Evangelicals ready to back Trump in November
White evangelicals vote overwhelmingly Republican. But this year they will not be supporting one of their own.
Many evangelicals are understandably uncomfortable with Donald Trump. Evangelical leaders recently met him with an official objective to listen, but their endorsement seems likely. Most evangelicals appear ready to back Trump in November.
Doing so would have been seen as veritable apostasy not many years ago. Yet supporting Trump arguably demonstrates a new maturity for people who once seemed to seek salvation through politics.
Starting with Ronald Reagan’s election in 1980 the Religious Right has provided the Republican Party with reliable foot soldiers. Many preferred to vote for someone who shared their faith. Every election candidates for various offices would proclaim their commitment to God and personal relationship with Jesus.
The pressure to conform was strong. Even when the uplifting stories were true, they seemed more appropriate for a revival meeting than political rally.
Moreover, personal faith isn’t very relevant to the secular duties of civil office. How to stop North Korea from building a nuclear weapon or improve education for the poor? Being doctrinally sound doesn’t help one figure out the answers to these and other policy questions. Moreover, the very act of using one’s faith for political gain appeared to violate Christ’s admonitions to pray and give without fanfare.
The campaign this year turned out far differently, however. Most striking is the fact that the opponent who triumphed at the end was Donald Trump. Admittedly, the latter did best among those whose church attendance was less frequent, but by the end he was carrying most everyone’s votes. And he picked up some significant evangelical support, including from Jerry Falwell Jr.
The Donald tried to act like an evangelical, but his efforts were risible. The reason many religious Christians supported him apparently was to gain a tough champion against an increasingly hostile culture and politics. “We’re going to take care of you,” Trump recently promised evangelical listeners.
Washington Post columnist Michael Gerson complained that evangelicals “will bear, if not the mark of Cain, at least the mark of Trump.” But is that really worse than the mark of Bush, who started an unnecessary war which resulted in the deaths of thousands of Americans and hundreds of thousands of Iraqis, destroyed that country’s historic Christian community, and unleashed murderous Islamist forces which culminated in the Islamic State?
Unfortunately, competence, wisdom, and vision do not always coexist with character. Evangelical support for Trump suggests that believers at least are asking the correct question: who would make the best president, not parson or moral model.
The role of Christians in civil government should be the same as of their neighbors. Serve one’s community, respect the Constitution, defend the nation, promote a better world. Not deliver the Kingdom of God on earth.
Participating on the same terms as other people might help dampen the perennial conflict over the role of faith in politics. If Christians are seen as simply desiring to build a better future for everyone, rather than hoping to take over the state to advance their faith, even the unchurched might have less anxiety.
If Trump’s candidacy helps normalize the political role of religious believers, then at least something positive might result from this horrid election season. In which case God will have brought at least some good out of these worst of circumstances.
Doug Bandow is a senior fellow at the Cato Institute.