Archive for January, 2019

The Wall

Friday, January 4th, 2019

White evangelicals are getting a lot of attention in the larger press these days. That’s because they appear to be the most loyal demographic of Trump’s support.

I’ve posted on this topic before. Most recently, I speculated that it was Trump’s support of Christian Nationalism that could explain at least some of it.

I’ve also posted about the revisionist history that is a popular by-product of the fundamentalist belief that the founders intended this be a Christian nation. In fact, reliable historical accounts prove that their intent exactly the opposite. They realized that this experiment with democracy would fail if religion become politicized. Just as they distrusted the ability of a king to reflect the best interests of the people, they also believed the best way to get religion out of politics was to create a government with no religious preference.

So let’s dig into the question a little bit more to see if we can figure out why the white evangelical support for Trump is unwavering even as his support from other groups erodes.

White Evangelicals
The first question we need to address is why it appears to be specifically WHITE evangelicals rather than evangelicals in general, or even whites in general.

According to surveys, white evangelicals are more conservative than the larger white population on things like welfare, climate change, and immigration. 80% of white evangelicals voted for Trump in 2016. 59% of whites in general voted for Clinton. This may be the result of a fundamental fear of demographic change in general and racial resentment in particular.

Twice as many white evangelicals oppose climate change spending compared with other non-white evangelical groups. Twice as many white evangelicals oppose raising taxes on the wealthy compared with other non-white evangelical groups. White evangelicals are significantly more conservative on racial issues like Black Lives Matter or apologizing for slavery. 50% of white evangelicals believe that immigrants hurt the economy. Less than a quarter of non-white evangelicals share that belief. White evangelicals have the most negative attitudes toward immigrants of all US religious groups. That is in spite of the fact that most conservative white evangelical leaders strongly favor a path to citizenship for undocumented immigrants.

Here’s the answer that researchers have come up with.

My research indicates white evangelical conservatism correlates strongly with their perceptions (of) anti-white discrimination, even after taking into account economic status, party, age and region. Fully 50 percent of white evangelical respondents to our 2016 survey reported feeling they face discrimination that’s comparable to, or even higher than, the discrimination they believe Muslim Americans face. Those who hold this perception are more likely to hold conservative attitudes on issues as wide-ranging as climate change, tax policy and health-care reform.

This racial resentment is exacerbated by the rapid growth in non-white evangelical membership.  While 66% of evangelicals are still white, their numbers are declining rapidly.

The number of white evangelical Protestants fell from about 23 percent of the US population in 2006 to 17 percent in 2016, and only 11 percent are under 30, according to a survey of more than 100,000 Americans.

A Wall
67% of white evangelicals support building a wall. That is compared with 39% of the larger population. Here’s some additional research.

“For white evangelicals who see the sun setting on white Christian dominance in the country, the wall is a powerful metaphor,” said Jones, who has spent many years analyzing the attitudes of religious voters, and published the book “The End of White Christian America.”

Jones added that this metaphor embodies a white evangelical view of the world “as a dangerous battleground” made up of “chosen insiders and threatening outsiders,” as well as an “embattled minority trope that is rooted deep within southern culture,” such as the “Lost Cause theology following the Civil War,” and in “evangelical culture generally.”

Trump’s wall is a metaphor for the belief that Trump will protect white evangelicals from the demographic and cultural changes that they feel threaten their way of life.

On this score, historian John Fea has noted a longtime strain in white evangelical culture of “racial and religious fear” built on anxiety over immigrants, secularization, modernization and demographic change. While white evangelicals are not a monolith, Fea argues, many believe Trump is God’s vessel for “delivering them from the ‘captivity’ of the Obama administration,” so there’s little Trump could do that would “lead white conservative evangelicals to abandon him.”

As Stewart points out, some leading evangelical figures have even talked about this in wall metaphors. One such figure, who appears in the film, has declared that “America has become a nation without walls,” and that Trump will “restore the crumbling walls that separate us from cultural collapse.”

Walls appear deeply ahistorical as responses to the actual challenges to national sovereignty mounted by the facts of 21st-century globalization, Brown writes, but their overtones of long-vanished historical times are key to what makes them reassuring.

Walls have long been a metaphor for cultural strength and rebuilding community. Here’s how David Barton of the revisionist history WallBuilders movement describes it.

In the Old Testament book of Nehemiah, the nation of Israel rallied together in a grassroots movement to help rebuild the walls of Jerusalem and thus restore stability, safety, and a promising future to that great city. We have chosen this historical concept of “rebuilding the walls” to represent allegorically the call for citizen involvement in rebuilding our nation’s foundations. As Psalm 11:3 reminds us, “If the foundations be destroyed, what shall the righteous do?”

King Cyrus
There is a belief spreading among white evangelicals that Trump is a modern day version of King Cyrus.

This has been prompted by the release of a new movie, “The Trump Prophecy,” which tells the tale of a former firefighter who experienced an epiphany in 2011 that Trump would be elected president.

Analyzing the film, Katherine Stewart, a journalist who covers the Christian right, notes that it positions Trump as a modern-day “King Cyrus,” the 6th-century B.C. king of Persia who freed Jews from captivity in Babylon. As Stewart notes, Cyrus is the “model for a nonbeliever appointed by God as a vessel for the faithful,” and in the eyes of white evangelicals, Trump plays that role. In this telling, Trump is a savior figure for “Christian nationalism,” so his personal failings and misconduct are beside the point. Indeed, Stewart notes, his autocratic and anti-democratic conduct is a virtue, since it is being marshaled toward that end of rescuing evangelical culture from extermination.

Summary
To be clear, this is not an economic issue.

Economic anxiety isn’t a primary reason for white evangelicals supporting Trump. They fear losing racial status. White evangelicals’ belief that they’re the targets of discrimination – more so than other groups — influence far more than simply their votes for Trump.

While facts don’t support this fear, it remains an issue of belief just as strong as any other evangelical interpretation of the Bible. The problem is that you simply can’t argue belief.

So it doesn’t matter what the Mueller investigation turns up. Even if there is evidence that Trump committed treasonous acts, this particular group of supporters will continue to believe that God is working out His plan through Trump.

I believe that God IS working out his plan through Trump, but that His plan has no more to do with politics now than it did 2000 years ago when some questioned whether or not Jesus planned to overthrow the Romans.

As a result, I believe that the white evangelical group will face the same reckoning that every other group that confused politics with piety have faced throughout history. Unfortunately, pride goeth before the fall. Where there is great pride, as in the expectation of white privilege, the fall will be also be great.

God’s plan is simple. As the Bible tells us, God is no respecter of persons, or wealth, or influence, or privilege. His plan is that we work out our own salvation with fear and trembling. The best way to secure that salvation is to feed the hungry, give drink to the thirsty, welcome the stranger, provide clothes to the needy, care for the sick, and visit those who are imprisoned. God will judge all of us the same way. He doesn’t need our help separating the sheep from the goats. He doesn’t need a wall to carry out his plan. He doesn’t need a King. He certainly doesn’t need a president. He just needs us to love each other, listen humbly for His direction, and follow the leadings of Truth.