Beliefs Culture Ethics Politics

Evangelicals are making a big mistake (COMMENTARY)

Supporters cheer in support of Republican U.S. presidential candidate Donald Trump as he speaks at a Super Tuesday campaign rally in Louisville, Kentucky on March 1, 2016. Photo courtesy of REUTERS/ Chris Bergin *Editors: This photo may only be republished with RNS-KRATTENMAKER-COLUMN, originally transmitted on March 2, 2016.
Supporters cheer in support of Republican U.S. presidential candidate Donald Trump as he speaks at a Super Tuesday campaign rally in Louisville, Kentucky on March 1, 2016. Photo courtesy of REUTERS/ Chris Bergin *Editors: This photo may only be republished with RNS-KRATTENMAKER-COLUMN, originally transmitted on March 2, 2016.

Supporters cheer in support of Republican U.S. presidential candidate Donald Trump as he speaks at a Super Tuesday campaign rally in Louisville, Kentucky on March 1, 2016. Photo courtesy of REUTERS/ Chris Bergin
*Editors: This photo may only be republished with RNS-KRATTENMAKER-COLUMN, originally transmitted on March 2, 2016.

It’s nice to see evangelical Christians citing good-sense reasons for their presidential preferences these days. It seems that many are looking not so much for piety but for traits like leadership, strength, competence, and straightforward truth-speaking.

Too bad right reasons are leading so many to a wrong choice.

Donald Trump, despite making little effort to look and sound evangelical in his campaign, enjoyed substantial and important support from conservative Christians on his way to a series of Super Tuesday wins. Why? To hear it from many of his evangelical supporters, it’s because they’re convinced he would be not a godly president, but a good president.

To put evangelicals’ view of Trump in perspective, consider what we’ve seen over recent decades during a time of tight ties between evangelical voters and the Republic party.

For Republicans seeking the GOP nomination and robust evangelical support in general elections, there has been an imperative for candidates to prove their conservative Christian bona fides. For some, such as George W. Bush, the job came naturally because they actually were evangelical. For others — think John McCain — the attempt was strained but evident nonetheless.

Meanwhile, the rhetoric from the supposed evangelical “kingmakers” has emphasized not only or primarily a candidate’s qualifications, but his faith and theological convictions, leading many a bemused critic to wonder whether the candidates were running to be commander in chief or pastor in chief.

Not that Trump has completely dispensed with telling evangelicals what they want to hear. He promises to defend the nation’s Christian heritage and to make sure that no store employee is stopped from saying “Merry Christmas.” (Whether this will happen by executive order, legislation, or moral suasion Trump has not said.)

But he has frequently botched his biblical references, his “Two Corinthians” blunder atLiberty University serving as Exhibit A. And his “faith walk,” as an evangelical might phrase it, has included many a stumble, especially his admission that he has never asked God for forgiveness. So much for humbleness before the Lord.

So now, with Trump appearing to be well on his way to the nomination, we find little pretending about this boastful, pugnacious billionaire mogul with the two divorces, the trophy wife, the penchant for insults, and the shaky record on hot-button social issues that have been such a prominent part of evangelical politics: gay marriage and abortion.

Instead, we hear Trump-supporting evangelicals citing reasons we might expect to hear from non-evangelical voters– reasons that are actually logical when taken at face value.

Tom Krattenmaker is a writer specializing in religion in public life and communications director at Yale Divinity School. His most recent book is "The Evangelicals You Don’t Know." Photo courtesy of Tom Krattenmaker

Tom Krattenmaker is a writer specializing in religion in public life and communications director at Yale Divinity School. His most recent book is “The Evangelicals You Don’t Know.” Photo courtesy of Tom Krattenmaker

It sounds like common sense. As does this comment from the Robert Jeffress, a prominent and politically active evangelical pastor from Texas: Noting how little Trump is saying and doing to model biblical values, Jeffress says, “Okay, let’s let the church do that and let’s just depend upon government to do the other.”

To which many non-evangelical critics of the Christian Right would say, “Exactly! We’ve been urging this for years!”

So here’s to the validity of the reasons many evangelicals are citing for supporting Trump. Here’s to basing one’s presidential choice on a candidate’s strength, competence, consistency, electability, rigorous policy proposals, and the like.

If only they were leading to a candidate who actually had these things.

(Tom Krattenmaker is a writer specializing in religion in public life and communications director at Yale Divinity School. He is the author of the book, “The Evangelicals You Don’t Know.” This commentary first appeared in USA Today)


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  • Being evangelical, or otherwise evolution-denying and Christian, is a mistake out of the gate. Such ignorance, willful or otherwise, is a national embarrassment.

  • Wow, I think you really believe that you know “the evangelicals” as you think you are representing the truth, understanding it all! Somehow there is a large group of people that think out of the box and are going to vote this nation into a new level of leadership! Like it or not, there is a reality that is not defined by media or money but by independence!

  • I’m Ab E. Karla Bennee Cindyrella Michelle Tieta or whatever my name is today and I’m here to drunkenly spam you with run-on sentences of buybull spam and about my delusions and you should Repent because I used to be the Repent bot but my mouth got stuffed with used TP for doing that so now I spam you more with buybull spam hourly and you should report all my spam posts as the abuse that they are and I want to marry my thesbian partner Fran and you should still Repent and Bring Out Your Dead but there’s no god so it doesn’t matter anyway.

  • a certain breed of “evangelical” (and I use the term loosely) will do anything to deflect, deny or validate how mean their religion makes them. Those are, by far, the loudest evangelical voices in the country at any given moment. And the louder they are the meaner they are.

  • If we were having a contest for an overly simplistic post, yours would win first prize easily.

  • Most people who are called evangelicals aren’t much different from everyone else. And therein lies the problem.

    Regarding the Trump-supporting evangelicals, they sound pathetic when trying to explain their choice as a practical one. They’re parading before the nation and world their exceptionally poor judgment and just how ill-equipped they are to make sound practical judgments of the kind praised in Proverbs.

    When I watch people like Falwell, Jr. and Robert Jeffress, what I see is the blind leading the blind. When real trouble comes to America, their flock will be like lost sheep. They won’t know what the heck to do, because they were never taught true, godly wisdom.

  • Fran you need stop spam of False Religion or you will burn burn burn in hellfire as the Bible says in Revelation and Matthew 14,15 and Psalms and more so stop False Preaching of ur False Religion or god will burn your ass you roast in hot hellfire eternity of hot fire so Repent and do Repent right now!

  • Thanks for deleting my post, RNS. I’ll sum up by saying that with so-called leaders like Falwell, Jr. and Robert Jeffress, these pro-Trump evangelicals are like sheep without a shepherd.

    These people are utterly clueless.

    They have no idea how to make wise, mature, or intelligent choices for leadership. There isn’t even a hint of practical wisdom or sound moral reasoning in them. Some of them can quote Scripture left and right, but they know nothing about how to apply a biblical world view to life.

  • There are only two remaining candidates for President of the United States.

    Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton.

    Wish there were other options, but there aren’t any. The other GOP candidates are far too weak to survive Hillary, and even the Democrat Bernie Sanders is toast already.

    Evangelicals, you have to choose now. Clinton or Trump, Yes or No.

    Staying home or waiting till the last minute to decide, WILL be counted as a vote for Hillary. No joke.

    No escape, no happy endings. So choose. What’s it gonna be, folks?

  • Lesser Evil….Don’t believe in Trump but no other option.
    Voted for Ted Cruz here in Texas, hope he gets more state.

  • It’s not hard to understand. The religious right came from the ashes of Segregationism. Bigotry is a core belief. Trump simply casts a wider net of people to demonize than the more sectarian minded candidates. He adds nativism and a more explicit chauvinism to the mix which is appealing to that crowd.

    Nativism was on the wane among evangelical churches just as they began making inroads in Latin America. It started to become inconvenient to proselytizing. But among white conservative Christians it was always there. Trump directly appeals to it. He simply out bigoted his opponents. Turning “dog whistle” language into loud klaxon blasts.

    Conservatives are getting the candidate they were asking for and deserve.

  • Trump: “You have to go after their families, take’em out.”

    Cruz: “We’ll carpet bomb them out of existence.”

    Jesus: “Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be children of your Father in heaven;” (Matt 5:43-45a)

    Jesus: “You have heard it said, An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth. But I say to you, Do not resist an evildoer. But if anyone strikes you on the right cheek, turn the other also;” (Matt 5:38-39)

    Who’s the Christian here?

  • “I like the fact that he’s strong” and similar comments in favor of Mr. Trump.

    Is there such a thing as “Authoritarian Personality Disorder?”

  • I think he’s pretty much on target, Jack, except for feigning a crystal ball through which he can see Trump’s motive and future decisions.

  • Jack, you and Marco Rubio are both driven to the “edge” by Trump.

    Why do you let one man exercise the power to make you a rambling mess?

  • The Trump supporters would have us believe we must choose between Trump or Hillary, but if that’s so, these jokers are the reason for it. It’s like someone stealing one of your two cars and saying you have only one car.

  • Thes Trump supporters are an angry, vindictive slice of the evangelical movement. They’re projecting an angry, vengeful Old Testament diety, breathing hellfire to obliterate all those who are different.

    This group has always had great difficulty with the radical message of Jesus Christ, who reached out to the foreigner and healed the ills of the masses and lifted up the down-trodden. This group has more in common with the Pharisees. We had hoped their kind had fianlly disappeared in a massive sea of Grace and forgiveness. Trump is merely bringing them out of the woodwork.

  • You make an all-too-facile distinction between Old Testament justice and New Testament mercy. I realize this is my Calvinist side speaking, but there is both justice and mercy in both testaments, reinforcing the continuity of Scripture. And as for the Pharisees, there isn’t enough space here to go through the details, but the Pharisees being criticized in the Gospels were from the then-dominant House of Shammai more than the House of Hillel. Shammai was far more legalistic and judgmental than Hillel.

    I just think the evangelicals supporting Trump tend to be more EINOs — evangelicals in name only — as opposed to committed people of faith. These are lower-class people who don’t go to church, never read the Bible, live disordered and dysfunctional lives, and blame their failures on immigrants and government. The men drink too much and beat their wives and grumble about everything……the women are slovenly and watch soap operas all day.

  • I sincerely doubt that.

    For years Evangelical churches with a political bent have been pushing the same message Trump is pushing:
    -Civil liberties are really only for the “right kind of people”
    -Bigotry and discrimination is one’s right.
    -Democracy is inconvenient to more important considerations (God’s will, American greatness…)
    -The rich are to be glorified while the poor must be demonized.

    What is galling people like Cruz, Rubio and their supporters is that an upstart who has no regard for the established conservative political/religious system is using the same rhetoric and slogans to better effect. There is no qualitative difference in positions among any of the Republican candidates. There is certainly none among the anti-trump conservatives here. Its more of a matter of who are the beholden

  • Ultimately it shows the draw of the usual Evangelical “issues”: Abortion, gay rights and attacking 1st Amendment religious freedoms are not really as popular as the establishment pundits hoped for. Not when demonizing foreigners, people of color, Muslims and feminists is on the table.

    Trump is not even bothering to appeal to the fetus worshipers, anti-gay crowd and “America is a Christian Nation” set. Trump is casting a wider net for public displays of bigotry and appealing to more than the usual self-righteous busybody types..

  • Tell that to the Cruz campaign, Doc. Looks like your hero’s turning into a whipped jackal. He got blown out in two of four states and eeked out a win in the other two. Take Rubio out of the race and all four states last night would have been Cruz landslides.

    So the crowning of Trump appears to be a bit premature.

  • But you guys (scared evangelicals) have been telling us for weeks now that “fear” is to be rejected. (see illegal immigration and placement of refugees).

    Which is it Jack? We’re supposed to fear or not fear? Seems to me you guys change virtues and the extolling of virtues daily depending on the poll numbers.

    Think I’ll go with the “NO FEAR” approach.

  • Jack:

    You and Russell Moore should get together in sack cloth and ashes until American Christianity conforms to the “high” standards you both espouse in print.

    If the rest of us are so intellectually, morally and spiritually inept to make individual decisions afforded to us by the constitution, you two guys should be fasting and weeping instead of whining in print.

  • Jack:

    Your words are almost a repeat of the warnings “better heads” declared against electing Ronald Reagan.

    Voting for Hillary Clinton should help to soothe your tortured conscience in this election cycle, even though I wouldn’t describe a vote for her as based in superior moral conviction or intellect.

  • Scott, comparing Donald Trump to Ronald Reagan is just laughable. Trump is a fascist; Reagan was an actual conservative. Trump is demonstrably a low-life by any sane measure of character; Reagan was a class act. Trump calls people fat pigs and mocks the disabled when they dare to disagree with him; Reagan lifted people up and fought a way to disagree agreeably. Trump acts like a spiteful, vindictive, petulant child; Reagan acted like a mature adult. Trump fights like a school girl — kicking and biting and sliming others. Reagan fought like a man.

    Scott, there were 17 Republicans vying for the nomination. If people like you somehow managed to choose the only one among them whose character is at least as bad as Hillary Clinton, I am not bound by your calamitous decision. You had 16 other people who were immeasurably superior to her, but you managed to choose the worst of the 17. I would have easily gone for any of the others.

  • Scott, most Americans are appalled by Trump, and that includes most Republicans who are voting for alternatives. There is an obvious reason for that and it has much to do with character.

    Simply stated, people think Trump is a vile, puffed-up, narcissistic, low-rent buffoon who shouldn’t have his finger anywhere near the nuclear button. We are talking about the minimal standards of human decency — what distinguishes being a decent person from being a complete jerk. Perhaps your parents taught you that it was great to make fun of fat people or push ugly people down stairwells or mock the disabled or make crude jokes about women menstruating. Maybe your parents taught you to make yourself feel important by putting other people down. I don’t know. But I suspect most parents — the ones with their heads on straight who put character first — do not want their kids to turn out like Donald Trump.

  • I responded but an RNS glitch prevented the post from appearing.

    Scott, you can’t see what’s wrong with Donald Trump’s character, all I can say is that’s pretty sad. I’ve never seen any candidate of either party act the way he does. It’s a cringe-worthy embarrassment. Unless you were raised by wolves or mobsters, it’s hard to believe your parents never taught you values that were exactly the opposite of those which Donald Trump displays every moment he’s in public. No parents worth their salt would tolerate such behavior in their kids — why tolerate it in an adult who wants to be the leader of the free world? It is crazy and ridiculous.

    And it is irrelevant how many people are willing to look past that conduct and vote for him anyone. Majorities elect officials. But majorities cannot erase bedrock truths. If Trump is a low-life, no majority can erase that fact.

    But in reality, most Americans are rightly appalled by Trump.

  • Scott, that’s a silly retort. I never made a blanket statement about fear, because obviously some fears in life are irrational and others well-grounded. Only a dunce would say fear is always good or always bad. It depends on the thing that is being feared.

    Bottom line is that Trump put it best when describing supporters like you. He said that he could shoot someone on a New York City street and still maintain your loyalty. That is quite a telling admission of the cultish quality of Trump supporters. You supporters are hauntingly similar to Barack Obama’s supporters. No conceivable facts can or will change your mind. You, like the Obama supporters, are attracted to the cult of personality and the myth of a leader on horseback who can miraculously make the world right. But there is no such person. And any person who says they can is a liar and a demagogue.

  • AT this point, it is getting ridiculous…..I don’t mean you; I mean RNS. We both have a right to post our opinions, but half the time I try to respond to yours, there’s a glitch on RNS’ side and it never gets posted.

    All I’ll say on fear is that as any sane person knows, some fears are unfounded and others well-grounded. To make a blanket statement about fear being good or bad is silly, unless we are talking about a particular kind of fear. Thus fearing a person just because he is different from us is on its face a silly fear, but a fear that someone with the personality and character traits of a dictator may strive to become a dictator, far from being a silly fear, is a very rational and understandable fear.

  • Yoh, that’s silly. Cruz and Rubio aren’t exactly veterans of Washington, either. They’re junior senators and thus upstarts as well.

    I agree that there is little difference in positions among the various GOP candidates, any more than there is difference between Hillary and Bernie. The former are towing the very conservative line and the latter the very liberal line. I will also note that two and two make four and that the sun rises in the east and sets in the west.

    The difference between Trump on the one hand and Rubio and Cruz on the other is that Trump is a sociopath, and Rubio and Cruz, like most people, are not. All three are ultra-ambitious people, obviously, and none of them are angels by any means. But Trump has a particularly odious Nixonian character that disqualifies him from the presidency and Rubio and Cruz, like most people, are a mixed bag.

  • The only reason Cruz or Rubio wouldn’t be considered veterans if Washington is because they have some if the lowest attendance rates for members of Congress. They barely did the jobs they were elected for.

    Cruz simply has a more repressed public face than Trump. He is also more beholden to Dominionist politics than Trump ever will be. Rubio makes the same sectarian appeals as Cruz. All 3 are sorely lacking in character. The one thing about Trump is his campaign so far is a scorched earth one. What is working for him in the primary is absolutely poisonous in the general election.