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If the Johnson Amendment is repealed, pastors will be able to endorse candidates from the pulpit, which they’re currently not allowed to do, and also be more active in financially supporting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

    The Anabaptist church I attend distributed a paper titled 10 KEY ISSUES taken directly from official Democratic and Republican party platforms. The Republican Party platform was much closer to Bible teaching therefore, the Republican Party appealed to a large majority of evangelical Christians. These people and others were looking for a presidential candidate that shared their thinking on these issues. These people readily found that Trump (not perfect) and his VP nominee Pence were their kind of people. Dale Welty

    • Keith Wiebe

      I understand the Republican immigration policy of the platform was written by Kansas most hateful immigrant obsessed person Kris Kobach. I can guarantee you there isn’t anything Christian in that part of the platform and right now Trump’s courting him. Also white nationalists are jumping up and down.

  • Keith Wiebe

    The religious people keep complaining about how the media is shaping us and look what happened. The conservative hate Christian radio persuaded them to vote for the party of hate and fear. They fell for it hook, line, and sinker. I believe the evangelicals lost all witness their missionaries have taken years to develop.

    • Brian Arbuckle

      What exactly is “conservative hate Christian radio”? You seem to spend a lot of time listening to it. We have no such media in my area of the world. You believe that this medium convinced religious people to vote Democrat? I’m perplexed.

  • Rainer Moeller

    One interesting point is: There’s no general preference for Republicans in all “religious” communities. Catholics, as we saw, are rather equally divided, Jews are more Democrat (so, I suppose, are UCC).
    Thus, is the Putnam quote absurd? Are lefties wrong to feel that the religious people are the more conservative?
    I suppose, no: because WITHIN each community the more Republican-leaning persons are normally the ones more committed to their religion, and the less committed turn Democrat.
    And that’s a relation which goes beyond everything Jim Wallis or Ron Sider can change.

    • Joshua Rodd

      Indeed. Looking at electoral maps of New York City, the red districts in Brooklyn are the parts that are still dominated by Orthodox Jews.

      A more interesting survey would be one which asks people if they attended religious services last week and who they voted for; I suspect this cross-section would be overwhelmingly Trump.

      • Keith Wiebe

        And Trump is wanting to limit freedom of religion but his voters claim they voted for him because he would not limit their religious freedom. Something doesn’t add up.

        • Joshua Rodd

          I don’t think Trump ran on a general platform of “I will limit religious freedom”. He ran on a platform that he would limit how adherents to one particular religion could migrate to the U.S. Many of the people who voted for him feel that a large amount of immigration from that particular religion will indeed limit their own freedom.

          • Keith Wiebe

            I think that limiting immigrants from “one particular religion” would indeed be restricting religious freedom and if one can’t see how that might affect all religious freedom I just don’t know whether to laugh or cry. Sometimes we get what we deserve.

          • Brian Arbuckle

            Limiting immigrants from one particular religion is the actual practice of the Obama administration.

          • Jane G. Lehman

            I am pretty sure there is an insult buried in there, but for the life of me I don’t understand it. Do conservative Christians have their own fake news sites, or should I just look at Breitbart to figure this out? Jane G Lehman

          • Brian Arbuckle

            No insult intended. It’s just a statement of fact. The Obama administration favors Muslims when it comes to immigration. If you care to do a little looking you will figure it out. “Fake news”. I suppose that’s any news that doesn’t fit your narrative.

          • Paul Schrag

            It is important to distinguish between refugees and all immigrants. According the Pew Research Center, “a total of 38,901 Muslim refugees entered the U.S. in fiscal year 2016, making up almost half (46 percent) of the nearly 85,000 refugees who entered the country in that period.” However, Pew states: “Refugees make up a small percentage (about one-in-ten) of the roughly 1 million immigrants granted lawful permanent residency in the U.S. each year. Because the U.S. government does not keep track of the religion of new legal immigrants, it is not possible to say what share of all recent immigrants are Muslim.”

    • Keith Wiebe

      Let’s suppose what you said was true but why? Could it because the left leaning religious people are fed up with religion being dominated by conservative thought? Please show me some religious Christian radio that isn’t dominated by right wing types controlling it. I would say they they’re more committed to media which they can control. I sometimes listen to AFR radio at the noon hour to a talk show and their news recap. Most of their news is dominated with opinion pieces designed to discredit left leaning politicians and thought. I don’t recall once ever hearing a positive spin on anything left leaning or helping poor people and even the ACA. It’s rather disgusting to know the right is being pulled further right through propaganda of their own making.

      • Rainer Moeller

        Keith, I see that there’s a vicious circle in all that – vicious for people who try at the same time to be left and Christian. But I don’t think that this circle can be changed.

        One of the reasons: Christianity is substantially “traditional”; even if it can become fashionable again in the same way lumberjack shirts can become fashionable, that is no more than a revival of a tradition.
        On the other hand, a critical mass of the cultural Left is dogmatically “modernist” and “anti-traditional”, modernism is part of their identity.

  • Berry Friesen

    Vischer may have less explaining to do than he imagines. His brown and black skinned neighbors most certainly want jobs that pay a living wage, and they most likely are citizens/legal residents of this country. If Trump reduces the export of good jobs and reduces the supply of existing jobs from illegal labor, those neighbors will be rejoicing, not asking for explanations. And they will vote to give Trump a second term.

    By the way, this is exactly how Steve Bannon (Trump’s chief strategist) says it will work, operationally and politically.

    I’m not advocating here, just passing along information.

  • Gene Mast

    There is the premise that Trump supporters minimize his clear moral issues by voting for him and that Clinton is nearly the equivalent of the Virgin Mary by comparison. Neither is remotely true. It is ridiculous to think that Sider, Wallis, and those similarly politically aligned were ever going to vote for a conservative, regardless of the candidate’s personal moral rectitude, and were always going to support the more liberal candidate even if she finished the campaign from federal prison.

    Thus articles such as this serve mainly to allow liberals to indulge in a sort of moral preening at the expense of those Neanderthals who espouse things like traditional morality, limited government, fiscal conservatism, and rule of law and have the audacity to let such views inform their political choices.

    Almost as an aside, it could be noted that reasonable persons might find that the whole Sojourners/Soros debacle should perhaps have made Mr. Wallis a bit more reticent regarding use of the phrase “sold their souls” regarding anyone, and Mr. Longhurst less enthusiastic about quoting him in an article which also contains the phrase “moral high ground”.

    • Jane G. Lehman

      One could understand political conservatives voting for someone espusing “traditional morality, limited,government, fiscal conservatism, and rule of law.” The president-elect has not demonstrated any interest in such principles. I do not understand how limited government and fiscal conservatism (i.e. lowering taxes in order to kill social programs) are read into the words of Jesus.

      I have never read or heard anyone elevating Secretary Clinton to the status of the Virgin Mary. It seems, though, that she takes her Methodist upbringing to heart and tries to do the greatest goof for the greatest number of people. Federal prison? Please. You lose your right to sneer at the moral high ground with such statements.

      Jane G Lehman

      • Gene Mast

        As an Anabaptist, I find the very first duty of government, defense against those who would harm us, to be antithetical to the instructions Christ gave those who would follow Him. Therefore attempting to utilize the words of Christ to make a political point seems somewhat futile. There are disagreements regarding the best method to benefit the greatest number of citizens that are not addressed specifically in scripture particularly touching on the role of government. I happen to believe socialism is not the best route to full realization of human potential. On the issue of whether that makes me traitor to the cause of Christ, I suppose there may be a variety of opinions.

        On the Virgin Mary reference, I beg your indulgence of what may be termed literary hyperbole in the pursuit of making a point.

        Trump’s deficiencies as a conservative are well known. Politics is about getting the best you can and not letting the perfect be enemy of the good even if the good isn’t anything to write home about. Which makes all the consternation on the left so inexplicable. Do people actually fear for their lives? Trump is no Puritan.

        Considering the Clinton’s talent for amassing a fortune while in public service and administering a charity, Methodist theology apparently relies heavily on the divine dictum “God helps those who help themselves” which it seems they have done in spades.

        Federal prison? Not out of the question, though really to make the point that her supporters, even those who were not particularly enthusiastic, were never going to support someone who was even marginally pro-life and in favor of traditional views of marriage. Never.