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

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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.

Action Required

Imagine yourself a Black man somewhere between the ages of 17 and 50, being pulled over by a police officer, believing that the chances you’ll be shot in the next 15 minutes just went up astronomically.  That police officer will most likely follow protocols, asking you to do some really simple things, things a 4 year-old could do.  But now your mind is in “fight or flight” mode – you’ve lost some ability to behave rationally – following simple instructions just got harder.  How will the officer respond to your agitation, or your lack of compliance?  What if he’s racist?  What if he’s scared?  Or both?  You don’t know.  I can’t imagine what that’s like.

I appreciate our police force.  I live in Denver – you can’t not have an armed police force in a city like Denver.  I appreciate their courage and commitment to keep myself and my family safe.  I know from time to time there will be accidents, very unfortunate ones.  I understand that it’s common for white cops, especially those in urban areas, to have some fear of Black people.  Especially now.  The guy that just pulled you over might be as scared as you are.

However, of the unarmed people shot and killed in 2015, 40% were Black.  There’s something going on that transcends “accidents.”  You might be tempted to offer some statistics about the crime rate among Blacks in the US, blaming them for this outrageous statistic.  You might be outraged about the outrage, citing the very rare occasion when a Black cop shoots an unarmed white man and nobody says anything.  But if you’ve been responsible to study the statistics, and fail to see the injustice here, regardless of what’s underneath – racism, fear, or both – you should be outraged at yourself.

Everyone’s Problem

Ask most white people about racism in our country and you’ll get something akin to “We put that to bed,” or, “I love MLK.”  I’ve never gotten anything like that from a Black person.  From their perspective, systemic racism is alive and well in our country.  The more I study this issue, the more I find it to be true.  Either way, there’s a huge chunk of our population that feels powerless.  Now add fear.  So many of these people believe that there are armed government employees who, for whatever reason, are likely to shoot them for the slightest infraction.

Regardless of where you stand, understand the negative effect this will have on our world if unarmed Black people continue to die in outrageously disproportionate numbers at the hands of our police.

If we don’t deal with injustice, we will very quickly find ourselves victims of it.

If you’re a religious person, especially one that gives some weight to the Bible as I do, there’s another layer to this.  There’s an episode in the Old Testament where God sends messengers to His people, begging them to cease whatever injustices they’d embraced, and if they didn’t listen, they’d be punished.  Really punished.  They didn’t listen.  They weren’t slapped on the wrist, or infested with frogs, they were removed, all of them, to enemy countries, to places where they’d now be the victims of injustice.

If we do nothing, this problem will actually go away, sort of like forest fires go away – when there’s nothing left to burn, problem solved.

I dare you – attend an event hosted by your local Black Lives Matter chapter and get to know a few people there.  Listen to them.  Engage.  I know, the internet’s crawling with all manner of vitriol for this movement, but don’t listen to what others say about BLM, go hang out with them and judge for yourself.  I have, and I’m none the poorer for it.  My wife and I have made friends with BLM Denver activists.  We marched with them in the MLK marade this summer.  The most violent think BLM did during the marade was to break off from the main route, beat the mayor to the stage, and call the city to account.  He turned his back on them.  Symbolic.

These are good people, they’ve got something to say.  Hang out with them.  They’re not perfect, and yes they’re angry, and scared, but they’re doing something that we should all be part of.

My problem is that I land squarely on one side of the issue.  I’ve rubbed elbows, heard stories, mourned, lamented, and considered opinions of the people who agree with me.  If I’m to figure out my role in all of this I need to know what I’m talking about.  So I’ve been reading, watching videos and hopefully soon I’ll be rubbing elbows with people from the other side.  There are stories there, and ultimately, people.  Sure, I’ve come across some stupid stuff, there’s stupidity on both sides, but I think there’s truth on both sides as well.

Ultimately I’ll have to do something, something costly.  Problems like this will cost something to rectify.  I’m not going to excuse myself from responsibility with “Cops just hate Blacks – there’s nothing you can do,’ or, “All lives matter – BLM just needs to shut up.”  I just hope that when I get to that point of action, I have the maturity and courage to do something, and lead others to the same.