Donald Trump was the resounding choice of white Christians
who identified themselves as evangelical or as born-again. According to exit
polls from the November election taken by a consortium of ABC News, NBC News,
CBSNews, CNN, Fox News and the Associated Press, fully 81% of white
evangelicals voted for Trump. Only people who identified with the Republican
Party voted for Donald Trump at a higher percentage. Why? What did he stand for
that attracted them so strongly.
Reverend James Dobson, the founder of Focus on the Family and Family Talk
radio, summed it up most succinctly. He identified three factors: “the sanctity
of human life, the Constitutional guarantees of religious liberty that are
being shredded , and the promise by Mr. Trump to appoint pro-life justices to
the Supreme Court.”
and third of these are the same point: candidate Trump promised to advance the
anti-abortion cause and move to prevent more abortions. The second point refers
to Christian opposition to the legal advances made in gay rights in recent
years and the steps that have been taken to require everyone to obey the law.
In particular, it refers to Christian businesses being sued for refusing to
sell their products to gay couples (e.g., wedding cakes) and to government
officials who refused issue marriage licenses to gay couples.
this is not the first time that opposition to abortion and gay rights has
motivated evangelical voters. When Richard Nixon ran for the presidency after
the 1973 Roe v. Wade decision legalizing abortion, he saw it as an issue that
could favor Republicans and led his party to emphasize its opposition. Later,
in 1979, Jerry Falwell and other evangelical leaders founded an organization
called the Moral Majority.
the Moral Majority lasted only 10 years, it paved the way for the entrance of
evangelicals into political activity. For decades prior, evangelicals as
evangelicals had largely stayed away from politics because politicians did not
engage with matters that concerned them, such as preaching the gospel and
evangelization. Falwell’s organization provided a way for these Christians to
see their concerns in “secular” political terms that encouraged them to get
involved and to vote.
Majority’s platform emphasized three issues that still resonate today:
traditional family values, opposition to abortion and opposition to gay legal
rights. While most of the organization’s members and contributors were
believers, the platform deliberately left out the Christian emphasis on the key
teachings of Jesus, in particular, communicating the gospel and salvation, and
helping the poor and downtrodden.
issues emphasized by the Moral Majority were key issues of the 2016 election,
more than 25 years after its demise. All three swirled around Donald Trump. On
the one hand, Trump made clear his opposition to abortion. He said many times
that he opposed gay marriage equality, although he was less consistent on that
other hand, perhaps the most problematic aspect of Trump for evangelicals was
his failure to live up to the picture of a traditional family man or to
biblical expectations of a somber and mature male leader of society. It was not
just that he had been divorced three times and had committed adultery, it was
that his speeches and ongoing “tweets” were often contrary to Christian
expectations of moral behavior—especially with regard to his treatment of women
and those who opposed him.
It is clear
from the vast majority of votes Trump received from evangelical Christians that
in the end this last concern was less important than his position on abortion
and gay rights. Evangelicals did not want him to represent Christianity and its
beliefs, but to be their champion in the opposition to abortion and to gay
During the coming
years, it will be interesting to see how matters play out. Will Donald Trump
deliver for his ardent evangelical supporters? Will he come to be seen as their
representative, whether as a champion or as a tarnished man? Will the future of
evangelical Christianity be strengthened or weakened?
evangelicals should be congratulated for voting on principle rather than
“identity politics.” After all, the Christian in this race was Hilary Clinton,
a person who attended church all her life, taught Sunday school for years, and
who regularly sought God’s guidance through prayer, both in private and with
colleagues and staffers.