Conservative evangelicals catapulted then-candidate Donald Trump to an against-all-odds victory in 2016. And this year they’re again throwing their political lot with a bombastic businessman from Queens with a sordid past and a penchant for social-media provocation. To find out why, I spoke to a number of evangelical pastors and thought leaders.
The reasons aren’t that complicated: As president, Trump has proved solidly pro-life and absolutely sound on Israel, while Joe Biden’s coziness with the hard left downright terrifies this crucial voting bloc.
Jack Hibbs, the pastor at California’s Calvary Chapel, Chino Hills, told me that pro-life issues continue to be the main catalyst, impelling evangelicals to rally around Trump 2020. “Not only has Donald Trump been the most pro-life president in recent American history,” he said, “but his pro-family, pro-adoption policies have made it loud and clear that Donald Trump is concerned for the American family.”
Samuel Rodriguez, an author and preacher who leads the National Hispanic Christian Leadership Conference, agreed that Trump has “done more for the pro-life community than any other president in history.”
Judges count for a lot. As author Eric Metaxas explained, the president has proved to be a man of his word on pro-life issues, standing by his pledge to nominate conservative judges: “Trump in the last election claimed he would appoint ‘pro-life’ judges to the Supreme Court — which no Republican had ever dared to say. Many howled in derision at this promise, saying he lacked character and would never follow through on any such ridiculous promises. But he did, even beyond the wildest expectations of pro-life voters.”
But there’s more to it than that. Hibbs, Rodriguez and Metaxas pointed to other important issues Trump has championed that matter to faithful Christians, including criminal-justice reform, support for the military, religious liberty — and Israel.
Trump “has done more to advance religious liberty and protect religious liberty in America and abroad than arguably any other president in American history,” Rodriguez said. Plus, “this administration’s commitment to Israel with every single act and gesture speaks” volumes.
Israel’s security has been a muted issue in the mainstream media, but evangelicals have been paying attention: They remember the apocalyptic predictions that attended the president’s decision to move the US Embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem — a move required by US law and vainly pledged by successive predecessors of both parties.
Still, it’s also true that evangelical support for Trump continues to rankle many, including some evangelicals themselves. The president’s harsh tone and incivility don’t exactly bespeak someone who has internalized the life and message of Christ. But leaders like Hibbs and Rodriguez believe these arguments are a distraction that ignore the indisputable power of policy to shape Americans’ lives.
Says Rodriguez: “A tweet cannot stop my destiny, but a law signed by the president or an executive order carries the potential to infringe upon my ability to preach the gospel [and] raise my family with Christian values. . . . Tone and tweets cannot take away my rights, but executive orders can.”
And it isn’t as if Biden exactly lives up to Catholic moral teaching. “Despite cynically posing as a Catholic,” says Metaxas, “Biden will do all he can to expand abortion into the ninth month of pregnancy, including appointing justices to keep such infanticide ‘legal.’ ”
Despite critics’ claims, evangelical support isn’t about compromising values for power. For most, it’s about carving through the electoral fog to find the candidate most likely to advance policies that best align with their beliefs — compromises made by numerous other voting blocs in this country without inviting moral opprobrium or charges of hypocrisy.
Whether evangelical support is enough to propel Trump to re-election is a different question, of course. The polls look more unfavorable to the president than they did four years ago, including in some evangelical-heavy states. But the point is this: Evangelical support for Trump isn’t irrational.
As Metaxas put it to me: “Most Americans headed into dangerously rough weather on a small plane, with a decorated pilot in the cockpit who is unshaven, foul-mouthed and has a dice-and-dagger tattoo on his forearm, would elect not to replace him with a below average pilot who is a soft-spoken church elder. The stakes are far too high.”
Billy Hallowell has been reporting on the evangelical community for more than two decades. He is the author of “Playing With Fire: A Modern Investigation Into Demons, Exorcism and Ghosts.”
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