Why do evangelicals like Trump? Because he’s one of us.

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Donald J. Trump the leading choice for president among evangelical voters right now. This isn’t going down well with some of the gatekeepers—and for good reason.

Russell Moore, head of the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission, summed up nicely the problem with Trump:

He’s an unrepentant serial adulterer who has abandoned two wives for other women. He’s someone who has spoken in vulgar and harsh terms about women, as well as in ugly and hateful ways about immigrants and other minorities. I don’t think this is someone who represents the values that evangelicals in this country aspire to.

Moore is right. Yet for now at least, a plurality of evangelicals want just such a man—a serial adulterer who disparages women, immigrants, and minorities—to be their next president.

A lot can change between now and the first primaries. But how did so many evangelicals come to support a man whose values are so very far from theirs?

Maybe it’s because they’re not as far apart as we think.

You see, Donald Trump is a living, breathing, blustering manifestation of our culture’s addiction to outrage.

We live to be outraged, and Christians are no exception. In fact, we’re often the worst offenders.

We’re addicted to outrage because, as Tim Kreider observed, it feels good to be angry. “Somatically it feels a lot like the first rush of an opiate,” he wrote.

Outrage is a means of coping with our fears—rational or otherwise. We’re afraid of those who are different from us. We fear the loss of our cultural dominance. So we turn to outrage because it’s cathartic.

Not surprisingly, rage-filled posts spread more rapidly on social media than any other kind of content. Posts conveying other emotions, such as joy, trail far behind, according to a 2013 study.

Outrage isn’t always bad. It can be a healthy response to real injustice. But like any drug, it can be toxic. We use outrage to dehumanize those we don’t like. Conservatives use it to demonize Muslim refugees; progressives use it to hillbilly-shame Kim Davis.

We use outrage to delineate the boundaries of our tribe—who’s in, who’s out. As one writer put it, our communities are increasingly “defined by an ‘us’ and a reflexive exclusion of ‘them.’ ”

Christians have been doing outrage for years. We’ve spent decades nursing a persecution mindset and a culture-war mentality. We claim to be outraged by all sorts of injustices—some real, some not—but mostly we’re angry and fearful at the loss of our cultural dominance.

So we treat those who are different as enemies… by which I don’t mean we love them like Jesus actually told us to.

We look upon “outsiders” with suspicion, fear, and contempt.

In sermons and in blog posts, we cultivate a siege mentality among the faithful because, as it turns out, making people angry and afraid is a very effective way to build a platform.

But there are consequences.

When you teach people to be outraged all the time, they might end up voting for someone who is the personification of a YouTube comment section.

To those who are shocked and unsettled by Trump’s resonance among evangelicals, what else did you expect?

Donald Trump is exactly the kind of candidate we deserve. He is a reflection of us.

His popularity is an indictment of our addiction to outrage. It’s an indictment of our culture-war mentality.

All these years, when we should have been encouraging Christians to love and serve their neighbors, instead we told them to prepare for battle.

When we should have been opening our doors to let outsiders in, instead we built walls to keep the world out.

Is it any wonder, then, that a man who promises to build an even bigger wall—the self-aggrandizing mogul who preys upon our fear and outrage—is the most popular candidate?

I can’t think of many good things that can come from Trump’s candidacy, no matter how long it lasts. Whether he makes it to the finish line or flames out tomorrow, his presence in the race hasn’t exactly elevated our political discourse, which was already hovering around junior-high-cafeteria levels.

But maybe there is one good thing about Trump’s popularity. Maybe it will prompt us to look in the mirror, to look at ourselves and how we treat others. Maybe seeing all this venom and bile spill from someone else’s lips will cause us to reconsider all the harsh and dehumanizing language that we use.

There is, after all, one thing worse than voting for Donald Trump. And that is being Donald Trump.

But we can renounce our addiction to outrage. We can jump off this train and stop demonizing those we disagree with—or those we just don’t understand. Instead of building bigger walls, we can welcome others into our communities—and maybe learn something from their perspectives and experiences. We can lay down our fear. We can listen to the apostle John for a change and drive out fear with love.

This won’t be easy. As Daniel Kirk recently observed, “The disease [fear] keeps us from the medicine [love].” But we can try all the same.

Love is the antidote to the Donald Trump in each of us.

Photo: Gage Skidmore on Flickr / CC BY 2.0

38 thoughts on “Why do evangelicals like Trump? Because he’s one of us.

  1. Once again, brilliant, and scathingly spot on! This comment here sums up the last at least twenty-five years of right-wing conservative evangelicalism: “Christians have been doing outrage for years. We’ve spent decades nursing a persecution mindset and a culture-war mentality. We claim to be outraged by all sorts of injustices—some real, some not—but mostly we’re just angry and fearful at the loss of our cultural dominance.” Preach!

    Liked by 3 people

    • Thanks William! I do think those of us who fall on the more “progressive” end of the spectrum should watch out for some of the same things…not so much the persecution mindset or culture war mentality. (Those seem to be more exclusively right wing phenomenons.) But I’ve seen—and been guilty of—the same outrage for the sake of outrage…that is, outrage that serves to demean and exclude others while pumping up our own self-righteousness. That’s something we all struggle with, I think.

      Liked by 3 people

  2. This is so spot-on.

    I have a question that I’ve been wrestling with, that I thought you might have some insight on. If I’m being honest, I am outraged about Donald “I promise I will never be in a bicycle race” Trump and his followers. They make me crazy. How do we avoid swinging the pendulum too far and ending up at “us vs them” all over again, you know? How do we challenge this (in my opinion) frightening development in the evangelical world without in turn demonizing them? I feel like I am failing at this right now.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Gosh…now that’s the question! I wish I had the answer. Perhaps part of it is refusing to engage in language that dehumanizes or belittles those who see things differently from us, however baffled we might be by the views they hold. And perhaps some of it is continuing to include those who see things differently in our circles of community. I think part of why things get so out of hand is because we spend so much of our time in echo chambers, listening only to other people & groups that share our beliefs and values. The more we get out of our respective bubbles, the more we will be confronted with the humanity of those we disagree with.

      Not that it’s easy!

      Like

  3. In addition, Trump is the fantasy of the marginal white male, with his three top model wives, and if he gets tired of number three, surely there is a line around the block to play number four or a temporary diversion. Trump benefited from a billionaire daddy and an Ivy League education, something few evangelicals can aspire to. I disagree with, “being Trump,” as his online persona is exaggerated for drama. He makes no pretense to religiosity of any kind.

    What to do? A couple unoriginal thoughts:

    You reap what you sow.

    Don’t build your house on the sand.

    Don’t make friends with an angry man, lest you be like him.

    The anger of man does not achieve the righteousness of God.

    You get the picture.

    Liked by 2 people

    • I mean we are “like Trump” specifically in our addiction to outrage…not necessarily all the other things he’s been (rightly) criticized for. I like your “unoriginal” thoughts; in fact I almost used the first one in this post. Thanks for sharing!

      Like

      • I agree that the Trump anger/outrage is the primary drawing card for white, male evangelicals, although the other factors aren’t acceptably expressed in such circles. I suspected female evangelicals would prefer the soft-spoken Carson, and this has been validated by polls.

        Recently, I had an experience that supports “outrage addiction.” An elderly family member, known for his rants about everything from rush hour traffic to the lines at the pharmacy, continually spouts his favorite phrase, “I was so d**n mad.” Once I interrupted mid-tirade, “So, why are you always, “so d**n mad?” I was surprised by his candor, “Being mad gives m e something to live for; if I wasn’t mad, I wouldn’t have anything to live for.”

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      • The world’s criticism is an example of consequence of past sin, sometimes visited late in life, but for a God-fearing person, it is like a divine insurance policy to induce the repentance of an otherwise redeemable soul. Take David for example. A man after God’s own heart. I believe we will see David some day sitting at God’s feet, all of his many great sins burned to ashes, and wearing the clean robe, holding the infant son he lost to adultery’s consequence. What a shallow view we have of the scripture that was given to us as our very bread. How’s that for outrage?

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    • Solomon Is Born

      24 Then David comforted his wife Bathsheba. He had intercourse with her, and she bore a son, whom David named Solomon. The Lord loved the boy 25 and commanded the prophet Nathan to name the boy Jedidiah, because the Lord loved him.

      But wait…he was an adulterer, and murderer, and…oh never mind.

      When Religious Ethicists pretend to play God, they might be putting God in a Box, for convenience sake. Soon, that box will explode, no matter how patient God is.

      Like

      • That sounds exactly like a GOP elite talking point, little more than a cop out of the party top dogs who have been licking her shoes for years. If the RNC were doing their job, rather than scheming to get rid of Trump, they’d be handing Hillary their end of the rope she’s been knitting for herself and saying, ‘My dear, it’s time. What would you like for the last supper?” The Hillary scare is emotional blackmail of the defeatist mentality.

        Like

  4. I wish to disagree with your premise that all Conservative Christians or Evangelicals are “outraged”. You have identified yourself as a “progressive” (“…those of us at the progressive end of the spectrum…”) above. This puts you in league with current “post modern” policies of both church and state…
    I am a non-filtered (by religion) Biblical Christian. I have long made a study of “comparative religions” both by participation…and theoretical study. I currently attend a “consrvative” church.
    I believe your assesment of “outraged Evangelicals” is inaccurate.
    The “mark” of a true Christian “contentment” not outrage. Contentment in the saving Grace of God…Contentment in the salvation of faith in Jesus Christ…Contentment in the ability of all people to repent of their un-Biblical ways and to know the “peace” of the Lord…Contentment in their belief that the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution are based on Judeo/Christian/Biblical values that built and sustained this country!
    Perhaps it is at this point that Evangelicals and many Conservative Christians find their “common ground” support for Trump. His unwavering support for Constitutional “rule of law” opposing our current “Bureaucratic Administration Tyranny” strikes a familiar chord to those who stand against Pharisical bureaucratic hypocrisy like our Lord.
    Do most Evangelicals see Trump as “born again”? Hardly!
    However I do believe they see him as a “seeker” of a “greater good” like the Centurion in Mt:8. They see Trump as a supporter of the rule of law of the Constitution…a document based on “moral ethics” they believe in.
    Will this support continue? That depends on Trump…and us. (See Mt:7 15-20.)
    Kc

    Liked by 1 person

    • KC, three brief observations…

      (1) You’re putting words in my mouth. I never said ALL conservative Christians or evangelicals are outraged. I know many wonderful evangelicals who are conservative in their outlook who are not perpetually outraged. But the emergence of outrage culture is well documented; and as I say in my post, Christians (conservative and progressive) are not immune to its effects.

      (2) I don’t accept the label postmodern. I happen to maintain a strong commitment to historic orthodox Christianity. Your use of the term “postmodern” wrongly implies otherwise.

      (3) Nobody’s faith is “non-filtered.” Our view of God, how we read the Scriptures, etc. are shaped by our upbringing, cultural background, and a thousand other factors—some of which we’re not even aware of. None of us can completely dispose of our presuppositions and biases; the best we can do is acknowledge they exist and be aware of their influence.

      Liked by 1 person

    • Something has been left out. Kim Davis was singled out as a serial adulteress by the more vehement element of the “do your job or quit crowd.” Oddly, although even the atheists in that crowd demand “reasonable accommodation”, tolerance and equal protection in the public sphere, and depend on it to make a living, Kim stepped on their toes, so no dice for her. It isn’t possible for someone to repent, they wear their Scarlet Letter forever. Trump’s detractors and supporters are pretty much leaving him alone on his adulterous history. This might be because 1. He’s a man 2. He’s 69, married to a beautiful woman, has a very young son, and four other adult children who adore him. He has two ex wives who actually still like him, and his current wife loves her stepchildren and gets along fine with his first wife. Marla Maples is out of the loop but recently interviewed is, although childish as always, isn’t bitter. 3. He doesn’t claim to be “religious”, just Christian, Presbyterian and charitable. He was hounded after being asked “Did you ever ask God to forgive you? and he said “No, I don’t think so.” I believe that is scriptural for a Christian, since one is asked to “repent” and “turn around” and rely on Christ’s standing before the Father, not your own. No where does Christ say, “beg the Father to forgive you, or Me for that matter.” Worldly consequences don’t evaporate. But God’s forgiveness through Christ is instantaneous for someone who knows it is the only way and depends on it.

      I have something in common with Trump’s first wife. My ex left me for another woman, she was shallow, they were divorced, he married a 3rd time to a born-again woman, whom I admire, and has 5 children now, but three by me. As angry and hurt as I was, I never doubted he was a Christian, but merely a flawed and fallen man, yet to walk fully with Christ in repentance. I admire his 3rd wife, and love his two other children. My ex and I are friends, and the whole passel of us depend on Jesus.

      Irwin says Moore is “right” but I see him as no different than the Pharisees, except that he is still alive and can yet realize his mistake. First of all, he doesn’t know that Trump is unrepentant about his adultery. He just pretends to know. If a man speaks in “vulgar and harsh terms” about “women” (which I dispute Trump does), it is at least a demonstration that he isn’t lusting after the ones he criticizes. No one knows if he is lusting sexually now or not, although one might hope and imagine that he lusts for his wife, as that is normal. Maybe Moore is envious? Also, in the world of politics, as in business, competition is an equalizer. Here, women are exactly the same as men, and should not be pandered to or dismissed, and have to take their lumps and sling them back. Trading insults shouldn’t be so shocking, and it is a matter of taste, not sin, and has built-in self-correction. I have no idea how someone can be American and not get this. Army privates and medical interns know this, where has Moore been hiding? I completely dispute that Trump is hateful toward minorities or immigrants. Nor is he a xenophobe. If someone wants to cross the border and break rules, or overstay a visa, what difference does it make what race they are? Get used to the American way, it is a kinder thing to do to let them know what they are facing. Moore is engaging in political hyperbole here for purely worldly ends, not elucidating Christian humility. Christian humility begins with “I have sinned and fallen short of the standard of God’s righteousness, be merciful to me, through your grace and the sacrifice of Jesus on my behalf and for all mankind.” Until international secular law changes to erase national borders, all politicians should support those borders. Give unto Caesar that which is Caesar’s. Finally, based on what Moore is saying, he sounds like a Democrat, so he should be focusing on the disgrace of that party’s field, as they defend the sausage factory of the abortion industry, the hypocrisy of a socialist hiding out for 47 years in a white-bread city in Vermont while ghettos burn, and the lying, greed and arrogance of a woman who would eat a puppy on Main Street if it would give her the Oval Office. Amen.

      Like

      • One slight correction. The Lord’s prayer does say “Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive others.” I do not believe that would stick in Trump’s throat. I hope it doesn’t stick in Moore’s.

        Like

  5. theapologista22 has a point worth your consideration.

    You publicly level a scathing criticism at “evangelicals”, and do so with a VERY broad brush and nary a mention of any redeeming qualities of those Christians you have attacked.

    How does this encourage believers and build up Christ’s church? Does it encourage non-believers to seek Christ? Or does it simply reinforce their determination to stay away from Christianity ?

    Liked by 2 people

    • “But we don’t have to be. We can renounce our addiction to outrage. We can jump off this train and stop demonizing those we disagree with—or those we just don’t understand. Instead of building bigger walls, we can welcome others into our communities—and maybe learn something from their perspectives and experiences. We can lay down our fear. We can listen to the apostle John for a change and drive out fear with love.”

      That’s how it encourages believers and builds up Christ’s church.

      Like

      • I’d enjoy talking to you about the 28 paragraphs of rant that preceded the last two paragraphs, but not on a public forum. Suffice it to say, I grew up in the Anglican church but have been in “evangelical” churches for a long time. None of your generalizations apply to me or any evangelical friends or pastors I know.

        Liked by 1 person

  6. I am Jewish but regard the Old Testament more as allegory, history and examples of behavior rather than total Truth and prescribed ritual of life. I do believe in the Ten Commandments but not all the “laws” detailed in Leviticus. Yet Fundamentalist Christians feel free to pick and choose among these “laws” to support their own belief system; they condemn homosexuality but do not keep Kosher or live a life of doing “mitzvahs.” I have never understood this hypocrisy.

    As for Donald Trump and the Ten Commandments, would you say he observes more than 4 of 10?

    Liked by 1 person

    • Since Ben is the Christian theologian here, I will defer to him to provide a more detailed answer. My understanding is that Christian theology divides between moral and ceremonial law. Thus, homosexuality is an egregious sin, while shrimp is served at the church dinner, even though the same Hebrew word, “toevah,” meaning, “loathsome,” or, “disgusting,” is applied to both. In the evangelical camp, any sin committed prior to one’s salvation is wiped away, and all an evangelical is required to do upon sinning is confess and be sorry. Thus, Huckabee and his ilk are up in arms that the masses who don’t even share these beliefs haven’t forgiven and moved on with Josh Duggar, while their camp blew up the Clinton-Lewinsky scandal to the point that parents couldn’t listen to a Christian radio station while their kids were in the car. “Mommy, what is oral sex,” isn’t expected or welcome from a 5-year-old. Applying this to Trump, why is Trump’s adultery kosher and Clinton’s not? Both would be in the category of, “they aren’t saved so don’t know any better and can’t help themselves,” especially in the Calvinist camp. To be charitable, I am not aware of any religious or other group that doesn’t display hypocrisy or inconsistency; but if you know of one, I’m all ears, or keyboard. 🙂

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