Today’s second question comes from Sandi, who wrote: “I’ve really tried to connect the dots and find I cannot: Evangelical Christians overwhelmingly voted for Trump – why? Do you know what in the world the ‘attraction’ was?”
This is a difficult question to answer since I do not define myself as an Evangelical Christian. In trying to respond to the question, I run the risk over-generalizing about a community of which I’m not a part. I also run the risk of resorting to stereotypes in trying to address the question. Nevertheless, I will share two observations in response to your questions: one specifically focused on the community you referenced (Evangelical Christians) and one focused on a more general audience that I believe includes many Evangelical Christians.
For much of the past 4 decades, many Evangelical Christians have been motivated by two social issues: abortion and gay rights. As a voting block, they have tended to support those candidates and parties that vote to restrict (or even end) legal access to abortions. They also tend to support those candidates and parties that vote not to extend the same rights that opposite gender loving folks have (i.e. marriage rights, employment rights, adoption rights, etc) to same-gender loving citizens.
Because of their laser-like focus on these two social issues – and their additional work to do other things, such as erode the separation of church and state and emphasize the religious freedoms of Christians over and above the religious freedoms of other groups – such as Muslim citizens – they tend to vote for whatever candidates supports these issues. They will often overlook personal aspects of a candidate – as long as the candidate is “right” on their issues. We saw this, for instance, in the Presidential Election of 1980 when many Evangelical Christian voters voted for Ronald Reagan – even though their vote allowed him to become the first US President who had been divorced in US History. Many of these Evangelicals strongly believed that divorce is a sin. That precedence is one reason why I believe it wasn’t hard for some Evangelical voters to vote for Mr. Trump this past election cycle – despite the fact that in his personal life he had said and done things that would have been morally objectionable to them on a personal level.
The second reason I think Evangelical – and millions of others – voted for Trump is that these candidates felt as if those who had held certain positions did not understand people like them. These leaders did things (i.e. expand access to affordable health care and allow the courts to legalize marriage for same-gender loving people, etc.) that they felt they could NOT support. Consequently, they felt it was time to elect someone to whom they could relate to: someone such as a person who starred in a weekly television show beamed into their living rooms that bluntly said things to which they could relate).
Those are just two jumping off points. There are dozens and dozens of other reasons: some of which you might want to offer as well below in the space for comments.
There are two things I would like to say that fall slightly outside the purview of the questions – but I think are related.
First, I think there is an important shift occurring within the Evangelical Christian community. After decades of focusing primarily upon the contentious social issues of abortion and gay rights, Evangelicals are beginning to broaden their areas of interest. More and more Gen X and Millennial Evangelicals are fighting to address issues of poverty and environmental concern. I believe this seismic shift will create new relationships, and that in the next few elections you will see Evangelical Christian voters begin to vote for candidates and parties that they – and especially their parents – would have never considered in the past. It will take time, however, for this to show up in the voting behavior – since older Americans are more likely to vote than younger Americans.
Second, I think the past election was an important wake up call for Progressive individuals (be they spiritual or political). The wake up call is this: many in the General Public believe that we Progressives often conduct ourselves in ways that reflect the prayer of the Pharisees in Luke 18:11. They see ourselves self-righteously running around saying, “Thank God I’m not like THOSE ignorant people who aren’t like me and don’t get it!!!” They think of us as elitists who look down our noses at “them”. I can understand why some of them might feel that way.
So what do we do about this perception?
We get better at building relationships with (and BRIDGES to) those who see things differently than we do. By building trust, we can help them get to see us (and our positions) as viable alternatives. It allows people of all stripes (including Evangelical Christians) to move away from “either/or” thinking, toward “both/and” thinking.
In closing, let me just say this. As a Christian who takes the values of Jesus seriously, I am extremely concerned about the days that lie before us. I also feel a tremendous sense of optimism in that I think we as a nation have gotten a collective wake up call that we needed. We Progressive Christians can no longer be apathetic and simply assume our leaders will support values and programs that we understand to be reflective of Jesus’ nature. Now we MUST articulate those values clearly (and in doing so help our Evangelical sisters and brothers see how these values are biblical and reflective of Jesus), build relationships with those who see things differently than we do, and work together to find creative solutions to problems that transcend the “either/or”, “Republican/Democratic” perspective.
So what about you? What do you think?