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Who are the evangelicals and why do they support Trump?

Mike McCartney

22nd January 2024

Is one of the questions about US politics that I get asked most often these days

And I guess it has something to do with knowledge that evangelicals are strongly religious, and therefore it assumed that they possess a strong- moral underpinning, and that this is in some way incongruous with supporting a man like Donald Trump.

This is not a long explanation, but comes with the help of the scholarly work by Tim Alberta.

First of all, what is an evangelical Christian? For this, we can go to The Economist:

"According to David Bebbington, a British historian, an evangelical Christian believes in four essential doctrines: to be saved a person must have a “born again” conversion experience—hence evangelicals are also known as “born-again Christians”; Jesus’s death on the cross atones for mankind’s sins; the Bible is the ultimate spiritual authority; and Christians ought to actively share their faith through witnessing and good works. Mr Bebbington’s definition, which he codified in the late 1980s, is perhaps the most widely accepted among evangelicals."

How big a group are they in the US? According to a number of opinion polls, born-again/evangelicals comprise roughly one third of the adult population. Although it is a bit out of date, there is a state-by-state breakdown here.

How can we explain the evangelical-Trump linkage? Well, like a lot of things in politics, the explanation is not straightforward. But a new book by Tim Alberta is the best explanation around. In short, Alberta argues that the "cult-like attachment" to Trump is arrived at via a belief in a kind of Christian nationalism where the USA as a country is in some way divinely blessed and Trump is the best defender therefore of the values they hold dear and that he is best placed to fight against the culture wars that have changed, and continue to change, their country. So in a sense, a large part of Trump's attraction is that he can provide salvation, and that he plays on the fear experienced by evangelicals as the demography of the USA alters.

There's a bit worth watching that I found on the US news networks here...

Some questions on the clip, from about 2:30 in.

1. How does the speaker characterize abortion for many evangelicals?
2. According to the speaker, why does investing heavily in the issue of abortion lead to viewing the red team as allies and the blue team as enemies?
3. What does the speaker suggest about Donald Trump's values and his appeal to some Christians?
4. What is the difference between the Second Amendment and the second commandment, according to one pastor mentioned in the video?
5. How does the speaker define Christian nationalism?
6. Why does the speaker argue that merging the kingdom of God with the kingdom of America is dangerous?
7. What does the speaker say about the relationship between Evangelical Christians and fear?

Correct answers:

1. The speaker characterizes abortion as an ethical, moral, and spiritual issue for many evangelicals.
2. Investing heavily in the issue of abortion leads to viewing the red team as allies and the blue team as enemies because it creates a permission structure to invest in that issue, which then leads to a polarization of political disputes.
3. The speaker suggests that Donald Trump shares none of the values of many Christians, but he is willing to fight for them in ways that no good Christian would.
4. According to one pastor mentioned in the video, more parishioners can recite the Second Amendment (gun rights) than the second commandment (Biblical commandment).
5. Christian nationalism refers to the belief that America is a covenant nation in a special relationship with God, and fighting for America is fighting for God.
6. Merging the kingdom of God with the kingdom of America is dangerous because it goes against biblical teachings and can lead to apocalyptic and existential stakes being assigned to earthly political disputes.
7. The relationship between Evangelical Christians and fear is characterized by fear of the changing demographics and politics of the country, particularly the decrease in white Evangelicals in power.

Mike McCartney

Mike is an experienced A-Level Politics teacher, author and examiner.

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