What white Christian support for Trump reveals about systemic racism

April 21, 2021
Posted in Blog
April 21, 2021 Editor

What white Christian support for Trump reveals about systemic racism

Exit polls suggest a legacy of white supremacy is still dividing the country

NOTE: The text-to-speech software reads titles and text. It also reads footnotes, which can be confusing, since the listener is not told it is a footnote.

By Robert P. Jones

| November 12, 2020

But among the sizable minority of Americans who disagree with each of these statements, more than 80 percent voted for Donald Trump. In other words, a denial of systemic racism has become a defining trait among Trump’s strongest supporters. According to the exit polls, this divide over systemic racism is now the tip of the spear in the new culture wars, producing greater polarization than the issue of abortion.

WN: Beyond tragic the pullquote to the right, this means four-fifths of American white evangelical Christians subscribe to “heresy” (an opinion, doctrine, or practice contrary to the truthMerriam-Webster). And this not limited to America! And many religious white non-evangelicals (Catholics, mainline Protestants, other faith members, etc.) also are heretics in this way!1

“Heresy” means in Greek (amongst variants) “a self-chosen opinion” (Strong’s). And if chosen, as with all opinions, it can be unchosen. This is what metanoia entails: “change of mind, repentance” (Strong’s).  In that light, please visit Christians Against Trumpism & Political Extremism.

Then there is this delightful piece full of why Trump is so harmful to be sure, but gently asking for dialogue, October 26, 2020, by and addressed to Trumpers: Hello, Neighbor: My Letter to a Trump Supporter–“The only way we will love our neighbor as ourselves is by getting to know our neighbors, even in the midst of our differences.” I love that.

Further is this eloquent appeal: White, Conservative, Christian Friend—I Wish You Really Were Pro-Life.

Also, a new book addresses Religious Right Wing Trumpism/extremism: Republican Jesus: How the Right Has Rewritten the Gospels.

Please see the article’s author’s book highlighted below. Image is clickable.

Please see too my book review of Kristin Kobes du Mez’: Jesus and John Wayne: How White Evangelicals Corrupted a Faith and Fractured a Nation.

The presumption seems to be that unless you’re (still) barbecuing Black people en masse in the town square racism cannot be a formative part of your society. Obviously that’s not true. The same ends can now be achieved through far more palatable means. So stating, as [GOP Senator] Tim Scott did, that ‘America is not a racist country’ is imbecilic. The more thoughtful question would be ‘How different would a racist nation look from this one?’ And the answer to that one is: ‘Not very different at all’. New Yorker staff writer and journalism professor Jelani Cobb on South Carolina Senator Tim Scott’s insistence that the US is not racist

Jennifer Rubin in an April 21, 2021 piece in The Washington Post–Opinion: Two stats show why Republicans are so fixated on suppressing the vote–writes hopefully:

The second statistic behind the Republicans’ collective panic attack has to do with their solid core of supporters: White evangelical Christians. As I pointed out last month, Gallup finds that the percentage of those attending any religious institution has dropped below 50 percent, the first time in 80 years of its surveys. Churches are losing younger Americans at a remarkable rate:

The decline in church membership, then, appears largely tied to population change, with those in older generations who were likely to be church members being replaced in the U.S. adult population with people in younger generations who are less likely to belong. . . .

The two major trends driving the drop in church membership — more adults with no religious preference and falling rates of church membership among people who do have a religion — are apparent in each of the generations over time.

If Republicans cannot find enough non-college-educated Whites and, worse for them, cannot count on White evangelicals (more than 80 percent of whom voted for the MAGA party) to keep pace with the growth of nonreligious voters, their nativist party — driven by fears of an existential threat to White Christianity — will no longer be viable at the national level.

She concludes:

Republicans, in essence, are trying to eke out as many election cycles as they can with its shrinking base. Deathly afraid of alienating the most rabid MAGA supporters, they continue to stoke racial resentment, fear of immigrants and bizarro conspiracy theories — all of which push away non-Whites, women, college-educated voters and younger voters. In sum, Republicans’ base is vanishing and they haven’t the slightest idea what to do about it — other than a possibly self-destructive effort to disenfranchise voters.

We read in an article by Michael Gryboski, Trump-supporting evangelical leaders Franklin Graham, Al Mohler recognize Biden as winner:

Franklin Graham, president of the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association and longtime Trump supporter, responded to the [Electoral College vote] news in a Facebook post Monday evening. He said that rather than focusing on the disappointment with the result, he was “grateful” for the Trump administration.2

An article published March 26, 2021, entitled: Good Lord! Who Are These People?, reads:

And there is so much more.  For example, a Marine who sent me an email telling me I was correct when on public television I described today’s infantry rifle squad as having Jews and Muslims in its ranks, as well as atheists, agnostics, and others, but I was also instructed to rest assured that when this Marine – the one writing to me – got to a combat zone and entered some heated action, one of his first kills would be these fellow non-Christian Marines.

Or the scores upon scores of other emails that arrive at MRFF computers daily with such invective in their contents that others unaware of such traffic, when shown it, are utterly appalled.  Or, on the other hand, the copious emails from solid Marines, soldiers, sailors, and airmen and women, asking MRFF to help them cope, fight, and defeat some of these fundamentalist Christians who, often with their commanders’ blessing and even help, are making the lives of these  other service members pure hell.   MRFF has over 73,000 such military clients presently.

If Republicans cannot find enough non-college-educated Whites and, worse for them, cannot count on White evangelicals (more than 80 percent of whom voted for the MAGA party) to keep pace with the growth of nonreligious voters, their nativist party — driven by fears of an existential threat to White Christianity — will no longer be viable at the national level.Jennifer Rubin

But this article by Leonardo Blair is hopeful: Beth Moore draws flak and praise after warning Christians against ‘dangerous’ Trumpism.

In July of 2020, Biden came under fire for saying Trump was America’s first racist President, which was pretty shocking to historians considering how both Democratic and Republican Presidents upheld the extermination of Native Americans, the enslavement of Africans, advocated for Jim Crow laws and supported voter disenfranchisement via the Southern Strategy. Also, we must never forget the war on drugs, which directly targets Black and brown people, and the tragedies of mass incarceration.– Jake Jackson, Daily Sound and Fury,

A further indictment is described by Bob Smietana, March 10, 2021: Bible Teacher Beth Moore, Splitting with Lifeway, Says, ‘I am No Longer a Southern Baptist’. In it one reads:

Then along came Donald Trump.

Moore’s criticism of the 45th president’s abusive behavior toward women and her advocacy for sexual abuse victims turned her from a beloved icon to a pariah in the denomination she loved all her life.

“Wake up, Sleepers, to what women have dealt with all along in environments of gross entitlement & power,” Moore once wrote about Trump, riffing on a passage from the New Testament Book of Ephesians.

Because of her opposition to Trump and her outspokenness in confronting sexism and nationalism in the evangelical world, Moore has been labeled as “liberal” and “woke” and even as being a heretic for daring to give a message during a Sunday morning church service.

There is also this outstanding article, brimming with related resources, by Dr. James F. McGrath: Reading the Bible while White. The article begins with:

Biblical scholar Ekaputra Tupamahu has written an insightful article about whiteness in our field. I will have to take some time to grapple with the implications of specific things he says about the Synoptic problem. Here I want to focus on the broader subject of his article, the “stubborn invisibility of whiteness in biblical scholarship.” Esau McCauley’s Reading While Black has been getting a lot of much-deserved attention. I’ve been seeking to reflect on and incorporate the implications of these considerations into my teaching. I read while white, and most of my students do too, and doing so is full of privilege and pitfalls that are prone to go unnoticed in a way that reading while black, or a woman, or any other identity besides white male Christian is not afforded the luxury to.

And further on:

One thing that jumps out at me as a thread running through the reception history of so much of the Bible is the distortion of meaning that occurs when texts by the oppressed become the scriptures of the powerful. Texts with a message of liberation from slavery are downplayed in favor of texts that safeguard that institution. The ironic labeling of the opponents of Jesus in the Gospel of John, a swipe at leaders of a local synagogue to which this group of Jesus-followers had belonged but from which they have been excluded, becomes in the hands of non-Jewish readers a basis for antisemitism. The critique of empire in Revelation, read by white conservative American Christians, becomes a bizarre end-times rapture theology that predicts their vindication. That last one is especially striking as we have witnessed how readily Evangelicals will declare allegiance and pay homage to a deceitful leader and trade core elements of the teaching of Jesus for access to the reigns of power. It also strikes me that the whole notion of the “rapture,” not found in the Bible, encapsulates the essence of privilege nicely: white middle class American Christians feel they can simply assume that when hardships confront the whole world, their treasure in heaven will ensure they are spared, just as their earthly treasure safeguards their comfort and distance from the hardships others face on earth.

 The above is precisely the burden of Gustavo Gutiérrez, as seen here: Gustavo Gutiérrez and the preferential option for the poor.

In the article by , “Christianity Today” Editorial Roils Evangelical Waters, December 23, 2019, there are these prescient words–much to the chagrin we read of majority white evangelical America:

Concluded [outgoing Christianity Today Editor Mark] Galli:

Unfortunately, the words that we applied to Mr. Clinton 20 years ago apply almost perfectly to our current president. Whether Mr. Trump should be removed from office by the Senate or by popular vote next election — that is a matter of prudential judgment. That he should be removed, we believe, is not a matter of partisan loyalties but loyalty to the Creator of the Ten Commandments.

One thing that jumps out at me as a thread running through the reception history of so much of the Bible is the distortion of meaning that occurs when texts by the oppressed become the scriptures of the powerful.James F. McGrath

And this article January 30, 2020 by (Contributing writer at The Atlantic and senior fellow at EPPC) in The Atlantic: There Is No Christian Case for Trump: When faith is treated as an instrumentality, it’s bad for politics and worse for the Christian witness. We read:

In a lengthy rebuttal to the Christianity Today editorial, [noted Reformed theologian Wayne] Grudem offers an impassioned defense of Trump, something he also did in 2016, in a column titled “Why Voting for Donald Trump Is a Morally Good Choice.” Because Grudem carries considerable weight in certain evangelical quarters—to many, he’s an authoritative figure when it comes to biblical ethics—and because his position is representative of the views of many white evangelicals, it’s worth explaining why his case is ultimately unpersuasive.

What most stands out to me about Grudem’s case on behalf of Trump is that he is a near-perfect embodiment of an individual fully in the grip of confirmation bias and motivated reasoning. And in that sense, he is a near-perfect embodiment of some of the president’s most committed evangelical supporters.

In Grudem and those who think like him, you see astonishing intellectual, theological, and ethical contortions, all in the service of making Trump appear far better than he is. I have a hunch as to why: His supporters don’t want to struggle with the cognitive dissonance created by supporting a man who, if he were a liberal Democrat, they would savage on moral and ethical grounds.

I have observed firsthand that if you point out facts that run counter to their narrative, some significant number of the president’s supporters will eventually respond with indignation, feeling they have been wounded, disrespected, or unheard. The stronger the empirical case against what they believe, the more emotional energy they bring to their response. Underlying this is a deep sense of fear and the belief that they are facing an existential threat and, therefore, can’t concede any ground, lest they strengthen those they consider to be their enemies. This broader phenomenon I’m describing is not true of all Trump supporters, of course, and it is hardly confined to Trump supporters. But I would say that in our time, it is most pronounced among them.

I wish it were otherwise. When I started my Christian journey, at the end of high school, I never assumed that Christians would escape human foibles and human frailties. But I thought that faith would have more power, including more transformative power, than I have often witnessed, and that followers of Jesus would (imperfectly) allow a faith ethic to shape their understanding of things. That more than most, they would speak truth to power. Too often, they have denied truth in order to gain and keep power.

That isn’t to say I haven’t witnessed many lives that have been transformed by faith, including lives that have deeply touched and shaped my own. But neither can I deny what I have seen, which is that, especially in politics, the Christian faith is far too often subordinated to ideology, to tribalism, to dehumanizing those in the other tribe. Faith is an instrumentality, something to be weaponized. That’s bad for politics; it’s worse for the Christian witness.

In light of the above quote, this article dated February 11, 2021, is encouraging: Most black evangelicals say ‘people like them’ will gain influence under Biden, poll finds.

Please also take note of my commentary on an article (and the piece itself!) by , Truthout entitled: Jesus Was a Victim of Empire. Acknowledging This Should Transform Christianity.

excerpts:

With the White House in the background, Kelly Janowiak of Chicago prays with a conservative Christian evangelical group while holding a American flag, Monday, Nov. 2, 2020, on a section of 16th Street renamed Black Lives Matter Plaza in Washington, on the day before the U.S. election. “This is the most important election in history,” says Janowiak, who says she supports President Donald Trump. (AP Photo/Jacquelyn Martin)

But I thought that faith would have more power, including more transformative power, than I have often witnessed, and that followers of Jesus would (imperfectly) allow a faith ethic to shape their understanding of things. That more than most, they would speak truth to power. Too often, they have denied truth in order to gain and keep power.–

These voting patterns of white Christians stood in stark contrast to two other groups of voters: white voters who claim no religious affiliation and African-American voters. White voters who are religiously unaffiliated, for example, are half as likely as white Christians to vote for Trump (28 percent). And there is no group further away from white evangelical voting patterns than African Americans. While the exit polls don’t break out African Americans by religion, nine in 10 African Americans supported Biden; and eight in 10 African Americans identify as Christian. In a pre-election survey by Public Religion Research Institute (PRRI), of which I am the CEO, nine in 10 Black Protestants held an unfavourable view of Trump.

As I documented in my recent book White Too Long: The Legacy of White Supremacy in American Christianity, white Christianity plays a significant role in diminishing white Americans’ ability to acknowledge systemic racism. For example, in PRRI’s 2020 American Values Survey, 70 percent of white evangelicals, 58 percent of white Catholics, and 57 percent of white mainline Protestants believed that the killing of unarmed African Americans by police were isolated incidents rather than part of a pattern of how police treat African Americans. (Does this pattern seem familiar?) And those who hold those beliefs were overwhelmingly more likely to hold favourable views of Trump: 68 percent viewed him favourably, in contrast to just 12 percent among those who say there is a broader pattern of police violence against Black Americans. The denial of systemic racism — a cornerstone of white supremacy — and support for Trump walked hand in hand, and together they lead white Christians further away from their African-American brothers and sisters.

I would be remiss if I failed to point out, amid all the unsettling evidence of how white racial attitudes drove support for Trump, some complexities. My home state of Mississippi voted (71 percent to 29 percent) to adopt a new flag that, for the first time since 1894, did not include the Confederate battle flag. Notably, earlier this summer, none other than the Mississippi Baptist Convention (the state arm of the Southern Baptist Convention) called on the governor and legislature to take this action. On the same ballot, 59 percent of Mississippians, including 89 percent of Mississippi’s white evangelicals, declared their support for Trump.

Robert P. Jones is the CEO and Founder of Public Religion Research Institute (PRRI) and author of White Too Long: The Legacy of White Supremacy in American Christianity (Simon & Schuster, 2020)

Please click on: White Too Long

Footnotes
  1. As well, sexual assault is a widespread scourge. But one representative instance is this story of deceased apologist Ravi Zacharias: Ravi Zacharias committed ‘spiritual abuse,’ accused of ‘rape’: independent investigation.[]
  2. He continued:

    “I am grateful—grateful to God that for the last four years He gave us a president who protected our religious liberties; grateful for a president who defended the lives of the unborn, standing publicly against abortion and the bloody smear it has made on our nation,” stated Graham.

    “… grateful for a president who nominated conservative judges to the Supreme Court and to our federal courts; grateful for a president who built the strongest economy in 70 years with the lowest unemployment rate in 50 years before the pandemic; grateful for a president who strengthened and supported our military; grateful for a president who stood against “the swamp” and the corruption in Washington; grateful for a president who supported law and order and defended our police.”

    Graham went on to say that he believed

    “President Trump will go down in history as one of the great presidents of our nation, bringing peace and prosperity to millions here in the U.S. and around the world.”

    Such is the deranged universe “next door” in some far-off religious galaxy.[]

Editor

Wayne Northey was Director of Man-to-Man/Woman-to-Woman – Restorative Christian Ministries (M2/W2) in British Columbia, Canada from 1998 to 2014, when he retired. He has been active in the criminal justice arena and a keen promoter of Restorative Justice since 1974. He has published widely on peacemaking and justice themes. You will find more about that on this website: a work in progress.

Always appreciate constructive feedback! Thanks.

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