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Still evangelical? Literary festival panelists question label after Trump, #MeToo

Left to right, Christian writers Deidra Riggs, Karen Swallow Prior, Sandra Maria Van Opstal, Kathy Khang and Katelyn Beaty discuss what it means to be evangelical and female, in a packed session April 13, 2018, at the Festival of Faith and Writing at Calvin College in Grand Rapids, Mich. RNS photo by Emily McFarlan Miller

GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (RNS) — The panel of Christian women writers described the night Donald Trump won the presidency as, in the words of one, “a nightmare.”

“As the numbers rolled in, (there was) just this sense of this nightmare is really true – our family, the body of Christ, is actually going to vote in a way that dehumanized our presence here in this country,” said Sandra Maria Van Opstal, a second-generation Latina and the executive pastor of Grace and Peace Community in Chicago.

Speaking at a session Friday (April 13) at Calvin College’s Festival of Faith and Writing, the writers recalled the shock for them of the election of a man who had spoken so disparagingly about women and minorities.


RELATED: Will evangelical women turn the tide against Trump?


But the worst part, said panelist Kathy Khang, was realizing the next day in what force evangelical voters came out for Trump. She recalled “when the number of 81 percent was published and the sneaky gut suspicion you had all along was confirmed in a way that cannot be denied and was printed and reported over and over and over.”

That number is now familiar to those who follow politics and evangelicalism closely as the percentage of white evangelical Christians who voted to elect President Trump. (It was actually between 80 percent and 81 percent.)

More than a year into Trump’s presidency, the writers on the ethnically and racially diverse panel — called “Still Evangelical in the Age of #MeToo?” — discussed how politics has strained their relationships with American evangelicalism and has highlighted what they see as the church’s silence on the problems of racism and sexual abuse.

The standing-room-only session attracted more than 150 attendees from the festival, many lining the walls and spilling into the aisles of the packed room.

Still, the panelists, in their distaste for the president, belong to a minority of American evangelicals — about 76 percent of whom are white, according to the Pew Research Center. White evangelicals still strongly support Trump, who created a campaign evangelical advisory board of preachers and lay leaders he still consults informally, but relies on no such group representing other Christians or people of faith.

The Public Religion Research Institute reported Wednesday that 75 percent of white evangelicals view Trump favorably — the highest that number has been since the organization began asking the group about Trump in 2015.

Nevertheless, the panel called for American evangelicals to listen to those among them who see support for Trump as a betrayal of the movement’s values and its people of color — and to speak out.

They pointed to the president’s language and rhetoric: his speech announcing his run for president, in which he referred to Mexican immigrants as rapists bringing drugs and crime to the United States; the “Access Hollywood” tape in which he can be heard bragging about forcing himself on women; and the policies he’s enacted since taking office, which they deemed unfair to the poor and otherwise vulnerable.

“When people were supporting the idea that my community were rapists, criminals, thugs and animals, Christians said nothing,” Van Opstal said.

The reason more than 80 percent of white evangelicals didn’t listen to the people of color alongside them in the pews on Trump, several panelists said, is the same reason some struggle to believe women who have come forward with their experiences of sexual misconduct and abuse: misplaced trust in powerful men and institutions. Congregations, they noted, applauded Pastors Bill Hybels and Andy Savage as they responded to allegations made against them before resigning.

It’s a difficult moment for evangelicalism, panelists agreed, but panelists said they still felt called to their roles as evangelicals or working within the movement.

And Liberty University Professor Karen Swallow Prior said she hopes good can come from it. A “brokenness” has been revealed, she said, which “I hope we can work together to repair.”

The panel was moderated by Katelyn Beaty, an author and InterVarsity Press acquisitions editor, and sponsored by the Christian publisher, which in January released a book titled “Still Evangelical?,” to which several panelists had contributed.

The session took place just before about 50 evangelical leaders gathered early this week at Wheaton College to discuss the future of evangelicalism amid concerns raised by the election.


RELATED: Evangelical leaders discuss future of their movement in Trump era


The three-day Festival of Faith and Writing isn’t exclusively an evangelical event; Calvin is part of the Christian Reformed Church, and the festival features speakers and sessions from a number of religious traditions. The 2018 festival welcomed nearly 2,000 people, many of whom are interested in race and social justice issues, according to festival director Lisa Ann Cockrel.

About the author

Emily McFarlan Miller

Emily McFarlan Miller is a national reporter for RNS based in Chicago. She covers evangelical and mainline Protestant Christianity.

38 Comments

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  • Baylor University’s team of sociologists conducted an extensive survey in order to try to understand the mindset of Evangelical voters who still support Donald Trump at a staggering 78%. You can read about that here:

    http://www.wacotrib.com/news/higher_education/baylor-researchers-examine-trump-voters-religious-values/article_24adfb74-64a3-5543-a11a-5580856b7229.html

    The bottom line is that white Christian nationalism is the most unifying element the binds evangelical voters to Trump – by far. The same people who laud the Constitution (especially the 2nd amendment, albeit while conveniently ignoring the part about “well-regulated militias”) have no compunctions about ignoring one of that document’s most basic tenets, the separation of church and state.

    But other things bind white Christian nationalists too: their strong belief that in addition to lording their supremacy over others, the people they despise the most (non-white people, Muslims, LGTB people especially) ought to be relegated to 2nd class status – under the law.

    Last I heard, that is not what Jesus preached. These people are hypocrites and frauds and they should be called out as such repeatedly.

  • OK, OK, you “ethnically and racially diverse … evangelical and female … writers”, I’m ready now for that pop quiz. Give it to me.

    (1) TRUE OR FALSE: “Our family, the body of Christ … actually … vot[ing for Hillary Clinton wouldn’t have] in a[ny] way … dehumanized our presence here in this country”.

    FALSE.

    (2) TRUE OR FALSE: “When people were supporting the idea that [the Latina] community were rapists, criminals, thugs and animals, Christians said nothing”.

    FALSE.

  • For the white Evangelicals who supported, and continue to support, Trump, the primary identity marker is probably “white” rather than “evangelical”. It is always useful to remember that one of the most important events triggering Evangelical politicization was Brown v. Board.

  • The pathetic reality is that evangelicals (and numerous others) have been virtually brainwashed to believe that not voting is unpatriotic, and that there is no choice if you vote except the Tweedledee or Tweedledum hegemonic Democratic or Republican offerings. What resulted, with the overwhelming support of evangelicals for Trump, has cast a dark shadow over any claim that evangelicals will try to make in the foreseeable future of standing on the moral or spiritual high ground.

  • SHUT-UP ladies – and get back in the kitchen where you belong !
    The HEAD-OF-THE-HOUSE wants dinner !

  • It doesn’t seem likely that evangelicals can ever recover their reputation now. It’s far too late; everyone has seen what they really care about, what they stand for, and what they’ll do to get it. Nobody will ever take them seriously again.

  • Why is this such a big deal or mystery? I dont see Conservative christians voting for Clinton regardless of what Trump is – it’s the issues that matter to them. Statistics show Republican presidential nominees routinely get white conservative christian support. Here in SC the last 5 elections have the Republican getting greater than 70% of evangelical votes. Sure Trump got a little more than the others and more public support from christians but if there was a viable Republican candidate (IMO), I would have dumped Clinton.

  • Trump and his religious right have reduced God and religion to just another tool for personal gain and pushing political agendas. I see no reason they should not be taxed before messing with SS and Medicare to help pay for the tax cuts.

  • As long as they want to call the political actions of other Evangelicals a “nightmare,” the strained relations are of their own making. They can vote as they wish. They are not my nightmare. They are brothers and sisters who disagree.

  • Some would argue that the roots of Evangelical political thought are a lot deeper than that. It really goes back to Southern Protestant churches who had to completely rewrite their Bible’s meaning to accommodate white slaveowners. Ministers who denounced slavery were lynched or chased out of town. To survive, Southern Protestant churches focused their religion exclusively on sexual purity and embraced slavery and white superiority as part of the divine plan. Those Southern Protestant churches became the modern Evangelical movement, and they really haven’t changed that much when it comes to race.

  • Baylor University’s team of sociologists conducted an extensive survey in order to try to better understand the mindset of Evangelical voters who still support Donald Trump at a staggering 78%. You can read about that here:

    http://www.wacotrib.com/new

    The bottom line is that white Christian nationalism is the most unifying element the binds evangelical voters to Trump – by far. The same people who laud the Constitution (especially the 2nd amendment, albeit while conveniently ignoring the part about “well-regulated militias”) have no compunctions about ignoring one of that document’s most basic tenets, the Establishment clause: “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.”

    But other things bind white Christian nationalists too: their strong belief that in addition to lording their supremacy over others, the people they despise the most (non-white people, Muslims, LGTB people especially) ought to be relegated to 2nd class status – under the law.

    Last I heard, that is not what Jesus preached. So-called “Christian” Trump supporters are hypocrites and frauds of the highest order and they should be called out as such as often as possible. They are the single greatest threat to the survival of Christianity since the lions in the Roman forum.

  • “Nobody will ever…?”

    About this time two years ago most of us were saying that Donald Trump has no chance of being elected president. I’ve learned to never say never.

    Evangelicals can reclaim the moral high ground if they cut their ties with Trump, or at least admit that their alliance with him is a marriage of convenience only.

    But I doubt it will happen. One thing the Robertson/Falwell wing of Evangelicalism isn’t so good at is admitting their own mistakes. On the other hand, they excel at pointing out yours and mine.

  • Evangelicals and any sane person had no choice but to vote for Trump. Hilary would have been much worse.

  • I am certifiably sane and voted for Clinton. That makes your statement false. We hear your opinion. I hold a contrary opinion. We know and will know the consequences of your opinion. We will never know what the consequences of my opinion might have been. So your statement that Clinton would have been much worse is also false. Only President Trump gets to simply declare something to be true…and that, according to his supporters, makes it true.

  • “I’ve learned to never say never.”

    Boy, you can say that again. After Trump’s invalid election, aided and abetted by his BFF Vladimir Putin, I too learned that when it comes to Americans and their voting habits, nothing is certain and literally anything is possible.

  • I thought they believed that marriage was between a man and a woman, not between convenience and the antichrist.

  • I agree with you for the most part, except that Trump’s election, sad to say, wasn’t invalid.

    It doesn’t matter how much influence Putin or anybody else had on voters. At the end of the day, he wasn’t in the voting both pulling the levers. The voters were and their votes counted.

    Believe me, nobody wants to see this embarrassment of a presidency end more than I do. But there’s no getting around the fact that Trump was validly elected by the process laid out in the Constitution.

  • Please cite the DSM-V diagnosis that encompasses voting for Hillary. Please also cite the specific criteria needed to make the diagnosis.

  • It’s not a mystery. You nailed it on the head. Trump will get evangelical support regardless of what he is or does because they have tossed aside their supposed concerns about morality and ethics in favor of what they see as more important concerns. In other words they sold out.

  • Cf. Robert P. George, “An Appeal to Our Fellow Catholics” (to reject Trump’s candidacy for the Republican presidential nomination), National Review, March 7, 2016.

    Cf. Emily McFarlan Miller, “14 conservative Christians who are not supporting Trump”, Religion News Service, June 21, 2016

  • Your turn.

    Do a review of just these 2 articles and post it in 24 hours. GO.

    Cf. Robert P. George, “An Appeal to Our Fellow Catholics” (to reject Trump’s candidacy for the Republican presidential nomination), National Review, March 7, 2016.

    Cf. Emily McFarlan Miller, “14 conservative Christians who are not supporting Trump”, Religion News Service, June 21, 2016.

  • And I reply to that…

    So you can forgive Trump his sexual sins with no problem. But the lives of gay and trans people must be regulated very tightly to the liking of evangelicals.

    Moral relativists to a man or woman.

  • Personally, I think the people that sold their souls to the devil are the people who believe it is within their purview to denounce other people as having sold their souls to the devil.

  • Trump supporters say that trumps sexual transgressions are between trump and his two Corinthians god.

    The same people also say that the sex lives of gay and trans people, our marriages, and our families must be between them and their two bit god.

    As I always like to say, what’s sauce for the gay goose ought to be sauce for the propaganda.

  • Yes. That is why super moral people like evangelicals who can declare that everyone’s morals need regulating and can vote for Donald trump without any concern for his morals know nothing of moral relativism.

  • Yes, you nailed it Elagabalus – the majority of white evangelicals are actually converts to white christian nationalism (small c intentional because they do not represent the Christ with whom we have the privileged option of being in relationship with).

    When I woke up to the horrifying news that Trump had won the election I was in shock and disbelief. When I heard that >80% of evangelicals had voted for him, I was no longer sure who I was – I just knew I was not and never wanted to be identified as an evangelical ever again – but that’s who I had been since I invited Jesus into my heart at 9 in a fire-escape salvation. Never-the-less, I deeply appreciated what Jesus did for me and wanted to live for Him always. I thought I could do that best as an evangelical — until that terrible revelation.

    Fortunately I had read “Red Letter Revolution” and was able to drop the evangelical tag. I am a Red Letter Christian – believing that Jesus really meant what He said (printed in red letters in some Bibles). I believe we are called to love those who are hard to love and herein lies my struggle. It is so painful to control the boiling rage I feel in my gut when people claiming to be Christ-followers begin spewing demonic Trumpist, rhetoric of racial hatred, misogyny, religio-superiority, denying white privilege, blaming victims of oppression for their oppression, that loving like Jesus gets all blurry. There’s the old, “Love the sinner, hate the sin,” dictum, and recognition that I also don’t hold the corner of the market on truth – which is not a problem when discussing other religions -but so difficult it is painful, when an “evangelical” or better said white evangelical nationalist.

    I would deeply appreciate responses from others who are ahead of me on the journey to love white evangelical nationalists – like Jesus loves them. I believe that if we know to do something and don’t do it it is sin – and that separates or creates barriers in our relationship with God.

    It is comforting to read so many comments from people who understand the travesty created or perhaps revealed is a better word, by the religious right’s continuing support of 45 by people like Falwell – who, by the way, refused a sincere invitation to pray with Shane Claiborne over the revival recently held in Lynchburg and in fact threatened him with imprisonment and a $2500 fine if Shane, even went on his campus. Very disturbing – because he is the president of the largest “christian” university in the world – or so I’ve read.

  • Well I read those 2 and neither contained that first quote. I’m just interested to know the source and context of it. It seems to say one thing but I’m not sure.

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