“Like Esau, who exchanged his inheritance for a pot of stew, white evangelicals have traded their distinctive values for fleeting political power,” Robert P. Jones; “Trump Can’t Reverse the Decline of White Christian America” in The Atlantic July 4, 2017.
Fear of becoming a weak; persecuted and despised minority is the real motivation for Evangelicals’ embrace of Donald J. Trump. Evangelicals voted for Trump because they’re scared, not because they believe in him.
Evangelicals’ fear is routed in two things; demographics and history. A little number crunching shows why Evangelicals have good reason to fear for their future.
The media usually ignores these fears; because those labeled “Evangelical Protestant” still make up the largest group in America, according to the latest Pew Religion Survey (from 2015) but their numbers are dwindling fast. Pew calculated that 25.4% of Americans (a little more than one in four) can be classified as an “Evangelical Protestant.”
Evangelicals Scared of Post-Christian America
The percentage of “White Evangelical Protestants” in the United States fell from 22% in 2007 to 18% in 2014 and 17% in 2017, author Robert P. Jones wrote The Atlantic. Even though Jones’ writing has been ignored by the mainstream media, it is widely studied in Evangelical circles.
The largest evangelical denomination; the Southern Baptists, experienced nine straight years of membership decline, the Associated Press reported. Southern Baptists lost more than 200,000 members between 2014 and 2015.
These fears are stoked by pollsters like those at the Barna Group. Barna identified several cities including the nation’s largest; New York, as majority Post-Christian in a recent poll. It even found that one U.S. metro area Albany, New York, was 63% post Christian.
Adding to these fears is evidence that indicates atheists; and not Evangelicals, are America’s largest religious group. University of Kansas psychologists Will M. Gervais and Maxine B. Najle estimated that around 26% of Americans do not believe in God, Five Thirty Eight reported.
Why Evangelicals are Afraid of being a Minority
Such numbers scare Evangelicals because of their history. Throughout most of their history Evangelicals have been subject to persecution and prejudice. Historically American Evangelicals were often derided as ignorant and uncultured.
Our language is full of derogatory terms for such believers; including Bible thumper, Holy Roller and Bible basher to name just a few. There’s also a long intellectual and cultural tradition of demonizing and belittling Evangelicals in America.
Anti-Evangelical Bigotry is a Grand Old American Tradition
American culture has produced an unending stream of essays, stories, novels, movies, television shows, comics, songs and comedy routines demonizing evangelical or fundamentalist Christianity. Those engaging in such prejudice have ranged from literary figures like Sinclair Lewis and H.L. Mencken to producers of popular television cartoons like The Simpsons.
The attacks on Evangelicals are repetitious and rarely original. Evangelicals are always portrayed as ignorant, hypocritical, money grubbing, shallow, uncultured, intolerant and stupid. There is little difference between the imaginary church Sinclair Lewis mocked 90 years ago in Elmer Gantry, and the ones lampooned on South Park and The Simpsons today.
Such cultural attacks on evangelicalism are still common. One of the hottest new TV shows around this year in is The Handmaid’s Tale; a dystopian science fiction drama set in a future America ruled by an evil Evangelical dictatorship. Evangelicals seeing fare like The Handmaid’s Tale; and the popular novel it was based on, understand that bigotry against them lurks just below the surface of American thought.
Evangelicals know that bigotry against them is deeply ingrained in American culture. They fear being stripped of their rights or being reduced to the status of second class citizens.
Trump as the Savior of White Evangelicals
Some Evangelicals are embracing Trump because they see him as a protector from such persecution. The most blatant manifestation this is the correlation being made between the Donald and an ancient Iranian tyrant.
Some Christians see Trump as a modern day Cyrus the Great, Guardian writer James S. Gordon noted. Cyrus was the founder of the ancient Persian Empire, who is as also considered the Founding Father of Iran.
Cyrus is also highly regarded in Jewish tradition because he released the Hebrews from their captivity in Babylon, restored their rights and allowed them to return to Israel. Once there Cyrus even helped the Jews rebuild their temple after defeating their persecutor the Babylonian despot Nebuchadnezzar.
God’s Chaos Candidate
Many Evangelicals; who are steeped in biblical prophecy, see Trump as a modern day Cyrus who will deliver them from secular persecutors. Cyrus; who was probably a Zoroastrian, was regarded as an instrument of God’s will by many Jews including the Prophet Isiah.
Some evangelicals view Trump the same way; noting that in the 45Th chapter of the Book of Isiah God describes Cyrus as “My Shepherd” and God’s “anointed.” Gordon believes this explains why 81% of White Evangelicals voted for Trump.
The Cyrus hypothesis was spread by popular evangelists; and a bestselling book called God’s Chaos Candidate by Lance Wallnau, Gordon noted. God’s Chaos Candidate was number 19 on Amazon’s bestseller lists shortly before the Presidential election.
Evangelical fears helped propel Donald Trump to the White House. History will teach us whether evangelicals are right and Trump is the new Cyrus who will restore their lost position, or if association with him will destroy what little power they have left.
Given Trump’s unpopularity, affiliation with him is likely to stoke new prejudices against Evangelicals. Those prejudices will give rise to rise to new Evangelical fears which are likely to empower new, more radical Evangelical leaders; espousing separatist and supremacist agendas that might increase divisions along religious lines, and doom Evangelicals to the ghetto.
Perhaps Trump really is “God’s Chaos Candidate” but that might not be a good thing for Evangelicals.