It’s time to Break It Down!
As the 2016 Presidential Election season wound down recently, a counterintuitive and for many, troubling, alliance was highlighted by a number of observers. The GOP Nominee, and subsequent winner of the Election, having garnered 316 Electoral Votes (270 Electoral Votes are required to be elected President), Donald Trump, attracted the support of the lion’s share of white Americans who identify as Evangelicals. According to CNN exit polls, 80% of persons who identified as born-again or Evangelical Christian said they voted for Donald Trump. Of those polled 16% said they voted for Hillary Clinton, while the remaining 4% said they voted for someone else, or they did not respond to the question. (National Polling based on 24,558 Respondents)
Over the past 17 months I have unpacked numerous aspects of the, shall we say, unconventional means and methods employed by Mr. Trump on what we now know was his road to the White House. By and large, many, if not most of those means and methods would likely be deemed incongruous with the folkways and mores of the born-again and Evangelical Christian community.
Before I examine this oddity any further, allow me to establish (at least from my viewpoint) some of the baseline parameters of Evangelicalism, and the born-again, and Evangelical movement:
The term “Evangelicalism” is a broad definitional “canopy” that covers a diverse number of Protestant traditions, denominations, organizations, and churches. In the English-speaking world, the modern term usually describes the religious movements and denominations which sprung forth from a series of revivals that swept the North Atlantic Anglo-American world in the eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries.
The concept of evangelism—revival-codified, streamlined, and routinized by evangelists like Charles G. Finney (1792-1875)—became “revivalism” as evangelicals set out to convert the nation. Post World War II, changes in American society wrought by powerful forces such as urbanization and industrialization, along with new intellectual and theological developments, began to weaken the power of evangelicalism within American culture.
In the 20th century evangelicalism still held the status of a pervasive American “folk religion.” This is particularly so in many sectors of the United States, especially the South and certain areas of the Midwest.
- Evangelical Christian
An Evangelical Christian is a Protestant who spreads the Gospel. In recent decades the term has narrowed to designate a white conservative Protestant, usually with a belief in the inerrancy of scriptures. “Evangelical” includes Fundamentalists.
Fundamentalism” is not an organization but a style of religious activism:
- Fundamentalists are fighting evangelicals taking on mainstream religion.
- Most Fundamentalists believe in Dispensationalism (which most Calvinist Evangelicals reject).
- The largest Evangelical church is the Southern Baptist Convention, which is largely Fundamentalist.
- Also important is the Missouri Synod Lutheran Church, which is both Fundamentalist and Lutheran.
There is no single accepted way to define who is an Evangelical. Pollsters often pose the query, “Are you a born-again Christian?” to define the group. Sociologists tend to look at membership in specific denominations, and often include the Holiness Movement, Pentecostal and Nazarene groups. Some scholars focus on the Bible beliefs, together with a personal commitment to Christ.
Christian researcher and author George Barna defines “Evangelicals” as a subset of those who meet the basic criteria defining born again Christians, but who also meet several other doctrinal conditions. A distinction is then enabled to be manifest in other areas of faith beliefs.
That is a lot of preamble to lead to what I consider an inescapable conclusion. To wit, Donald J. Trump is an unlikely candidate to be embraced, endorsed, and ultimately adopted by anyone who wears the label Evangelical. At least, that would seem to be the case at first blush. However, deeper inspection reveals there is a dark, and frankly, nefarious association between Southern Evangelicalism and racial enmity…racism, if you will.
The Rev. Dr. William J. Barber II recently penned an essay on Evangelicalism that appeared in a number of publications, including this past Sunday’s early edition of the Washington Post. Rev. Dr. Barber is the Pastor of Greenleaf Christian Church (Disciples of Christ), in Goldsboro, NC, a North Carolina political leader, national board member of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) and chair of their Legislative Political Action Committee. He is President of the NAACP’s North Carolina state chapter, the largest in the Southern United States, and the second largest in the country. Since 2007, Rev. Dr. Barber has been leading “Moral Mondays” civil-rights protests, usually in North Carolina’s state capital, Raleigh.
You can get the sense of the thematic tenor of the essay from its title, “The Racist History of Southern White Evangelicalism and the Rise of Donald Trump.” It is natural to want to believe that racism and Evangelicalism or Evangelical Christendom are antithetical. Of course many of the folks who marveled at the verbal stylings of Donald J. Trump on the campaign trail could naturally have thought the same thing about any perceivable relationship between Mr. Trump and Evangelical Christendom. Apparently, if they did, they were wrong.
In the essay, Rev. Dr. Barber points to Franklin Graham’s (son of the Rev. Billy Graham) response to Donald Trump’s victory. As he noted, Graham said:
“Political pundits are stunned. Many thought the Trump/Pence ticket didn’t have a chance. None of them understand the God-factor… While the media scratches their heads and tries to understand how this happened, I believe that God’s hand intervened.”
Barber credited Trump with believing that racism in its most raw and most overt form is anathema. And yet he (Graham) thanks God for the same triumph that white nationalists/Alt-Right members celebrate because he (Graham) is an heir to a religion that accommodated itself to slavery in America, and that has morphed over and again for a century and a half to fuel every backlash against progress toward racial justice in American history.
In its most recent iteration, the squishy foundation and framework of Evangelicalism and its nexus to among other things, bigotry, sexism, and yes, racism runs directly through Donald Trump. In his voluminous tawdry exhortations, and angry tweets and retweets, he has managed to excite and attract an eclectic mix that includes, the KKK, the Alt-Right, and oh yeah, Evangelicals, AKA the Religious Right.
Mr. Trump kicked off his campaign Tuesday June 16, 2015, promising to “Make our country great again.” Fairly quickly he went all in on Mexicans, saying:
“When Mexico sends its people, they’re not sending their best. They’re not sending you. They’re not sending you. They’re sending people that have lots of problems, and they’re bringing those problems with us. They’re bringing drugs. They’re bringing crime. They’re rapists. And some, I assume, are good people.”
Not long after his kickoff Mr. Trump upped the ante by claiming he would build a wall on the Southern Border. I suppose, to put a cherry on top of that, he added, and Mexico will pay for it. Soon to follow, he suggested a ban on Muslims entering the country, and for good measure, added that Mosques should be “monitored.” Keep in mind, all this with a backdrop of Trump unofficially launching his campaign by effectively becoming the voice of the Birther Movement, in which he not only argued that President Obama, the nation’s first Black President, was not born in America…but, also that he was a Muslim.
In Barber’s essay, he posits that God did not intervene in Mr. Trump’s election, but quickly injects, the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association did. He noted that Graham spent $10 million in 2016 to promote a backlash against President Obama in God’s name by organizing prayer rallies in all 50 states. In concluding his national tour in North Carolina, Graham, standing on the steps of the state capitol, told thousands assembled that they need to know the true name for those who call themselves progressives: atheists. In essence, Barber added, sadly, Franklin Graham believes that a God who does not bless white America’s fear and nostalgia is no God at all.
For his part, Mr. Trump left a trail of incendiary assertions, allegations, and claims. I have included below a less than exhaustive list of Mr. Trump’s comments, including him saying:
- Mexicans are thugs and rapists
- We should ban Muslims
- “The blacks”
- “The blacks” are living in hell (as he allegedly attempted to secure black votes)
- What the hell do you have to lose (also while purportedly seeking black votes)
- He didn’t mock a disabled journalist…after he did
- The media and the electoral system are rigged
- McCain is not a war hero
- Thousands of Muslims in NJ celebrated 9/11
- Obama is a Muslim
- He could walk Down 5th Ave & shoot someone & not lose any votes
- If he wins he’ll lock Hillary up
- He will repeal & replace Obamacare…with something terrific
- He’d be dating his daughter if he wasn’t her father
- Said not paying taxes made him smart
- Said he knows more about the military than the generals
- Said multiple bankruptcies means he knows how to work the system
- He get his military strategy from TV
- A judge was unqualified due to his Mexican Heritage (Indiana born)
- Grab ‘em by the genitals (using a crude term)
In my own foray across the Rubicon that separates me from understanding the religious and ethical basis of the relationship between the Evangelical community and Donald J. Trump, I found one person who gave me his earnest appraisal of why he…and presumably Evangelicals like him, supported Mr. Trump. His answer was pretty basic. He stated that he believed the Supreme Court (SCOTUS) is crucial, and that Mr. Trump will appoint Pro-Life jurists to the SCOTUS. He rationalized that Pro-Life trumps (pun intended) everything else. Full stop.
I believe that is his personal bottom line. I also believe that Make America Great Again is a dog whistle, and that the open and enthusiastic support of the KKK/Alt-Right of the GOP Nominee and winner of the election is not just a rarefied, inexplicable coincidence. It was cultivated, it was earned, and it should concern every individual who claims to believe in the principles and tenets embedded in the Bible. Until Evangelicals make a straight forward repudiation of the KKK, the Alt-Right, and the speech and behavior of Donald Trump that inspires their allegiance, I find it difficult, no, make that impossible, to simply permit them to wink and nod and act as though this charade is OK. I will hold them personally responsible for their actions, or lack thereof, in this matter. It is what it is, and I for one will not pretend it’s otherwise. It is…“Southern White Evangelicalism and Racism: A Compelling Intersection!”
I’m done; holla back!
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