With his constant and very public moral failings dismaying voters across the political spectrum, Donald Trump has always been a polarizing candidate.
But for white evangelical Christians, a demographic that has long been reliably Republican, support for Trump — or its absence — raises questions about the very goals and meaning of the evangelical political project. For the past four years and counting, white evangelicals have been grappling with the question of whether Trump deserves their support — and under what circumstances they might withdraw it.
Now, in the wake of the Christianity Today op-ed that called for Trump’s removal from office, rifts in the evangelical community are falling into sharp relief.
The controversial opinion piece was written by now-retired editor Mark Galli, who argued that no action Trump takes, no matter how perfectly it dovetails with the evangelical agenda, can balance out his moral failings:
Trump’s evangelical supporters have pointed to his Supreme Court nominees, his defense of religious liberty, and his stewardship of the economy, among other things, as achievements that justify their support of the president. We believe the impeachment hearings have made it absolutely clear, in a way the Mueller investigation did not, that President Trump has abused his authority for personal gain and betrayed his constitutional oath… None of the president’s positives can balance the moral and political danger we face under a leader of such grossly immoral character.
The Christian Post, a rival publication to Christianity Today, responded with an editorial that characterized Galli’s take as “disdainful, dismissive, and elitist.” The piece was published as the outlet’s official stance, a reversal of their previous position, outlined in the 2016 editorial “Donald Trump Is A Scam.”
Napp Nazworth, editor and self-described “Never Trumper,” resigned last month rather than support the Post‘s official position:
I didn’t change my mind about Donald Trump, but some of the other editors did… I warned them: if you go down this road and join Team Trump, then that will destroy the reputation of the Christian Post. We had reached the impasse and I really had no other choice but to leave.
The Post certainly hasn’t gotten any less fervent in their support for Trump since then; their recent op-ed by Sheldon Roth describes Trump as “an unseen Christian”:
Politics while undoubtedly significant cannot explain Trump’s profound appeal to those who pursue salvation. In this religious struggle of the faithful, his empathic talent to excite contagious witnessing captures the hearts of believers. How could it not! He aids and abets the salvation of their souls. Donald J. Trump has Christian charisma.
With moves like his “Evangelicals for Trump” campaign (which kicked off within days of the year’s start) and his appearance at the 2020 March for Life rally, Trump is clearly trying to shore up support. Whether he’ll succeed remains to be seen, but there are indications that even voters who supported him the first time around are wary of giving him a second term.
Some evangelicals are unimpressed with what he’s achieved thus far; they say he’s failed to keep his promises to them on key issues. And even those who are satisfied with his record worry that he might veer left once he no longer needs to court the evangelical vote. Conservative strategist Shermichael Singleton explained it like this:
One thing Trump has been consistent about throughout his life is desire for acceptance. It’s an innate flaw he has — he has to be a strong man, he has to be the smartest man. I wouldn’t be surprised if he softened his stances on some issues in a way that wouldn’t totally isolate the evangelicals, but would help him rebuild a rapport with some of his old friends on the other side.
For those keeping score at home, the above words came as part of a discussion of LGBTQ rights — specifically the inclusion of sexual orientation and gender identity as prohibited grounds for discrimination. Evangelicals like Singleton can’t help but fret that, if Trump is no longer beholden to them, he might consider recognizing LGBTQ people as… y’know, people.
Just as the Devil is said to quote Scripture to suit his purposes, Team Trump evangelicals find all sorts of ways to justify their support for a known philanderer, bigot, con man, and bearer of false witness — including just blatantly ignoring the facts.
Journalist Stephen Strang (author of God, Trump and the 2020 Election: Why He Must Win and What’s at Stake for Christians if He Loses) describes him as a force for good in an anti-Christian culture whose unpopularity is inexplicable… unless it’s demons.
I think that the hatred against Donald Trump can only be explained in spiritual terms. Christians call it spiritual warfare… I think he’s been a great leader but he doesn’t get much credit for it.
For what it’s worth, Strang predicts an uptick in evangelical support for Trump in the coming months.
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