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.