What’s the next step for American evangelicals after Trump leaves? | Kiowa County Press


Many evangelical voters believe they have found a chief protector in Donald Trump. Joe Raedle / Getty Images

Stewart Clem, Aquinas Institute of Theology

Donald Trump, by his own words and actions, does not appear to be the most religious person.

He claimed he was not seeking forgiveness from God, and he once tried to put money on a communion plate. Aside from his controversial photoshoot as he held up a Bible in front of St. John’s Episcopal Church, he doesn’t seem particularly concerned with Christian symbolism.

And yet 76% of evangelical white voters supported him in the 2020 election. It is clear that evangelical Americans value more than his religious devotion.

As a Christian ethicist, I am particularly interested in how Christians seek to acquire and use political power. Why have so many Christians voted for Trump? And what are they afraid of losing when he leaves?

Many evangelical Christians are drawn to Trump’s promises to protect religious freedom. President-elect Biden, meanwhile, also pledged to protect religious freedom. But it may not be in the words of the evangelicals.

Decreasing power?

The power of evangelical Christians in the United States has never been officially sanctioned by the state. The First Amendment to the US Constitution prohibits it.

For more than 200 years, American evangelicals have relied on the cultural influence of Christianity to preserve their view of public life. And this influence should not be underestimated.

In his bestselling book, “Dominion: How the Christian Revolution Remade the World”, explains Tom Holland, “To live in a Western country is to live in a society still totally saturated with Christian concepts and assumptions.”

This is why so many people refer to America as a “Christian nation,” even though it has never officially recognized Christianity as a state religion.

Conservative Christian political organizations have been supported by the cultural capital of Christianity. In the late 1970s and 1980s, for example, the Moral Majority formed a broad coalition of Christians to advance conservative social values ​​across the country.

But this cultural capital has declined as America diversifies. Today, far fewer Americans identify as Christians than 10 years ago, and only 1 in 4 Americans identify as evangelical Christians.

Why Evangelicals Love Trump

American evangelicals, aware that their numbers and influence are in decline, have attempted to curb this decline through political means. Their highest priority is to elect leaders whose policies will allow evangelism to flourish.

Typically, this means that evangelicals prefer to vote for evangelical candidates. As conservative Christian leader Beverly LaHaye said: “Politicians who do not use the Bible to guide their public and private lives do not belong to the government.

But that’s why President Trump has been such an anomaly. He demonstrated a lack of familiarity with the Bible and basic Christian teachings. Yet his religious supporters don’t seem to care. Even among white evangelicals, only 12% think he is “very religious”.

This suggests that evangelicals today are not disturbed by Trump’s apparent lack of personal piety. They believe religious freedom is under threat and they want a president who promises to protect that freedom.

A chief protector

Evangelical Protestants are more likely than any other major US faith to believe their religious freedom is under threat, according to a recent AP-NORC poll.

Many people are intrigued by the anxiety of evangelicals about religious freedom. While it is true that government restrictions on religion are increasing around the world, this is simply not the case in the United States.

As conservative Christian political commentator David French recently argued, “Believers in the United States of America enjoy more freedom and more real political power than any religious community in the developed world. He argues that while religious freedom has always been under attack in the United States, Christians have no reason to fear that it will disappear anytime soon.

But for many American evangelicals, the threat of attack is enough to create the need for a chief protector. And President Trump has been happy to take on this role.

In 2018, he signed an executive order establishing the White House Faith and Opportunity Initiative. “This initiative aims to remove the barriers that have unfairly prevented faith-based organizations from working with or receiving federal government funds,” he explained.

Biden and religious freedom

President-elect Joe Biden has come up with his own plan to safeguard religious freedom. It articulates a number of general protections that most evangelicals would be likely to support, at least in theory.

But in Biden’s plan to advance LGTBQ equality, he offers what many American evangelicals fear:

“Freedom of religion is a fundamental American value. But states have inappropriately used broad exemptions to allow businesses, healthcare providers, social service agencies, state and local government officials, and others to discriminate against LGBTQ + people … Biden will overthrow them. Trump’s policies by misusing them. broad exemptions and fighting to ensure that no one is turned away from a business or denied service by a government official just because of who they are or what they love. “

In an essay written just before the election, Al Mohler, president of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, warned: “The main front of the religious freedom controversy is probably related to LGBTQ issues, and Biden and Harris are keen to advance the issue. sexuality. revolution on all fronts. ”Considering what the incoming president and vice-president have said on the matter, he’s probably right.

The political power of American evangelicals is in decline, and that decline would likely continue with or without Trump in power. His Supreme Court appointments have made evangelicals happy and will have a lasting impact. But changing demographics and a growing number of non-religious voters mean evangelicals will need to develop a strategy for the long term. In light of this, it may be wise for them not to devote all of their energy to electing a chief protector.

Instead, perhaps they could seek to answer a question posed by Christian ethicist Luke Bretherton: “By loving my neighbor, how can I keep faith in my distinctive commitments while forming a common life with neighbors?” who have a different outlook on life from mine? “

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Unless evangelicals manage to achieve major political victories in the years to come, they may not have much choice.

to safeguard

Stewart Clem, Assistant Professor of Moral Theology, Aquinas Institute of Theology

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

About Florence M. Sorensen

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