While it’s somewhat understandable that Donald Trump is winning the support of racists and of white men in general – after all, boosting white men on the backs of everyone else is Trump’s main agenda – but one group of Trump supporters has left Democrats scratching their heads. Why are evangelicals supporting the cruel, thrice divorced philandering, thin skinned bully who clearly doesn’t know his Bible verses from passages in his own ghost written biography?
The answer to that question might be simpler than we imagine. Most self-described evangelicals simply aren’t that religious, but the fact is they identify as religious and their leaders in faith are still influential. That’s why the release of an open letter from 94 evangelical leaders is devastating for Trump’s campaign – especially after reading their blistering words.
The letter originated as a Change.org petition to Trump. The 94 leaders are pissed. They are not who Trump portrays them to be and they object to his hate.
First, the leaders spoke of diversity:
We are Americans of African and European descent, Latino/a, Asian American, and Native American. We are women and men, as well as younger and older evangelical Christians. We come from a wide range of denominations, churches, and political orientations.
Most importantly, they recognize that Jesus wouldn’t have approved of Trump.
We believe the candidacy of Donald J. Trump has given voice to a movement that affirms racist elements in white culture—both explicit and implicit. Regardless of his recent retraction, Mr. Trump has spread racist “birther” falsehoods for five years trying to delegitimize and humiliate our first African-American president, characterizing him as “the other” and not a real American citizen. He uses fear to demonize and degrade immigrants, foreigners, and people from different racial, ethnic, and religious backgrounds. He launched his presidential campaign by demonizing Mexicans, immigrants, and Muslims, and has repeatedly spoken against migrants and refugees coming to this country—those whom Jesus calls “the stranger” in Matthew 25, where he says that how we treat them is how we treat him. Trump has steadily refused to clearly and aggressively confront extremist voices and movements of white supremacy, some of whom now call him their “champion,” and has therefore helped to take the dangerous fringes of white nationalism in America to the mainstream of politics.
Donald Trump’s campaign is the most recent and extreme version of a history of racialized politics that has been pursued and about which white evangelicals, in particular, have been silent. The silence in previous times has set the environment for what we now see.
These evangelical leaders haven’t suddenly turned liberal. They aren’t supporting Hillary Clinton, but they are trying to convey to their flocks that a vote for Trump is not the alternative:
Whether we support Mr. Trump’s political opponent is not the question here. Hillary Clinton is both supported and distrusted by a variety of Christian voters. We, undersigned evangelicals, simply will not tolerate the racial, religious, and gender bigotry that Donald Trump has consistently and deliberately fueled, no matter how else we choose to vote or not to vote.
Trump’s chances of winning have all but disappeared after the release of this letter. As of just a few days ago, evangelicals were strongly in Trump’s camp, perhaps because of abortion and LGBT equality and perhaps because of his evangelical running mate, Mike Pence. Perhaps it’s just because Trump is a Republican, and evangelicals have been supporting Republicans since Reagan, but regardless of how often they go to church and regardless of how loyal they are to the Republican party, evangelicals see themselves as Christians first and to have their leaders turn, in such a startling way, from Trump, will peel enough votes to turn a potentially close race to a clear, decisive victory for Clinton.
Featured image via Jessica Kourkounis/Getty Images.