If You Find the Evangelical Love Affair With Donald Trump Baffling, Let Me Explain It

Apparently The Donald is capturing the Evangelical vote, for the moment, anyway. The question is, why?

Trump does not exactly radiate piety. He’s been married three times. He’s mostly known for making money and firing people on a bad reality show.

Worse, the church he claims to attend says he’s not an “active member.” Turns out it is the church his parents attended. The Donald apparently doesn’t know what denomination the church is part of; he called himself a Presbyterian, but the church in question is part of the Reformed Church in America.

Digby wrote,

In South Carolina this week, Trump explained that evangelicals love him, and he loves them. And he loves the Bible more than anything, even his own book, “The Art of the Deal,” which he loves very, very much. He declined to identify his favorite Bible passages, because he says the Bible is so intensely personal to him, but he was more forthcoming awhile back when pollster Frank Luntz asked him if he’d ever asked God for forgiveness.

“I am not sure I have. I just go on and try to do a better job from there. I don’t think so. I think if I do something wrong, I think, I just try and make it right. I don’t bring God into that picture. I don’t…” Trump said. “When I drink my little wine — which is about the only wine I drink — and have my little cracker, I guess that is a form of asking for forgiveness, and I do that as often as possible because I feel cleansed. I think in terms of ‘let’s go on and let’s make it right.'”

His piety and spirituality are very moving.

I would add that most Presbyterian churches in America serve non-alcoholic grape juice for communion, although the Reformed people do use wine.

There’s a lot of analysis out there trying to explain why evangelicals, of all people, would embrace this guy as one o’ there’n. Betsy Woodruff tells us that Trump has been courting churches for the past few years, which may be a clue he is actually serious about the President thing and is not just in it for the attention. She writes at The Daily Beast,

Turns out, Trump has been courting the evangelical vote for quite some time. The Donald J. Trump Foundation has made donations to evangelical groups like Iowa’s The Family Leader ($10,000 in 2013, PDF), Samaritan’s Purse ($10,000 in 2013, PDF) and the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association ($100,000 in 2012, PDF), according to IRS forms posted on Guidestar.org.

Earlier this month, Graham’s son, Franklin, praised Trump’s debate performance on Facebook.

“[H]e’s shaking up the Republican party and the political process overall. And it needs shaking up!” Franklin Graham wrote.

And like other right-wingers who have fallen under Trump’s spell, there’s the authoritarian angle. Evangelicals are tired of Republicans who promise to do things like end abortion and stop same-sex marriage, and then don’t do it because of those pesky constitutional limits on their powers. Trump is a man of action who is just going to fix things, see? See also Steve M.

I’d like to point out one more thing about people who consider themselves religious. Psychologists who study religiosity as an aspect of personality talk about “intrinsic” and “extrinsic” religious orientations. Exactly what this means and how it is measured have shifted a bit over the years, I believe, but they are still important measures. This is from a recent study of the impact of religion on attitudes toward homosexuality:

How to distinguish intrinsic from extrinsic motivation? Allport and Ross (1967, p. 434) determined the difference as follows: “the extrinsically motivated person uses his religion, whereas the intrinsically motivated lives his religion.”  … An example is an extrinsically motivated person, whose attitude relies heavily on the statements of fellow believers as well as religious leaders. This person is expected to be particularly homonegative if their peers and religious leaders speak out decidedly against homosexuality. It is conceivable that the attitude of an extrinsically motivated person would be built on the abbreviated and therefore most likely more radical commentary of religious authorities. In comparison, intrinsically motivated persons will occupy themselves intensely with the foundations of their religion and, in doing so, will possibly come to a more sophisticated and therefore more liberal view of homosexuality.

On other words, the extrinsic orientation is mostly about social and cultural conditioning and group conformity dressed up as piety; the intrinsic orientation is more focused on actual church teaching. And I contend that religious culture warrior types are mostly extrinsics. Their religion is not something they keep in their hearts and minds; it’s the uniform they wear. It’s the banner they carry.

That the “religion” some evangelicals manifest may have little to do with the teachings of Jesus shouldn’t take anyone by surprise, because it doesn’t. It’s mostly their culturally induced biases shoved into a Christian (or whatever) package. And an authoritarian figure who promises to smite those they are biased against is just too compelling. Who cares if he doesn’t know Presbyterian from popcorn?

11 thoughts on “If You Find the Evangelical Love Affair With Donald Trump Baffling, Let Me Explain It

  1. The divorces wouldn’t bother a group which has a higher than average divorce rate. And that describes evangelicals, despite their claimed adherence to a set of rules that says the divorced among them should be stoned to death.

  2. Reagan had a divorce, too.

    If you show enough hatred of your fellow man, you are down with the Evangelicals. Look at Huckabee; have you ever heard anything but bile oozing from his lips? The Evangelicals seek to actualize Hell on Earth, whether they realize that or not, not unlike the Puritans who were so warped they had to flee to, well, the New World.

  3. Political evangelicals are a strange lot. They claim to be motivated by the teachings of Christ, but Jesus was apolitical to a fault. “Give to Caesar what belongs to Caesar and to God what belongs to God.” This was spoken while Rome was pillaging Jerusalem. The Colosseum was built from the proceeds of the rape of Israel. And Jesus didn’t oppose it – he was concerned with feeding the hungry & healing the sick. That included restoring the health of the son of a Roman centurion – and replacing the ear of a soldier in the Garden of Gethsemane when Perter went postal over the arrest arranged by Judas.

    A Christian is not required as an article of faith to be apolitical. Just as there’s no evidence that Jesus was political (or military) in his orientation the only class injunction you will find in the four Gospels in the words of Christ is the warning(s) that a rich man isn’t likely to enter the kingdom of heaven. And the biggest American evangeilicals live in mansions that Donald Trump would consider vain. But a political Christian has very little biblical support when he tries to impose his religion on others. Jesus taught in the wilderness, away from the cities. There’s no record of Jesus going door-to-door to recruit followers or hustle them for money.

    The point being, a citizen is entitled to a personal opinion, but there’s an inherent fallacy in trying to claim that Jesus has or backs a political position. Jesus wasn’t political – even in the most extreme political environment of foreign oppression.

    The point being – Jesus wasn’t political. Evangelicals are highly political. So is there any
    jjustification for them to hitch their wagon to anything co connected to the name of Christ as ‘Christianity’?

  4. It should come as no surprise for Christianists to be non-Christian. It’s a subset of how conservatives destroy; and this in turn a consequence of the inherent perversity of ideology. It seems that one can say “X” in a way that guarantees “not X”. Maha, what has Buddhism to say about such curious reversals?

  5. He’s rich (prosperity gospel), and is sufficiently assholish toward the poor and darker-hued (cathartic bigotry). Sounds like a perfect candidate for evangelicals.

  6. Trump lays the blame on the same people the Evangelicals do:
    Them Damn Furriners!

    So, the enemy of their enemy, is their friend.

  7. Perhaps evangelicals become political because they want power: power to enforce their beliefs and opinions on everyone. People want confirmation of their beliefs and what better confirmation than making them legal. That is a theocracy not a democracy but they don’t care because they are so convinced of their own beliefs. And if you define yourself as a Christian, you have to attribute everything to Jesus and the bible. A lot of them have never read or studied the bible but relied on their church and Sunday school teachings. They have to be Christian because it guarantees their survival and access to heaven. I once invited Jehovah’s witnesses into my home when they knocked on my door. One time when one of them was trying to convince me, he said : If this is not true, you have lost nothing but if it is true and you don’t believe, you are doomed. That is insurance, not faith. Also, when I worked as a nurse and did intake interviews, there was a question about religious beliefs. Many times, the answer would be: Well, I don’t belong to a church but I’m a Christian. It was the acceptable thing to be. The person probably didn’t have a clue as to what it meant to be a Christian.

  8. Seems to me that the Donald is engaged in a courting ritual where his coy little advances are just a tease to show himself as a proper suitor for the evangelicals. The problem is they are not going to be satisfied with a non-committal overture. Evangelicals don’t put strong demands on church attendance or reading your bible. They do however have a strong interest in the effort to overturn Roe v. Wade. That objective has been the spearhead of their most successful political efforts thus far, and they are not going to abandon those efforts on a candidate who can causally sidestep their flagship issue with a claim that it’s a personal matter shouldn’t be brought into the political arena.
    All of the GOP candidates are courting the Evangelical vote, some with great vigor, and I’m sure they are not going to lay down gracefully so that Trump can just walk away with the prize without having to get down in the mud and fight for it.
    Just like a good Christian father protecting their daughter from a suitor..Evangelicals are gonna want to know from Donald…What are your intentions?

  9. ““their culturally induced biases shoved into a Christian (or whatever) package”

    Right in a nutshell, these so called “evangelicals” are no more Christian than I am. Religion to them is nothing more than a blanket that they hide under, they don’t really believe one word of it. So Trumps just fine with them, they don’t really believe him either but he says what they want to hear, just like Jesus!

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