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Why Do White Evangelicals Support Trump?

14/02/2017 15:33

Last November 80% of white evangelicals backed Trump for President. For British observers, the fact that so many viewed Trump as the "Christian choice" is nothing short of baffling. Surely, Jesus' message of love and humility is diametrically opposed to Trump's transactional amorality, his rhetoric of division and stigma? Yet, there is a logic, and a historical context that led God-fearing fundamentalists to vote for a man who struggles to quote scripture, and openly admits that he sees no need to repent.

White evangelicals entered US politics as an organised force in the late 1960s over the issue of 'Christian Schools.' Their motives were racist. A 'Christian School' was a euphemism for a private all-white school. Racism, they argued, was Biblical, for according to some white evangelicals, the Bible forbade 'miscegenation', and integrated schools were a recipe for inter-racial relationships and biracial children. Therefore, they claimed a Biblical imperative to establish and preserve segregated schools, and oppose Federal enforcement of civil rights laws.

During the 1970s, white evangelicals were galvanised by their opposition to feminism. Again, they sought to invoke the authority of scripture. The Bible, they argued, taught that the husband was the head of the household, and that Church leaders should be male. By the late-1980s the Council of Biblical Manhood and Womanhood had worked out an entire theology of gender, based on the notion that 'men and women are equal in value and dignity . . . [but] have different roles'. The similarity between the formulation 'equal but different' and 'separate but equal', the legal principle that supported segregation, should not be overlooked.

During the 70s, white evangelicals focused their energies first on the Equal Rights Amendment - which was proposed to hardwire equal rights, regardless of gender, into the constitution - and second on Roe v Wade. In both cases, they argued that extending the scope of women's legal rights threatened the God-given order.

By the early 1980s, groups of politically engaged white evangelicals were jealously defending the privileges of white men. Nonetheless, there was still a way to go before they embraced full-bore Trumpism.

Biblical literalism is another important tributary that led to Trump. Most white evangelicals believe that the Bible should be taken at face value. The six-day creation of Genesis 1, they claim, is not a metaphor. God genuinely created the universe in 144 hours.

The Tea Party was based on a similar appeal to literalism. The Tea Party's big gripe was that the Constitution had been deliberately misinterpreted, leading to government expansion and the curtailment of freedom. Their antidote was to read the Constitution literally.

In reality, Biblical literalism is no such thing. It is impossible to find a prohibition of abortion in the Bible based on a literal reading, just as it is impossible to find clearly defined gender roles. The appeal to Biblical literalism, however, was used to justify campaigns against women's rights, against LGBT+ rights, and against important aspects of civil rights.

There are similar problems with Constitutional literalism. Indeed, the Tea Party quickly produced its own 'simplified' version of the Constitution, which put its own spin on America's highest law. Nonetheless, the appeal to literalism gave Tea Party leaders the authority to run a campaign against 'big government' - particularly Obamacare.

In many ways, Sarah Palin was a forerunner of Trump. Palin is a self-proclaimed conservative evangelical, and remains true to the Tea Party's vision that 'when people understand what our Constitution actually means' big government will come to an end. Palin mixed the Tea Party's concern for small government with a rejection of political correctness and a populist message that 'true Americans' had been swindled by the political establishment. For Palin, 'true Americans' are the 'the unpretentious, blue collar, pro-family, pro-God and guns and Constitution' Americans of the rust-belt - in short America's white working class. Trump retained the same populist message, shorn of any appeal to the Constitution.

Mark Driscoll is the final white evangelical who paved the way for Trump. Driscoll, prominent between 2009 and his disgrace in 2014, pastored the Mars Hill megachurch in Seattle. Driscoll took anti-feminism to new levels. He blamed America's problems on 'bitter penis envying burned feministed single mothers [sic]' who had raised a generation of 'pussified' men. Driscoll preached 'de-pussification' through aggressive masculinity.

Driscoll has characterised women as 'penis homes' and argued that the best way for a wife to show repentance is to give her husband oral sex. He teaches that wives have a duty to be constantly sexually attractive and continually sexually available, and has chastised men for marrying women 'left on the shelf long after [their] expiration date.'

Driscoll's foul-mouthed, pornified, misogynist gospel provoked horror, particularly among women at his Church. However, his domineering macho style also won him admiration and celebrity status in white evangelical circles. Respected evangelical leaders, such as Wayne Grudem and John Piper, endorsed his teaching as a true exposition of Godly manhood.

Driscoll paved the way for Trump, by pulling 'locker room talk' into the church, as a signifier of authentic Biblical masculinity. Therefore, while most major newspapers assumed that 'family values' preaching evangelicals would abandon Trump after the airing of the Access Hollywood tape, the reality was quite different. Many evangelicals took the tape and Trump's misogynist jibes against Alicia Machado, Natasha Stoynoff and Hillary Clinton, among others, as a sign that Trump was not shackled by feminism and therefore a true man, in the Biblical sense.

Trump became the white evangelical candidate because many white evangelical men have remade God in their own image. Trump's extreme anti-abortion rhetoric and his misogyny appeal to the prime value that many white evangelicals in the US seek to defend: male dominance. He also, like the Tea Party before him, holds out the promise of making America a place where the privileges of white people are no longer checked by an Executive or Judiciary seeking to protect minorities. Jesus wept.

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