Friday, 14 October 2016

Why Christians vote Trump

The honest answer to the question why (some) Christians will vote for Donald Trump in the forthcoming US Presidential Elections, is I genuinely have no idea.

But here is an attempt to understand how it is that apparently nearly 80% of evangelical Christians in the US will vote for the divisive Republican candidate this coming month.

It would seem to be a question of 1. Standpoint, 2. Extreme political factions and 3. US conservative evangelical tropes.

1. Standpoint.

Everyone has one. My Twitter feed is full of slightly left of centre English Anglican clerics (with a healthy smattering of soft evangelicals, educated literary types and environmentalist/left wing commentators) so naturally it seems inconceivable to me that any Christian could vote for Donald Trump. I found it difficult even to look through images of his face to post one on this blog, without feeling physically uncomfortable, in a kind of skin crawling way. 

However, my digital environment is, like most people's, self selected. My physical environment is much more mixed, but even having said that, I haven't met a single Christian, or even person in the UK (so far) who thinks voting for Trump would be anything less than disastrous for US, not to mention global, politics.

With his blustering, hectoring manner, lack of any apparent spiritual understanding and his objectionable views on women and minorities,  Donald Trump would seem to lack any kind of noticeable match with the servant hearted, gentle, humble, peaceable and wise Jewish teacher known as Jesus of Nazareth. So how could a follower of Jesus be persuaded that Trump was the best candidate? But perhaps that's just my standpoint. 

2. Political Factions.

US politics is fatally dualistic (or even duel-istic). It's like a wrestling match. You have Democrats in one corner, Republicans in the other, each trying to land blows on each other. I know we're not much better in the UK, but I like to think we're marginally less dreadful. The entire present US Presidential campaigning consists of hugely over funded populist rallies massaging the cult of personality, shallow rhetoric and to the death 'debates' on live TV. There's been no sense in which one side learns from the other or engages in Third Way finding. News networks and commentators react to the slightest hint of weakness and whip up the media into a frenzy. A few rare people only are taking a moment to reflect, consider or look beneath the instant headline. 

If you're a Trump-supporting Republican, you're stirred up by your side's moral fear of the US 'going to the dogs', of being attacked by a terrorist who is likely to be a Muslim or a Mexican, and general right wing hysteria around socially progressive policies leading to moral disintegration. Your whole standpoint is to fear and mistrust a Democrat, a foreigner, or a person who doesn't conform to a certain stereotype. You're susceptible to promises to 'Make America Great Again', whatever that means. 

Great is a loaded word, surely? Especially for Christians. If you're in the Republican faction (even if you're a Christian, apparently) it is going to be difficult to see outside your faction, though some have managed it, which is noteworthy.

3. US conservative evangelical tropes. 

This is a much more pernicious factor, it seems to me. Since the publishing of a 2005 video of Trump making casual comments about how easy it was for him to grope women some female evangelicals have called on their male counterparts to cease supporting Trump

However, this looks unlikely, which reflects how gender still plays a large part in US white, evangelical intertwined strands of belief, or tropes. Complementarianism, the idea that men and women are equal in status, but created for different roles, in its extreme form, seems to fear any woman who doesn't easily conform to a perceived female stereotype. In addition, innate biblical conservatism fears equal rights discourse, because it appears to lead to the full acceptance of women and gays in every walk of life. This is seen to be destabilising. In a bad way.

Enter Hillary Clinton. In terms of shibboleths of the Religious Right, Hillary is beyond the pale, of course. You could say that even where evangelical support for Trump is grudging, at least he represents something less scary than Hillary - a woman, Democrat AND equal rights campaigner. The sense of needing to protect the US from this dreadful female, who will literally tip the US over the precipice into full blown secularism, is almost palpable. The fact that Clinton consistently cites her Methodist background, with its roots in the socially dynamic witness of John Wesley and the Holiness Movement, is neither here nor there, so strong are the tropes that narrowly define this certain type of evangelical opposition to her.

Thankfully, Evangelicalism is splintering in the US. Progressives such as Jim Wallis ( Brian McLaren ( and Rachel Held Evans ( are redefining what being an evangelical means, even dropping the word altogether, in favour of re-centring on the person and life of the radical Jesus, champion of the poor, and liberator of humanity from all forms of oppression.

Despite the factors of standpoint, factions and evangelical tropes, I do not understand US Christians who support Trump. I have tried and failed. Although no one is beyond the pale (people thought Zacchaues was, till Jesus went to his house for tea) some people appear, on the basis of bringing forth bad fruit, to be unfit for the office of President of the United States. Trump is one of them. 

Annoyingly, it would be just like Jesus, were he around in person today, to tell a parable about the 'Good Trump Supporter', a modern day 'Good Samaritan' for squeamish English church types like me. That would be awkward. 

In the absence of such a parable, though, I can only say to the 80% of Evangelicals who still think Trump's a viable candidate; nay, even God's candidate: come on guys...

Trump? It rhymes with dump and lump. I mean, come on guys....

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