When the history books are written about the Donald Trump era, one anecdote that will likely befuddle historians and students is the religious right’s continued loyalty to Trump. Even after the scales fell from the eyes of almost everyone who isn’t a Trump diehard, the nation’s so-called moral guardians have shown virtually no sign of wavering from the orange god they helped make.
For most of the last four years, Trump has retained otherworldly support among white evangelicals even as his overall approval ratings remain just barely above water. But there are signs that support is starting to tail off.
Last week, Public Religion Research Institute revealed that 62 percent of white evangelicals approved of Trump’s performance. That looks unnerving–until you consider that earlier this year, his approval rating among white evangelicals stood at 77 percent. Remember, Trump is making almost no effort to broaden his appeal, even though he essentially had to thread the needle to win the Electoral College in 2016. Any slippage in evangelical support could be lethal.
One question is obvious–“What took so long?” Well, consider that for the better part of four years, we’ve been told that God hacked the election for Trump, not Russia. Therefore, those who stand against Trump are supposedly being played by the devil. When you have to deal with that drumbeat on Christian TV and in church, most of the time it’s natural for you to keep your head down. And that’s especially true if you live in a state where Trump still walks on water.
In other words, there seems to be an 11th Commandment among the religious right: “Thou shalt speak no ill of Donald Trump.” And even the slightest sign of wavering gets you raked over the coals. For instance, when Jentezen Franklin, a member of Trump’s evangelical advisory board, dared to criticize Trump for warning that “when the looting starts, the shooting starts,” he was slammed as a “viper.”
If a pastor gets attacked in this way, one can only imagine what could happen to ordinary churchgoers who are even thinking about burning their figurative MAGA hats. Well, wonder no more. Another member of the Trump evangelical advisory board had a warning for those who are wavering even in the slightest in their loyalty to Trump–you’re a weakling.
Robert Jeffress, pastor of First Baptist Church of Dallas, is a textbook case of what historian John Fea calls a “court evangelical”–an evangelical who is willing to sell out his faith in order to abase himself before the Almighty Donald. For instance, in the wake of the “Access Hollywood” tapes, he crassly told Fox News’ Jeanine Pirro that he still wasn’t wavering from Trump. Watch here.
It says a lot about Jeffress that he was willing to remain loyal to Trump even after hearing that he believed his celebrity status gave him the right to treat women any way he pleased–even “grab ’em by the pussy.” And it says even more that Jeffress has maintained that loyalty even though it has been amply established that he is still the same person who spewed this bile in 2005.
But even allowing for that, a chat he had with the American Family Association’s OneNewsNow was very revealing. He noted–rightly–that Trump is taking a lot of flack from voters under the combined weight of the coronavirus pandemic and the furor over the murder of George Floyd. However, he believed that there was an explanation for the slippage in Trump’s support, especially among evangelicals.
The fact is most people–and I have to say it, most Christians–are weak when you get down to it. They are very weak. They blow with public opinion, and they don’t want to be thought of bad by other people. And so they just go back and forth … and I think all of that is contributing to this drop in the polls that we’re seeing.
So if evangelicals are more concerned about Trump degrading women and reveling in it, they’re weak? And if they aren’t too keen on Trump’s racist dog whistles and yacht horns, they’re weak? And if they’re worried about how Trump mishandled the nation’s response to the coronavirus, they’re weak? And on, and on, and on.
Most of us know that the reason Trump’s evangelical supporters may be wavering is because they’re finally realizing he’s unfit for office. That’s not weakness, Pastor. That’s a sign that your followers actually have standards.
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