Neil Macdonald of the CBC recently bemoaned the continuing support of white evangelicals for American president Donald Trump.
To his credit, Macdonald was careful to say that they “are utterly unlike most Christians you’ll encounter in this country”—a refreshing refusal to engage in the persistent Canadian journalistic mistake of lumping together Canadian and American evangelicals.
Macdonald was also willing to recall his experiences among American evangelicals as “remarkably welcoming.” Still, he is understandably dismayed by evangelical leaders “venerating a president who…reflects none of the qualities Jesus is believed to have embodied.” Indeed, Macdonald writes, “It has become almost banal to recite Trump’s ugly, vulgar, misogynist, racist mendacity, and yet here he is in an official White House photo…in the midst of an ecstatic laying on of hands.”
As a scholar of evangelicalism, let’s see if I can help Macdonald and his readers with this odious conundrum.
In the American Midwest, South, and Texas, lots of people casually identify with evangelicalism because of the widespread impact of revivals throughout the nineteenth century. But these folks rarely attend church and have patently little knowledge of Christian theology. They’re no more “evangelical” than the vast number of Britons who say they’re “C of E” without darkening the door of an Anglican church except for the occasional wedding or funeral.
There yet are lots of churchgoing American evangelicals who do support Trump. Why?
Macdonald himself attempts two explanations: “Trump is the white evangelicals’ version of V.I. Lenin’s useful idiot, a character who is helping achieve their apocalyptic fever dreams, but who will perish along with the rest of us as the faithful perch in the clouds. Or the white evangelical version of Christianity is a darker, uglier thing than the smiles and the welcoming hugs and the blessings would have you believe.”
Both, however, are at least partly true. Evangelicals clearly support Trump because they generally oppose abortion and hope Trump will stack the Supreme Court with justices that will do what decades of prolife activism has failed to do: roll back Roe v. Wade.
As for racism, one can count on that being a factor, too, as it seems to be in every aspect of American life. And a much-too-high tolerance of the mistreatment of women? That ugly side of evangelicalism is still coming to light, notably in almost-monthly revelations in its biggest denomination, the Southern Baptist Convention.
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