream media, he utilized Christian TV, radio and websites to reach evangelical voters.

These methods, says Reed, were more important than the Democrats’ vaunted “ground game.”

Then there was his commitment to being anti-abortion and appointing a conservative Supreme Court judge who might sway the court to overturn Roe v. Wade — something important for many Catholics as well.

Something that didn’t get much attention was Trump’s promise to repeal the Johnson Amendment, a 1954 law that prohibits tax-exempt organizations — like churches — from lobbying or campaigning on behalf of politicians.

If the Johnson Amendment is repealed, pastors will be able to endorse candidates from the pulpit, which they’re currently not allowed to do, and also be more active in financially supporting candidates.

Meanwhile, Christianity Today observed that the Clinton campaign largely ignored reaching out to evangelicals. And who could blame her? The U.S. seems to be getting more secular all the time, and non-religious people seem to vote Democrat.

Exit polls show that the religiously unaffiliated voted 68 percent for Clinton compared to 26 percent for Trump.

But one thing the Democrats seemed to forget was that religious people tend to be very inclined to vote. This turned out to be a significant factor in this election.

That’s all behind us now; what will the election mean for Christianity in the U.S. in the future?

The first thing to note is that while a majority of evangelicals voted for Trump, many others did not. They were appalled by his behavior, values and positions on various issues, often noting his misogynistic and xenophobic statements.

These were people like well-known evangelical author and speaker Beth Moore, who tweeted after Trump’s comments about groping women: “Trying to absorb how acceptable the objectifying of women has been when some Christian leaders don’t think it’s that big a deal.”

Added Jim Wallis of Sojourners: “Most white evangelicals don’t seem to mind they sold their souls to a man who embodies the most sinful and shameful worship of money, sex and power . . . we have never witnessed such religious hypocrisy as we have seen in this election.”

Ron Sider, president of Evangelicals for Social Action, promised that he will “challenge President Trump whenever he promotes policies that neglect the poor and favor the rich, disrespect women, neglect racial and religious minorities, and fail to protect the environment.”

As for those who voted for Trump, the big question now is how Christians in that country will be perceived by non-churchgoers following the election.

This was an issue addressed by many, including Thabiti Anyabwile, an African-American Baptist pastor in Washington, D.C.

According to Anyabwile, white Christian support for Trump has created four problems.

First, he says, “they have surrendered any claims to the moral high ground.” Second, they have “abandoned public solidarity” with groups who consider Trump a threat. Third, they have become inextricably linked to a single political party. And fourth, they have endangered their witness and mission.

Having watched evangelicals and other churchgoers moralize in public for a long time about the sins of others, their vote for Trump “creates or amplifies a credibility problem,” he added, asking why anyone should “listen to their gospel when it seems so evident they’ve not applied that gospel to their political choices.”

This was echoed by Phil Vischer, creator of the popular Veggie Tales cartoon series.

“Church, we’ve got some explaining to do,” he wrote. “How do I share the love of Jesus with a brown-skinned neighbor if I’m supporting their deportation? How do I share the love of Jesus with a refugee family if my fear prevents me from offering them help in the first place? And how do I carry the love of Jesus to ANY of the world’s brown- and black-skinned people if I’m enthusiastically supporting a man who deals in stereotypes?”

They have good reason to worry. According to Robert Putnam and David Campbell, authors of Amazing Grace: How Religion Divides and Unites Us, the rise in the number of people in the U.S. who claim no religion is due, in part, to their “unease with the association between religion and conservative politics. If religion equals Republican, then they have decided religion is not for them.”

But maybe the last word can go to Mark Silk, Professor of Religion in Public Life at Trinity College in Hartford, CT. “Donald Trump kissed up to the old religious right and reaped the reward.”

And now we wait to see what happens next.

John Longhurst, of Winnipeg, Man., is director of resources and public engagement at Canadian Foodgrains Bank. He blogs at On Faith Canada and is a faith columnist for the Winnipeg Free Press, where this first appeared.

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