5 Reasons Evangelicals Like President Trump and 5 Reasons They Don’t

5 Reasons Evangelicals Like President Trump and 5 Reasons They Don’t

When Donald Trump announced that he was running for President in June of 2015, it would have been hard to predict that he would become the favorite candidate of evangelical Christians. Everything about the thrice-married billionaire seemed to run afoul of what evangelicals had professed to be looking for in a presidential candidate.

However, despite some detractors, the President remains popular with a large percentage of evangelicals. An October 2019 survey found that 82 percent of white evangelicals want Trump to be the Republican Party’s candidate for President in 2020, the most of any subgroup.

Here are five reasons that evangelicals love President Trump:

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1. He Refuses to be Politically Correct

I first heard an evangelical Christian decry political correctness during Bill Clinton’s first term in the early 1990s. Since then, Christians have increasingly felt like the culture is more and more hesitant to say what is true because it could hurt someone’s feelings. Then, in stepped Donald Trump. Jack Graham, the pastor of Prestonwood Baptist Church in Plano, Texas and former President of the Southern Baptist Convention, said of Trump, “He’s a fighter and he fights for things he believes in like the right to life – he’s not politically correct but he’s willing to take on the difficult issues.”

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2. He Has Promised to Protect Religious Liberty

Evangelicals have felt like they were under attack from the surrounding culture for decades and those fears have only escalated because of comments from Democratic Presidential candidates. In studying the popularity of President Trump among evangelicals, Gerardo Marti argued in the journal Sociology of Religion that he “occupies a pivotal role in forcefully affirming their feelings of being threatened and working to maintain their interests into the future.”

Robert Jeffress summed up evangelical’s thankfulness for President Trump in a recent interview about the rising number of people in America who claim no religion. He said “Leftists” have been attacking Christianity in America for “seventy years.” He said Christianity would survive the attacks, but he is not sure if America will. He argued that Americans must push back against the attacks on religion coming from the left and said, “It’s why I’m so grateful and supportive for President Trump, who wants to end these attacks on religion that have been launched by leftist courts for the last six decades.”

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3. He Has Nominated Strict Constructionist Judges

The marriage of Evangelical Christianity and the Republican Party began over the issues of abortion and increasing judicial activism. Christians believed that Republican Presidents would appoint Supreme Court Justices who might be willing to overturn Roe v. Wade and who would commit to interpreting the Constitution rather than legislating from the bench.

President Trump promised to nominate judges who would fit that mold as he ran for President in 2016 with a Supreme Court vacancy hanging in the balance. Trump even went so far as to release a list of judges he might consider if he was elected. Evangelicals who did not want to vote for Trump in 2016 were frequently reminded that they did not want Hillary Clinton appointing the next Supreme Court Justice. After President Trump won, he kept his promise by nominating Neil Gorsuch to fill the vacancy left by the death of Antonin Scalia and Brett Kavanaugh to fill the seat that came open after Anthony Kennedy’s retirement. Evangelicals know that other seats could be coming open soon and want President Trump nominating the replacements rather than a Democrat.

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4. He Works to Put America First

In a 2013 study, white evangelicals were most likely to say they were “extremely proud” to be an American, with over two-thirds agreeing with the statement. Eighty-four percent said they believe that God granted the United States a special role in history. With their intense love for America, evangelicals are likely to buy into decline narratives when they see America shrinking from the special role they believe it enjoys.

President Trump came out of the gate in 2015 with an America First message. His promise to “Make America Great Again” resonated with many evangelicals because they could remember America’s glory days and they wanted to see them return. Trump said he would build a border wall and put Americans back to work again. He spoke of the American military with great affection and talked about America like it was the greatest country in the world. People who love America as much as evangelicals do have embraced this message.

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5. He Enjoys the Support of Evangelical Leaders

When many evangelicals were not sure if they could support Trump in good conscience, evangelical leaders came out of the woodwork to rally around him. Robert Jeffress, the pastor of the influential First Baptist Dallas, appeared at rallies with Trump and expressed support for his agenda. Jerry Falwell, Jr., President of Liberty University, invited Trump to address the student body at Liberty and enthusiastically supported his campaign.

President Trump has also enjoyed the enthusiastic support of Reverend Franklin Graham since he won the Republican nomination. Graham even called for a day of prayer for the President in June of 2019 because “no president has been attacked” more than Trump has and because “the only hope for him, and this nation is God.”

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While many evangelicals remain supportive of President Trump, a number were critical of Trump before the election and others have abandoned him since his time in office began. 

Here are five reasons that some evangelicals do not support the President:

1. He Speaks Ill of Other People

President Trump kicked off his Presidential campaign by demeaning immigrants who cross the border from Mexico. Within the first couple of months of his campaign, he denigrated John McCain’s military service, opining that he likes having heroes who weren’t captured. He insulted opponents by giving them derisive nicknames and appeared to mock a reporter who suffers from a physical handicap.

Trump’s supporters love his insults, claiming that he doesn’t speak like a politician and that it’s proof that he is a fighter. However, other evangelicals respond that he is degrading our nation’s political discourse and say they cannot support someone who speaks so sinfully about other people made in God’s image. David French commented on Trump’s language in the National Review, saying, “How can I support a man who demonstrates such a breathtaking level of malice and cruelty in his treatment of his fellow citizens?”

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2. He Has Questionable Ethics

One of the chief reasons almost all evangelicals paused when they considered supporting Trump was because of his moral character. After all, evangelicals were the ones who were beating the drum for character in politicians in the 1990s. President Trump boasted of his sexual exploits, even going so far as to say that trying to keep from getting an STD in the 1960s was his own “personal Vietnam.” He has boasted of grabbing women by the genitals and faces credible reports of cheating on his wife while she was pregnant with his son. Also, the President displays a penchant for spreading outright lies and wild conspiracy theories.

Some evangelicals have rationalized their support for Trump by comparing him to King David. After all, did God reject David from being king after he had Uriah murdered? Evangelicals bothered by Trump’s questionable character have pointed out that the Prophet Nathan confronted David about his sin and that modern-day evangelicals should do the same with their current leader.

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3. He Hurts Evangelical Witness

Many evangelicals worry about how we can evangelize the culture after our open support of President Trump. Writing in the Atlantic, Peter Wehner, a senior fellow at the Ethics and Public Policy Center, said, “Nonchalantly jettisoning the ethic of Jesus in favor of a political leader who embraces the ethic of Thrasymachus and Nietzsche” comes at “the cost of Christian witness.”

Critics of evangelicals cite the statistic that 81 percent of white evangelicals voted for Trump and use it as a battering ram to discredit the Christian message. Evangelicals worry that it will be difficult to regain credibility in the public square on moral issues after supporting a blatantly immoral man.

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4. He Ignores the Least of These

When President Trump rode down the escalator in Trump Tower to announce his Presidency, he made building a wall on the southern border the focal point of his campaign. Then, after a shooting in San Bernardino, he promised to restrict the immigration of Muslims to the United States. He shrank the number of refugees who could find asylum in the United States. Evangelical critics allege that the President has no heart for those whom Jesus calls “the least of these.”

Russell Moore, President of the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention contrasted the President’s seeming contempt for immigrants with the love Christians should have for those coming from other nations. “Christians can disagree about what our exact policies should be... What we cannot disagree about would be the immigrants themselves. The Bible very clearly reveals that what we're dealing with here is not a problem to be solved, but people who are created in the image of God. And so, while a Christian may have a disagreement with another Christian about exactly what bill should be passed to address the problem, a Christian can't participate in immigrant-bashing and demonization of or mistreatment of people who are suffering around the world.”

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5. He’s the Kind of Man Evangelicals Once Criticized

In a scathing opinion piece at the Washington Post, John Fea reminds readers of what evangelical leaders said during the last Presidential impeachment in 1998. He pointed to an op-ed in The Wall Street Journal from 1998 in which Franklin Graham criticized Americans for believing “the notion that what a person does in private has little bearing on his public actions or job performance, even if he is the president of the United States.”

Fea also reprinted the words of James Dobson, who served on Trump’s evangelical advisory committee, who said in 1998 that “you can’t run a family, let alone a country, without character. How foolish to believe that a person who lacks honesty and moral integrity is qualified to lead a nation and the world!” Evangelicals who are critical of Trump point to declarations like these and wonder what changed– the indispensability of character, or our values. Evangelicals warned about men like President Trump in the 1990s, but in the 2010s they have embraced him and heralded him as the new King David.

As President Trump’s impeachment proceedings continue and the race for the White House in 2020 ramps up, evangelicals will continue to have strong feelings about President Trump. Some will continue to support him, some will abandon him, and some will dig deeper in their opposition, but all Christians must obey the words of 1 Timothy 2 and pray for our leaders.

Scott Slayton writes at “One Degree to Another.”

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5 Reasons Evangelicals Like President Trump and 5 Reasons They Don’t