I’ve been puzzled by the recent adulation given by so many evangelical voters to Donald Trump. Yesterday I saw an interview of his where he was asked what his favorite book was and he answered “the Bible.” When asked a follow-up question about whether he prefers the Old Testament or the New Testament his answer was “I like the both.” Yeah, sure.
But this is consistent with his statements from the past. This is the man who recently said that he can’t recall ever asking God to forgive him; a guy who, when asked about church attendance, said he went on Christmas and Easter; a guy who has been married three times; a guy who has made past statements supporting the pro-choice position on abortion and supported gay rights. This snarky progressive feels he has scored five of the seven deadly sins and may also have committed a sixth. He does give Trump a pass on sloth.
But what is it about Trump that makes him a favorite of so many evangelicals? Evangelical leaders don’t seem to like him. In recent survey of 100 of them he got three votes. But rank and file evangelicals don’t seem to agree. One guy laid out a six-point argument comparing Trump to Jesus. Point five was my favorite – “Like Jesus, Donald puts his cause ahead of himself.” I’m not sure Trump puts anything ahead of himself. But you get the picture; evangelical leaders don’t seem to be leading and evangelical rank and filers don’t seem to care about classic evangelical issues. What is going on here?
One possible explanation is to resort of that old standby argument that his supporters aren’t really evangelicals. We have a long and storied history of declaring anyone who doesn’t agree with us on any issue at all to really be not one of us. This usually happens because there is no universally accepted definition of what an evangelical actually is, leaving us free to self-declare as evangelicals and call others of our choosing “not one of us.” But I think we have to accept that those who support him are actually evangelicals.
Another option is that evangelicals are not paying attention yet and that, once they do, they will cease their support. I don’t think this reason flies either. The 30,000 people who showed up last week in Mobile AL knew they weren’t going to a football game; they were paying attention enough to show up.
A third possibility is that evangelicals are disappointed with politicians and don’t want anything to do with someone who looks and sounds like one. This has more validity in my mind. This is the same attitude that elected people like Jesse Ventura and it is a persistent political reality. This is also a time when many evangelicals are nervous and upset about politics and our country’s direction.
But there is one implication of that last possibility that sticks in my mind. I can’t shake the concern that many evangelicals aren’t using their faith as a guide at all, let alone on voting. Are they are ready to vote for anyone who taps into their anger and fear? It makes me wonder how serious we are about faith issues in the first place. Could it be that the vast evangelical ocean; what we used to call the Moral Majority but now probably could be called the Moral Pretty Large Minority, is a mile wide and an inch deep? Could support for Trump be indicating that the “Moral” part of those phrases is nothing more than a self-appointed title?