Pastor Paula White prays during the inauguration of President Donald Trump on Jan. 20, 2017, in Washington, D.C. RNS photo by Jerome Socolovsky

The key to understanding evangelicals' upside-down support for the travel ban

(RNS) When it comes to our acceptance of other people, Jesus enlarged the circle. Love everyone, he taught.

It’s encouraging to see this ethic holding up to some degree in a country where a culture of welcome has been one of our proudest hallmarks — but where fear of immigrants, refugees and Muslims now competes with our inclusive tendencies.

Despite scary warnings from the new president, a sizable majority of Americans oppose temporarily banning Muslims from other countries from entering the U.S., as Donald Trump has sought to do.

A poll by Public Religion Research Institute finds that 59 percent oppose such a ban; 35 percent support it.

But a group of outliers, who identify themselves as people who take Jesus and the Bible most seriously, are swimming against the tide.

A solid majority of white evangelicals not only support a temporary ban against Muslims, but do so by an increasingly large margin.

PRRI finds that 61 percent of white evangelicals favor a ban, up from the 55 percent figure reported last year when then-candidate Trump called for banning Muslims.

By contrast, 44 percent of white Catholics support a Muslim ban, and just 39 percent of white mainline Protestants. Both with the white Catholics and white mainliners, the support levels are down significantly from last year.

Declining Support for Temporary Ban on Muslims Except Among White Evangelicals. Graphic courtesy of PRRI

 This image is available for web and print publication. For questions, contact Sally Morrow.

And speaking of dynamics that seem hard to figure out, the group least influenced by Jesus and Christianity is least likely to support the travel ban. Among nonreligious Americans, only 21 percent support the ban.

Before we leap to simplistic conclusions and declare that seculars are more Christian than white evangelicals, it’s instructive to consider the ways in which cultural identity, a.k.a. tribalism — the very problem Jesus addressed with his “love your neighbor” teaching — is influencing these upside-down dynamics.

As has been amply reported, white evangelicals are Trump's core constituency.

To be fair, the fact that 81 percent of white evangelicals voted for Trump means about a fifth did not.

A good number of high-profile evangelical leaders and writers have powerfully articulated the case against Trump, including Russell Moore of the Southern Baptist Convention and Washington Post columnist Michael Gerson.

But still, why such strong support for a Muslim ban and its chief proponent from those who have been telling us for years they base everything on the Bible?

The hope for a political climate friendlier to them and their faith practices may be one answer.

If a presidential candidate promises stricter limits on abortion, a Supreme Court more in sync with conservative Christian priorities, and greater leeway for evangelicals to resist the normalization of same-sex relationships, then Trump it shall be.

Troubling as that is, what’s harder to take are protestations by some prominent conservative Christians that their hard-nosed political positions are not contrary to Jesus or not addressed by the Bible. This, against the backdrop of an evangelical culture that has long emphasized that answers to all of life’s big questions are found in the Bible.

That’s "not a Bible issue," Franklin Graham declared of the travel ban — a position that since has been thoroughly demolished by Yale Divinity School Bible scholar Joel Baden, among others.

In seeking relief from Jesus’ daunting teachings, some conservative Christians have cited the notion that the Bible applies only to our individual lives, not what we do as a nation.

The dubiousness of that escape hatch is especially clear in light of the Old Testament prophets, who often trained their sights on the nation of Israel — and, by the way, made treatment of vulnerable outsiders a key test of that nation’s character.

So the truth is revealed, and it’s not all that shocking.

Despite their carefully cultivated image as the people who are most committed to following the Bible, and who therefore stand on a higher moral plane, when it comes down to it, white evangelicals are strongly influenced by nonbiblical factors.

These include wanting to be safe from terrorism, wanting to maintain a cultural and political landscape more to their liking, and a leeriness about people who are unlike them, whether because of race, religion, or sexual orientation.

With these comes the natural inclination to stick together in political and culture war fights and follow the leader they have chosen.

The sum of these parts? A tendency to live out their religion not mainly or only as Jesus people — which is, after all, a very hard thing to do— but as a tribe.

Does this make Trump-loving, Muslim-banning evangelicals hypocrites? Maybe what it really makes them is human, with all the good and bad that implies.

(Tom Krattenmaker is a writer specializing in religion in public life and communications director at Yale Divinity School. His new book is "Confessions of a Secular Jesus Follower")


  1. The issue is pretty much dead based on proposed revisions which:
    1. Make the ban only 120 days, not indefinite.
    2. Take out the religion considerations.
    3. No longer apply to visa holders or permanent resident aliens

    Since travel to the US for citizens from those seven countries require visas and declared refugees are considered visa holders, the Muslim ban will effectively be defanged and renders pointless. But it will also be considered lawful.

  2. Krattenmaker: “And speaking of dynamics that seem hard to figure out, the group least influenced by Jesus and Christianity is least likely to support the travel ban.”

    Hard to figure out for who? Poll after poll shows that, contrary to stereotypes prevalent on the internet, non-believers in the US are reliably more progressive than any other religious grouping except for Jews.

    Let’s drop the “Christianity is progressive, atheists are reactionary dudebros” myth. The numbers indicate that, noisy minority fringes notwithstanding, the reverse is true.

  3. Also it makes the wrong assumption that many people identifying as Christian are somehow influenced by Jesus or Christianity.

    Judging by the way they discuss their religion, it is the other way around. Proof texting takes the place of trying to divine meaning or context. They try to make the case that Jesus conforms to their ideas, not that they follow Jesus. Its a method to claim malice and prejudice are somehow a form of religious morality.

  4. For some reason, I thought the original executive order was also limited, to 3 or 4 months.

  5. It was indefinite “until they can find a better form of vetting” was the excuse given. Also going after visa holders crossed the line from possibly justifiable legitimate goals to wild disregard for rights and due process.

  6. I think we differ here. I would say that malice and prejudice are very much a form of religious morality. I think it is those who say Jesus is the Prince of Peace, the inventor of Marxism and the founder of PFLAG who are projecting their own ideas onto the Bible. Jesus said he came to bring strife and division, not peace and brotherhood.

  7. ” I would say that malice and prejudice are very much a form of religious morality.”

    I agree with you there. Religious morality is not actual morality.

  8. “These include wanting to be safe from terrorism, wanting to maintain a
    cultural and political landscape more to their liking, and a leeriness
    about people who are unlike them, whether because of race, religion, or
    sexual orientation.”

    I think this is crux of the issue in many ways. These ideas are sanctified as Christain by leaders and backed by they way many are taught to read their bibles.

    Like so much these days I find it all very sad. I think most are well meaning people trying their best but have never allowed themselves or sought out ideas, interpretation, expressions, etc different than theirs. They don’t know what they don’t know, like all of us, however this group I find is taught to not go learn what they don’t know.

  9. I’m not impressed with this writer’s conclusion. I stick by my position which I first articulated when a Quaker friend asked if I thought members of The Religious Right were good people. My answer, which I formulated after a few seconds contemplating the concepts, was, “If they were, they would cease to be members of The Religious Right.” There was a good example of someone doing that yesterday on Huffington Post, the story of a “conservative Christian” (her self-identification) who left that form of hateful religious practice when she accepted that she was the mother of a transgender child. While her former prayer partners ostracized her, she was given acceptance and support by the LGBT community and she apologized to them for her former actions.
    Franklin Graham is certainly one example of an evil charlatan trying to cash in on the fact he was a biological child of a beloved spiritual leader. Graham would advocate any atrocity if it increased his checking account balance. That he seeks to persecute others is simply part of his business plan.

  10. Some of the nastiness expressed by certain evangelical Christian posters here really undermines the notion of being well meaning.

  11. Thats fair. I’ve read a few articles that talk about how right and wrong are built using a different frame with liberals and conservatives. The Atlantic had a good piece on it. Talking about how both sides start from what they assume are fundamental ideals, but are not shared across the line. I’ve find that lens helpful in understanding many of those I disagree with a great deal.

    Also some are just tools.

  12. It’s all about the intended apocalyptic ” Clash of Civilizations “.
    Just ask Trump, Bannon, Flynn, Gorka – and Burke.
    Oh – and Putin.
    JC isn’t in the mix.

  13. The difference is between ethics and morals.
    Morals: do what you’re told despite what is right.
    Ethics: do what is right despite what you are told.
    Vastly over-simplified, of course, but I think it accurate nonetheless. As a gay man, I am the perfect example.

  14. I don’t understand what is so difficult for people to realize the EXACT truth about the travel ban.
    A) It was for countries with active terrorist activities
    B) It was NOT a muslim ban or all muslim countries would have been on the list
    C) It was directed at countries that could not verify the persons identity
    D) It was temporary until new protocols could be implemented

    Why are people so bent on twisting this into something it is not. Why are people so driven to label this TEMPORARY ban as something it is not. Are people unable to understand any more, or want to see the truth. It is mind boggling that there are so many people who have turned idiot beyond rational reasoning. We really need to find out what the cause of such mass denial is coming from, because it is truly frightening that people accept this narrative.

  15. Some religious people who do nit consider Trump a real christian try to justify their support of him by pointing to examples in the bible where pagan kings were used by God or influenced by God’s servant to accomplish his will.

  16. I think the idea of morals and ethics is a good one. It also gives some interesting context for inter group (liberal vs liberal, etc) differences.

  17. Thanks. It really requires much more nuance than I gave it, but I haven’t been so inclined to write bigly lately,

    Morals are basically a set of rules to be obeyed. They need have no organizing principle behind them, though the usual one is “god says” or “tradition says” or “we have always done so”, which encompasses both. One can be totally moral while following the rules, and yet perfectly immoral in the effects. Again, I offer myself as a gay man, though I have not personallysuffered all that much.

    Ethics requires a set of principles which must be enumerated. Right action then follows from right principle.

  18. True but that’s not the point in talking about conservative Christian’s motivations.

  19. Yup, morals tend to be social constructs and culturally driven in a way the ethics aren’t. Much can be moral but unethical and much can be ethical but immoral.

  20. The Bible is just another isntrument for asserting “our” superiority over all others.

  21. Both Franklin Graham and his father hold that any government program benefiting individuals (as opposed to corporations) is idolatry. And yes, hthey include Social Security as idolatry. Billy Graham’s political extremism was simply ignored by those who wished to find him beloved.

  22. That may be, but if your information about the elder Graham’s position on benefits is from a statement less than 20 years old it was probably Franklin who originated it, just as he orchestrated Billy’s support for North Carolina’s notorious HB2 when Billy was too decrepit to say so himself. But I think I remember reading that way before that. Billy Graham’s fervor and charisma as a young preacher was always ridiculous, but he was good copy as they say in the news biz so the media embraced him to get more quotes from their meal ticket. However, Billy favored ordaining gay pastors 40 years ago and the Graham organization routinely referred gay Christians to the LGBT-friendly Metropolitan Community Church.

  23. Tell us more.
    1. All countries have active terrorist activities.
    2. A ban on country club members from South Chicago would not keep out whites who could use their sister’s address in Oak Park.
    3. All countries can verify some but not others.
    4.. All Executive Orders are temporary until overridden by Congress or cancelled by a subsequent Executive Order.
    It is clear this was done to punish people who are Muslim. If it was to fight terrorism, it would have been directed toward native born white males who commit most terrorism in this country, like the recent Olathe, Kansas, attack on three Indian-Americans.

  24. And, per the DHS/DOJ report made public recently, there is no meaningful connection between terrorists and their country of origin. Those countries named have not generated terrorists against the U.S., on U.S. soil, so if safety from terrorism is the objective of the Order, wouldn’t it be logical to apply some sanction on the countries who HAVE? So the Order doesn’t make sense, using the Administration’s own explanation (as the court has pointed out).

    For balloonknot9 – an action (Order) does not have to be globally applied against ALL members of a class to still be an attack on the class. This is why the original Order can correctly be called a “Muslim ban.” It applied to all who are NOT of a religious MINORITY in these Muslim-majority countries…in other words, to all Muslims in those countries. It was religious discrimination, just on a limited scale (Muslims born in those countries).

    The next version will have to be written more carefully, and will have to make sense.

    And, back to the 2 points of the article: 1) why do an overwhelming percentage of white evangelicals think this type of action is okay, when NO other demographic group does to this degree? And 2) why has this group INCREASED its support over the last year when all others have DECREASED?

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