For God, country and Trump

Why do conservative evangelicals continue to support Trump?

Artillery Row

The Bible is full of mysteries, and so are many of the people who follow the teachings of the holy text. It’s otherwise somewhat difficult to understand how Donald Trump still enjoys most of the 81% of white evangelical support he had four years ago, as well as that of tens of millions of conservative Roman Catholics. The latter figure is particularly significant in that the Catholic vote was traditionally part of the grand Democrat coalition. The Democrats know this all too well, which is why at their recent national convention the words God and faith were mentioned more often than at a Pentecostal holiday camp. It was jarring to non-American ears but even to seasoned US-watchers the emphasis on Christianity was surprising. Biden and his people were reaching out not to the new American left but to the old American religious.

The inescapable fact is that whoever is going to win the Presidency in November has to sway the Christian vote, and that’s a complex entity. Black evangelicals, progressive Catholics, and mainline Protestants vote Democrat. But it’s the rest of the church, the majority, who have to be swayed. Trump will always have most of them, but for him to lose the race his rivals have to convince just enough of this powerful voting bloc that Jesus doesn’t wear a MAGA hat.

Trump’s rivals have to convince this powerful voting bloc that Jesus doesn’t wear a MAGA hat

The litany of issues that concerns the faithful is eclectic. Religious freedom, or at least their version of it. Gun rights, for they see militant self-reliance as a biblical virtue. Support for Israel, not because they’re philo-Semitic but due to an eschatology that looks to an end times war between Israel and its enemies. LGBTQ2 issues, which they know they’ve largely lost but still dispute. But most of all: abortion. Indeed the centrality of this subject is vital, which is intriguing in that it’s not specifically mentioned in the Bible and Jesus doesn’t address it at all. But conservative Christians have reduced and crystalized the political essence of their faith into what they see a struggle to preserve the innocent and unborn. A politician who is “pro-life” will be forgiven almost any other failing. Donald Trump grasps this, which is why he was the first President to speak at the enormous March for Life in Washington, champions the anti-abortion movement at every opportunity, and promises even more if he’s re-elected. The fact that he was pro-choice until very recently is either ignored or explained away. Conversion on the road to the Oval Office.

It’s simplistic of course, and even angering in that when abortion is restricted or criminalised it merely obliges women with means and money to travel to another state or jurisdiction, and pushes poorer women further into penury. Many politicians, many people, would like to see abortion rates drop and this has been achieved by providing affordable and universal daycare, freely available contraception, modern sex education in schools, reductions in poverty, and further equality for women. Most of these policies, ironically, are opposed by the very people most vehemently opposed to abortion.

Personal convictions matter less than anti-choice hyperbole

But it won’t do to simply dismiss conservative Christians as being ignorant or gullible, in spite of the oft-quoted comment from Christian academic Mark Noll that “The scandal of the evangelical mind is that there is not much of an evangelical mind.” There is a thoughtful strand within evangelicalism, and the more sophisticated realise that Trump exhibited little interest in religion before his election and, in all honesty, no authentic personal commitment since. They’re also aware of his ugly comments, divisive policies, and deeply questionable personal behavior, but here is where the plot thickens. Trump-supporting Christians have developed a theory of comparison, where the President is considered the new Emperor Constantine, or the modern equivalent of the ancient King Cyrus. It may seem bizarre but this analysis is now common in right-leaning Christian circles.

Constantine was Roman emperor in the early fourth-century, the first to convert to Christianity, whose official tolerance and support for the faith allowed it to spread exponentially. That it may have become diluted or even distorted because of this is immaterial to the Trumpers. History isn’t entirely sure when Constantine himself became a Christian, and it could even have been as he was dying. The point, however, is that he was an extremely flawed man who nevertheless made the expansion of the church far more achievable.

Persia’s King Cyrus II ruled a massive empire 2,500 years ago. He could be cruel and brutal, but he also allowed the conquered Jewish people to return to Jerusalem to rebuild their temple, which is chronicled in the Old Testament, the Hebrew Scriptures, that evangelicals in particular hold so very dear. Israel’s Haaretz newspaper, puts it thus:

Trump was already a hero to a wide swath of evangelicals but the role he’s playing in what many believe is the fulfillment of divine prophecy has gotten him promoted to king for some of them – an ancient Persian king to be precise. For his willingness to confront conventional diplomatic wisdom, shrug off dire warnings of triggering Middle East unrest and declare Jerusalem Israel’s capital, Trump is increasingly being compared by evangelicals to Persia’s Cyrus the Great.

Lifesite is one of the most influential conservative Christians media platforms in North America. It argues that:

America doesn’t need a president to make arguments for us. America just needs a president to give us the freedom to make our arguments without fear of being shouted down by the politically correct brigade. Whatever else you might say about Trump, he is definitely politically incorrect, and prides himself on that attribute. He refuses to back down after making controversial statements. He does not apologize for offending groups after making arguments. He stands up to the media. He is defiant in spite of being vilified by political elites, journalists, and academics.

So there we have it. Joe Biden may be a serious Roman Catholic who carries his deceased son’s Rosary in his pocket, but he is moderate on abortion and supports equal marriage. Just as with Obama’s deeply held Christian faith, personal convictions matter less than anti-choice hyperbole. The next few weeks will see the Democrats target the various groups they have to influence if they are to have any hope of taking back government. When it comes to the Christian right, their task is not impossible but they better start praying very hard indeed.

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