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What is the endgame for evangelicals and Trump?

What is the endgame for evangelicals and Trump?

President Donald Trump meets with a group of evangelical leaders in the Oval Office on Monday Dec. 11, 2017 in Washington, D.C. He was presented with the "Friends of Zion Award." | (Photo: White House)

Okay I want to discuss something that is vexing to me. I try to understand where people are coming from. But I must admit that I fail to fully comprehend why there is continual evangelical support of Trump.

When I argued with my evangelical friends about their support of Trump I received many answers from them for why they were willing to provide such support. But one of the most common reasons given to me was that they were afraid of Clinton. One of the common statements I heard was that they knew Clinton was going to come after them. But Trump would leave them alone. Indeed, I must say that the way Clinton ran her campaign only fed into such fears.

Okay, so I get why some Christians voted for Trump. I think they are wrong, but for them it can be a matter of the lesser evil. Trump was the lesser of unpleasant choices. I understand because the choices were unpleasant for me as well. If a gun were put to my head and I had to pick one of the two, then I would have gone for Clinton. But that does not mean that I do not appreciate how loathsome of an option she would have represented. Fortunately for me, I found the American Solidarity Party, and I will probably stay with them until at least one of our political parties becomes sane.

So I am not vexed by the choice of many evangelicals to vote for Trump. I think it wrongheaded but I get why they did it. What vexes me is their continued support for Trump. Evangelicals have been his biggest supporters in his policies and seem to be the most loyal to him. They have ignored his immoralities and shortcomings in ways they clearly would not have done for Democrats. It is a blind loyalty that he is unworthy to receive.

My general inclination is that this is part of the same strategy to use political power to gain protection from Christianophobia that led them to support Trump in the first place. No one has to tell me of the reality of Christianophobia in the United States. I have done more academic work on this subject than any other researcher. So I do not begrudge Christians taking steps to deal with this type of bigotry. But if we are going to take steps, then they should be smart steps. The continued support of Trump is not a smart step.

One could argue that voting Trump into office may have delayed providing some Christianophobes power for at least a few years. But the continued linking of our Christian faith to Trump will eventually provide them with more power. This support will call our legitimacy into question which will provide those with Christianophobia the license they need to block Christians from the public square. Rather than using this temporary period of relief to prepare for a time after Trump, many Christians are merely digging a bigger hole for themselves with their blind support for him. And selfishly, they are creating that hole even for Christians like myself who do not like Trump.

Let me put it this way. What is the endgame to providing this unworthy support to Trump? Is there an endgame that goes beyond 2020? Okay let’s say that Trump wins reelection. Is there an endgame that goes beyond 2024? Is that endgame to simply support the next Republican and ride this gravy train as long as possible? If that is the endgame, then it is very shortsighted and doomed to fail.

I need to remind these Christians that eventually we will have a Democrat president again. I know given some of the shenanigans some Democrats have engaged in (vilifying teenage boys was not the proudest moment for American progressives) that it is tempting to think that we will never see another Democrat as president. But of course that is not a realistic expectation. Eventually there will be another Democrat who will be our president and when that occurs, then all of the pent-up anger at those supporting our current race-baiting, sexist, man-child president will be let loose. I fear that as much as we had Christianophobia before, we will see nothing yet the next time a Democrat wins the presidency.

This potential reality can be used to justify even more support for Trump and the Republicans. But such a strategy only postpones the inevitable. I implore my fellow Christians to consider a more long-term plan to deal with Christianophobia. Riding and falling with political victories and defeats is not the sort of plan we should have and this type of approach makes it harder for us to not demonize our political opponents.

So what would be a better way? Building up our Christian communities is the proper long term approach for dealing with Christianophobia rather than political idolatry. If we have strong Christian communities, we can develop the ability to deliver powerful Christian values to our youth. We can create a role in the larger society where we can set examples that will lead us to be appreciated more and vilified less. We can support one another and recover the loss of touch that is so evident in this fractured online world. And we will not have to rely upon political leaders to sustain us. We can, by and large, sustain ourselves, as well as serve others.

I am not saying that Christians should not be involved in politics. Indeed, there will be a need to have a political front that allows us to have some protection from the worst impulses of some Christianophobes. But we must not live or die by the latest election. And we must remain independent enough so that we can criticize both major political parties as we see fit. A strong Christian community, rather than political power is the true key to withstanding the current anti-Christian mood of so many cultural elites today.

If the election of Trump has given us temporary safe harbor, then let’s use it wisely. Throwing our moral capital away defending Trump at almost every turn is not a wise way to use this time. Building up our economic and educational institutions is a wise use of our time. Finding creative ways to strengthen our kids for a post-Christian world is a wise use of our time. Working to impact the cultural institutions in our society, such as the arts, academia and the media, is a wise use of our time. The time may come when we are not as free to engage in such activities when the political tides turn. If that time comes then we will be quite unhappy that we wasted time supporting this president instead of building our communities.

I am willing to work with other Christians across denominations and racial groups to help strengthen our Christian communities. I am much more interested in doing that than in fighting the next political battle. I hope in time more Christians will consider the futility of this current long-term political plan and join those of us who are concerned with the development of Christian community. I think they will find that our arms are open to their contributions, and we will welcome their efforts to continue a viable long term preparation for the coming post-Christian society.

Originally posted at Patheos.

George Yancey is professor of sociology at the University of North Texas.

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