Does Trump appeal to Evangelicals because they’re Evangelicals?

Sorry updates have been a bit sporadic – they will likely remain that way because … well, because my brain is pretty scattered at the moment and writing is hard.  My cross to bear and all that, I know.

Also, I know I say this during every election, but I really do try to keep this blog as apolitical (and internationally-focused) as possible, but the US election is inevitably big news, and religion always seems to play a major role in it.

I resisted commenting to Donald Trump’s or Ted Cruz’ ‘plans’ for American Muslims, mostly because I couldn’t formulate a better response than just a bunch of angry, high-pitched screeching, and if nothing else, it’s hard to transfer that to the written word without it losing some of its impact.  I guess I could have posted a vlog, but I don’t think I’m really to go that modern yet.

However, the current discussions online center on how and why Donald Trump has won over the religious right, and that’s a discussion I feel I can enter into with actual English words, instead of just guttural noises.

Samantha Bee gave a great monologue on the topic last week, and Cynthia Burack, a political scientist at Ohio State, wrote a followup for HuffPo speculating on how Trump support has developed within Christian right circles, noting that some of the same prophetic language is now being used for Trump as was for George W. Bush in 2000.

It’s an interest point of inquiry, but unfortunately Professor Burack can only provide a couple of examples of where this new Trump-is-prophesied language has shown up.  I would also argue that she’s a bit quick to dismiss Trump’s reference to “2 Corinthians” (for non-Christians, it’s supposed to be “second Corinthians,” as in “Paul’s second letter to the Corinthians”) as representing his lack of familiarity with the Bible – however, not because the slip-up alienated him from Evangelicals, but because actually, the internet is now full of Evangelicals defending him and lambasting ‘the mainstream media’ for making such a big deal of it.  The general theme of these defenses all seem to be the same – that while it’s weird that he called the book “2 Corinthians,” the important part is that he understood the importance of the verse he cited, that true freedom and liberty come from the Lord (and baptism in the Spirit).

It seems to me a fairly weak defense, especially as, from everything I can find online, Trump doesn’t believe in second baptism.  It seems just as reasonable to assume instead that he picked the verse because it has the word “liberty” in it (or “freedom,” depending on the translation) and he was speaking at Liberty University, and running for President of the Free World (sidenote: the rest of the world actually does find it both insulting and hilarious that we call ourselves that, so we might want to stop).  So he had his staff do a google search for “Bible liberty” and that’s what came up (case in point, the chapter as a whole is definitely not talking about “liberty” in the sense of individual freedom, but rather the freedom that comes with spiritual enlightenment, as the rest of it is all about reading and understanding the Pentateuch, the first five books of the Old Testament that were supposed to have been written by Moses).

The fact that Evangelicals feel the need to defend Trump’s mistake, however, as well as the slow emergence of prophetic language being used to endorse him reveals something about why these voters are supporting Trump, which Samantha Bee suggests at the very end of her segment, that they’re support isn’t necessarily tied to their religious identity. Indeed, I’d be inclined to ask the question – does Trump appeal to Evangelicals because they’re Evangelicals?

Along with Muslims worldwide, American Christian Evangelicals are one of the religious communities most often presented as defined exclusively by their religious identity.  In the case of American Evangelicals, it’s not hard to understand where this characterization comes from – they often go out of their way to support it.  Go on any Evangelical website, and you’ll find guidance on what’s the correct religious way for Evangelicals to date, eat, dress, celebrate holidays – basically implying that there’s a correct Christian way to do anything and everything.  The reality, however, is far more complicated because humans are far more complicated.  An Evangelical Christian may also be a parent, a professional, a sports fan, and a huge fan of the Grand Theft Auto series.  All of those things are going to affect their decision-making processes.  

The same goes for picking a candidate – that Evangelicals are supporting Trump doesn’t necessarily mean he’s done anything to resonate with their religious beliefs.  Throwing the odd Biblical reference into his speeches will probably help them to justify their support of him, but ultimately, there are a whole host of other options for why these people might be supporting this candidate that have nothing to do with their religious identity.

About askanislamicist

I'm an academic who specializes in early Islamic history and the history of religious interactions, who, in her free time, enjoys shouting into the internet.
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1 Response to Does Trump appeal to Evangelicals because they’re Evangelicals?

  1. Michael Mock says:

    “Along with Muslims worldwide, American Christian Evangelicals are one of the religious communities most often presented as defined exclusively by their religious identity.”

    I think they are presented that way, and they very definitely present themselves that way, but over the past decade or so I’ve come to believe that their actual behavior is best explained if you define being Evangelical as a political identity rather than a religious one. (Read that, of course, with all the usual caveats about overgeneralizing and individual differences that inevitably come with this sort of broad categorical statement. Still…)

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