Uncle Don’s Cabin: Why so many Evangelicals are still Pulling for Trump

Photo credit: Kenny Wiley/First Unitarian Society of Denver

Evangelicals are jumping off of the Republican ticket like never before – a truly unprecedented exodus.  But an estimated 65% still remain faithful.  While it’s true that Trump’s strong words against abortion, Gay rights, and the most vile human being an Evangelical can imagine have left so many still swooning, two recent studies suggest that Donald Trump’s racial animus might be playing a key role in this unholy union.

Racial Bias in the Church

The Barna Group, an Evangelical polling firm based in Ventura, California recently released  the results of two surveys they conducted on racial tension in America.  Of all the groups queried, Evangelicals were most likely to believe that racism is a thing of the past, that people of color face no race-based disadvantage, and that reverse discrimination is a far more serious problem.

Evangelicals were also most likely to respond to the Black Lives Matter (BLM) movement with the phrase “All lives matter,” which Donald Trump and his congregants used to shut down a small group of BLM activists at a campaign rally in Virginia.  As an Evangelical minister of 15 years, having watched “All Lives Matter” gain so much popularity in the church, I can assure you that it has nothing to do with God, or love for humanity, and everything to do with white people responding to BLM’s appeals for justice with something akin to “Hey Black folk, you never had it so good.  Shut the hell up.”

Brooke Hempell, Vice President of research at the Barna Group, summarized their findings with the following perspective:

Our research confirms the fear that the church (or the people in it) may be part of the problem in the hard work of racial reconciliation…

More than any other segment of the population, white evangelical Christians demonstrate a blindness to the struggle of their African American brothers and sisters… This is a dangerous reality for the modern church. Jesus and his disciples actively sought to affirm and restore the marginalized and obliterate divisions between groups of people. Yet, our churches and ministries are still some of the most ethnically segregated institutions in the country…

By failing to recognize the disadvantages that people of color face—and the inherent privileges that come from growing up in a ‘majority culture’—we perpetuate the racial divisions, inequalities and injustices that prevent African American communities from thriving…

Dr. Jarvis Williams offers this lament from the perspective of an Evangelical seminary professor, and a person of color:

…I’ve learned to accept that there will be many evangelicals who will simply never get it, and they could care less whether they do. Just say the words, for example, white supremacy, systemic injustice, institutional racism, mass incarceration, or racialization in certain evangelical contexts and notice the deer in the head lights look on the faces of the Jesus-loving people to whom you speak those words. Their response of ignorance, apathy, or frustration will symbolically represent the fact that some Jesus-loving, bible-saturated Christians will simply never get the race issue.

Evangelical leaders have come out in droves to disavow Trump and his racist, violent, abusive, misogynistic persona.  Others have refused to respond to the BLM’s cries for justice with “All Lives Matter,” seeing it for the blatantly racist mantra that it is.

There are still so many who have yet to be converted.

This cross section of Evangelical Christianity might not be racist the way is a Klansman is racist, or an antebellum plantation owner – it’s more of a “What?  Me? Racist?” sort of thing, until someone cries “reverse discrimination,” or “Black Lives Matter,” then this brand of racism shows itself kin to the ages-old spirit that birthed it – one that for centuries has managed to hitch a ride on the holy heels of God’s white army.

Trump Supporters and Racism

Analysts of a recent survey conducted by The American National Election Studies have drawn a direct correlation between Trump support and racial prejudice.

On just about every measure, support for Trump increased along with measured racial animus.   … increased levels of overt racial stereotyping among white respondents — as measured by belief that black people, Muslims, and Hispanics are “lazy” or “violent” — strongly increases support for Trump, even after controlling for other factors.

In other words, If you’re a Trump fan, especially at this stage in the game, you might be harboring some less-than-Biblically-appropriate feelings towards people of color.

Maybe Trump knows what he’s doing.  Racist folk are historically fearful, angry, and not-so-highly educated.  These negative, unchecked passions could easily be used as “leverage,” the one thing Trump claims is fundamental to closing any deal.  The 2016 campaign has shown us that there’s more than enough racist energy in the US – specifically among Evangelicals – to make Trump a legitimate contender for the White House, so long as he leverages it properly.

Either way, he’s made it clear that easing racial tensions in the US, challenging systems that advance or perpetuate white privilege, and giving voice to historically marginalized/mistreated people are all issues  that  his administration won’t be tackling.  The ever-increasing cries of injustice from the Black community will continue to be met with clueless racist slogans, along with frequent reminders that there’s nothing to complain about, while we send the Muslims packing and build a wall to keep the Mexicans out.

Sadly, Trump’s vision of a shiny white America might be giving so many Evangelicals hope; and hope trumps reason every time.

17 Replies to “Uncle Don’s Cabin: Why so many Evangelicals are still Pulling for Trump”

  1. I enjoyed your post. In Seminary I took a class on multicultural counseling and I have never seen so many white people become offended at the idea that institutional racism, and white privilege are real.

    1. Really glad you were the first to comment. Many from my tribe have the perspective you’ve described. Thanx for your thoughts. I’d be interested in hearing (as would people reading this), what you think the church should be doing to heal this issue.

      1. Tough question. I think it is hard for me to answer as one of these people of privilege. I think part of the answer might be that we (the people of privilege) need to listen to people that have been disempowered. I’m not sure how we accomplish that. I think the church needs to begin by allowing voices within these communities to be elevated to begin these conversations. What do you think?

  2. I see the generational gap in these thoughts too, not that younger folks aren’t harboring these feelings, but it’s a little more…obvious…with baby boomers and older age groups. This is just personal observation and I don’t mean to blanket statement. In my interactions I sense that their borderline racist/racist remarks are primarily done in naivety; they are clueless as to how they sound or why their words are offensive. How do I be gracious in admonishing as they are a fellow believer and point out the error of their statements? They honestly believe Jesus loves everyone and every race, yet vehemently deny the idea of white privilege and pull the “All Lives Matter” card before anyone can explain what white privilege entails.

    That’s the hardest part for me. They are not self-aware, and they aren’t willing or able to see the harm. I can call them out in love, but they don’t have the ability to see it from a different perspective.

    1. Spot on. I would add, from my own perspective as someone who was raised white in the south, that there is something behind “all lives matter,” “white priviledge cluelessness,” and “Black folk just need to get their act together” that goes a bit beyond naivety. To your point however, “what can I do about it?” is the best question any Christian can ask.

  3. Mark, would it be fair to say that a big part of the problem, with “evangelicals”, has to do with being more plugged into culture, than into the Spirit and Truth? I.e., Biblical Christianity doesn’t govern an evanglical’s life as much as nationalist / secular culture does – Evangelicalism is just a badge of honor on an otherwise secularized earth suit.

    What comes to mind are the number of admonitions in scripture, to seek humility – whether it be taking the lowest seat at the banquet table and let the groom move you up, rather than take an exalted seat … or not grumbling when you’ve worked the fields form sun up for a days wage and the foreman continues hiring men for a full days wage up to sunset … where the first shall be last, the last first … husbands laying down their lives for their wives, who when that passage (Eph 5) was written, women were as possessions. A person made humble by the word of truth, wouldn’t seem to have a “white privilege” problem, you know?

    Often I see believers as living with feet in the world and in the Kingdom – or trying to at least. But the mentality that leads a believer to do that, is a wavering one – a selfish/self-exalting one always looking to either scripture or secular law to grant license to do what they want. Scripture or law/culture therefore become tools of self-validation. There are those things the Spirit, faith and scripture would prohibit, that are permitted under secular law – so the licentious person simply waffles back and forth between the 2 systems of government, church and state, feeling justified because what’s impermissible under the one, is permissible under the other.

    Would that believers take the Gospel of Christ to heart and live humbly, meekly, lovingly. These know no racial boundaries.

    1. I think that sums the problem up wonderfully. I also think that we need to start calling it out in our churches, and calling it what it is. We’ve done it a little bit in our church and it wasn’t well received.

  4. Great article. As a member of the First Unitarian Society of Denver whose vandalized Black Lives Banner is depicted in the article, I would have appreciated a notation under the pic indicated where it was from.

  5. The spectacle of Christians compromising their love for Jesus with such racial animus is very disheartening. I recently heard the term ‘Evangelo-crites’ used to describe those who fall into this category. The way they seem to see it is “we’ve had to put up with an uppity black man for many years, and now we’re asked to put up with an uppity white woman?” What would Jesus do?
    This post is an excellent analysis of what’s behind this phemomenon

  6. Thank you, realmarklandry, for dogging the issue without let up. As far as the “definition” of an evangelical, if you think about it, many “born agains” righteously require that the convert say ” the right words” to ask the Lord into their life (like they have a self sustaining guardrail around their heart and God must wait for the action of their understanding to then be “allowed in”. Please.

    The evangelical Christian movement among white middle class folks looks more like a country-club membership than it does a church of Jesus Christ, the “break-every-rule-if-love-is-involved” guy. The evangelical church today is too sanitary to be the church of Jesus Christ. Jesus would have some tables to turn over with a whip if he came back into some of those places. His recognition of any rigidity-to-love would never have set well with him.

    And you ask “what should the churches do about it?”–I think there is a clear and present danger until we start putting some gospel/Old Testament prophets back into the pulpit. We used to recruit our very best minds/orators to enter the ministry. Now they beat down the doors of IT first, settle for a mediocre career in business and then enter seminary for their second careers. Passion can live in them, make no mistake about that, but the circuitous route taken to get there must take a toll on their spirits. We need a revolution for sure–but let it begin in the church first. We must build a fire from within. And it is not likely to be very pretty.

    1. The definition of Evangelical is undergoing a massive overhaul. Check some of the links in the post, or do a search of your own, there are masses of EV’s coming out against racism. Sad but cool…

  7. This is an interesting article. Can I just say though that this kind of response is not driven from animosity, perhaps, but genuine ignorance.
    If you live your life surrounded by people who have no overt hatred for black people or people of colour it can be difficult to believe that this is a real problem.
    Secondly, there does seem to be a culture at the moment of victimhood, and one were people who strive to portray their victim credentials to in order to signify themselves as good, and transversely others as bad. I’m a woman and constantly find the bizarre claims made by feminists about the victim status of women offensive, and particularly become estranged from this movement when they appear to bully even women that don’t fully subscribe to their agenda. Not having the experience of a black person, and experiencing what I see as false victimhood of many feminists, it’s more difficult to judge the reality of BLM claims.
    Also within the BLM movement itself, as well as other social justice groups, there seems to be a lot of hatred directed at people they see as oppressors. Compare the language of Martin Luther King with many some of the movements members now. Many new justice warriors use language of wanting to “kill all white men” (I can certainly provide you links to uk people in positions of power who’ve used such language) and you can see why people are less willing to listen.
    You’re right the response to return to someone like Trump isn’t a Christian response; but without acknowledging these blocks to people’s listening I wonder how far we can heal these divisions?

    1. I get what you’re saying, but given the very “in our face” cries of racism from the Black community, we can’t really claim ignorance. Again, we blow them off and tell them to simmer down, but we typically don’t stop and say “hey, they’re rioting, they’re angry, maybe there’s something to this…”

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