Trump wins support of 81% white evangelicals

trump2This time a week ago I was writing about the alliance between prominent evangelical leaders in America and Donald Trump. I was still hoping, together with most of my readers I suspect, that the Trump victory would not take place and that, even if it did, the evangelical vote would be split. It now appears that 81% of white evangelicals voted for Trump. It seems that I was wrong in supposing that many of them would not want to identify with Trump’s cavalier attitude to morality and especially in his behaviour towards women. Somehow Trump’s overall appeal was greater than any disgust felt by the voters towards his behaviour, his racism and demeaning attitudes against minorities.

What was the secret of Trump’s appeal to this large group of God-fearing citizens in America? In my reading over the past few days I believe that I have found the main trigger which provided much of his support among evangelical as well as among Catholic voters. The key point is to be found his robust comments on the topic of abortion. In what was probably a deliberate exaggeration, he promised to lock up women who had illegal abortions. Even if this promise proves to be an example of Trump rhetoric, like so many of his other comments, it seems to have hit a chord among his supporters. The topic of abortion and gay marriage will always arouse deep passions among those who can be numbered among conservative Christian believers, both Catholic and Protestant.

Why is abortion such a defining issue among so many conservative Christians around the world, but particularly in America? To answer this, we need to go back to a fundamental human reality, the differences and indeed rivalries between men and women. I realise that I am walking in a vulnerable area of discourse where it is dangerous to make sweeping statements or generalisations. I hope that I am not wrong to observe that many men are threatened by the feminine and feminism. Women operate in a different way to men and men find this unsettling. Throughout history and across cultures men have wanted to control women to lessen this sense of not being in charge and in control of what they identify as a threatening other. In one book I read some time ago there was a further idea suggested to account for this inter-sex rivalry. Every man alive has some memory of being under the control of a woman – his mother. This memory of utter powerlessness and vulnerability is an unsettling one but it may offer some explanation of why many men across cultures feel a need to engage in a range of controlling activities over women. Somewhere in the mix is also the way that men want to control female sexuality. One of the most extreme acts of control against a woman, female genital mutilation, seems to be a sign of how men are terrified of something they cannot either understand or share. The fact that women are entrusted with the actual task of mutilating young girls does not remove it from being a patriarchal act, sanctioned by generations of misogynistic attitudes.

In the States the attempt to deny women abortions under any circumstances seems to have little to do with an abhorrence of child murder. To deny abortion seems to have far more to do with controlling women and denying them choices. This political mindset that attacks abortion seems content to condone the state execution of criminals and the waging of war. If we accept that the anti-abortion position is less a moral position than one among a whole cluster of attitudes designed to put women in a subordinate place, the power of the moral argument changes quite radically. One does not have to be a supporter of abortion to find some of the underlying objections from ‘Christian’ sources to be rooted in some obnoxious and foul smelling prejudice.

The rhetoric against abortion and indeed gay marriage is right at the heart of a right wing Trumpian appeal to men, particularly the economically disadvantaged. More generally there is a call for a return to and a nostalgia for the 1950s. At that time men alone provided for their families leaving their women and children at home. Being the breadwinners the men accepted complete financial responsibility and at the same time control of their families. The man’s status as head of the family was assured and his self-esteem was secure. Since the 1950s there have been profound social revolutions. Employment has become far less secure; women have been going out to work for decades, in some cases earning more than the men. This loss of status for many working class white men has been a profound trauma and anybody or anything that can restore this lost status will be welcomed by this large group among the American population.

Many evangelical churches also offer to their supporters the possibility of living in a world which promises certainties and access to self-esteem. The certainties on offer may not be economic in nature but they are alluring nonetheless. The male married man is encouraged to think of himself as the divinely anointed head of the family and this authority is backed up by frequent sermons on how important it is for the wife and children to be his subordinates. It is indeed a sin for anyone or anything to act against this divinely appointed system. A belief in this divinely ordained structure for human families is at the heart of why most conservative Christians oppose both abortion and gay marriage with such energy. Both these practices undermine the solid rock of biblical-ordained patriarchal marriage. This has and always will be a key aspect of the teaching of most conservative churches. Without it the interconnection between bible truths and practical Christian living is challenged. The ability of churches to operate as havens of reassurance and safety amid rapid social change, particularly for men, is undermined. For some reason that is not clear to me, it is not only men that find this traditional teaching attractive but also quite a few women. Not being a woman I do not understand why all women are not at least in part feminists. Clearly many are not and somehow some find comfort and affirmation in being subordinate and obedient to male husbands and male pastors.

Donald Trump in 2016 appealed to a large swathe of the American population to vote for him and this included the vast majority of white evangelical Christians. He was offering them what I believe was a fantasy – namely that with him they could return to a safer more secure world. This fantasy world of certainties is similar to the one that is successfully promised in many churches. The message is: ‘come here and you will be able to find the answers to all life’s stresses and problems; decisions about life and its meaning will be made on your behalf by others wiser than yourself. Trust the Bible to have all the answers. You will be guided by experts and interpreters of the same Bible who will be your teachers and mentors. With them you will be able successfully to negotiate life without the stress of not knowing the answers.’ Sadly, as this blog is often reminding its readers, this promise is illusory. What is in fact happens to the followers in such churches is a massive extinction of human freedom. In the place of true human flourishing is found a mindless obedience and conformity to systems of power and repression. It remains to be seen whether the millions of people who have surrendered to these kinds of blandishments, as promised by countless churches and by Donald Trump, will eventually wake up. When they wake up they may see what has been done to them through the skilful use of lies, propaganda and rhetoric. Let us hope so.

About Stephen Parsons

Stephen is a retired Anglican priest living at present in Northumberland. He has taken a special interest in the issues around health and healing in the Church but also when the Church is a place of harm and abuse. He has published books on both these issues and is at present particularly interested in understanding the psychological aspects of leadership and follower-ship in the Church. He is always interested in making contact with others who are concerned with these issues.

10 thoughts on “Trump wins support of 81% white evangelicals

  1. Thanks for this excellent post.

    Women are trained in shame, self-disgust and self-hate. Many women have been trained from birth to feel powerless and of less worth. One of the easiest options then – which is pushed unrelentingly at them – is to gain protection from a powerful male, who will approve her if she pleases him. It may be depressing, but in some ways it’s not that hard to detect the dynamic.

    And for such women, a powerful woman above them is extremely threatening just as it is for their men, because it threatens the whole basis of their psycho-sexual power economy. Either the female leader is in the right place, where her claim to authority threatens their whole world view and self-understanding, or she’s in the wrong place, and obviously shouldn’t be there, because her leadership is unnatural and bound to cause grief.

    These women have no solidarity as women, and so they can’t be feminists. They do not imagine or hope for any affirmation of their authentic womanhood, only the personal approval of the (ideally) protecting man they serve. One of the tragedies is that often such men are more abusive than protecting, but still the women are subservient.

  2. Sorry Stephen I posted quite a long comment on this excellent post, and it has vanished. No idea why, but I haven’t the energy to write it again!

  3. Thank Haiku for your comment. I feel on very shaky ground when I try and articulate the feminist position so it is good to have the balance of a female contribution. As for the failure to come through I am sorry about that. I hope it won’t happen again. If it does it is on my computer and I can recover it. The software of WordPress is just about within my competence but sometimes things go awry. We don’t do censorship on this blog. Thankfully random spam messages, normally advertising something are filtered out.

  4. This question has caused me to ask what is it that makes a woman a feminist? Although I’ve identified myself as a feminist for nearly 50 years, I’ve been a slack one, not an activist, and haven’t thought about it enough in recent years. I feel out of touch. But as a first effort, I would say a feminist affirms the equal worth of women and men and has a concept of sisterhood. This is both the personal and political as we used to say. I’m trying to grope towards something that is narrow enough to point to the essence, and wide enough to be inclusive of the many different and often disagreeing ideas of feminism. I’d be very interested in any other comments. I think the point is also to recognise that feminists are not defined by their gender, and unfortunately many women are scarcely even rudimentary feminists. One different thing from my post above is noting the lack of any detectable meaningful sisterhood among many powerful and successful women. Meanwhile I respect the dilemma you feel as a man not sure where you can find yourself in this debate. But you’re on our side and it’s great that you can put forward excellent analyses like the one above. From my point of view I’d just add that it’s a contradiction to be a feminist without affirming the equal worth of all people, all God’s children, in and through all our differences, and to have a concept of solidarity with all the “poor”, exploited and marginalised of every kind.

  5. My immediate reaction to the Trump vote is that modern Evangelicals have become totally absorbed by the contemporary secular culture and are unable to apply a gospel critique to anything. Surely the whole perspective of Christianity is to be detached and critical of all aspects of modern society. A classic example in the Church of England, since George Carey’s time, has been to apply business assumptions and management structures to the church which is a voluntary society for which such principles are totally inappropriate.
    Hence the great emphasis on Mission and Evangelism which has turned the Church into a self- interested self-centred sect. I won’t say any more!

  6. Thanks for this, Stephen. And haiku. I’ve been away, so didn’t have access to my blog site.
    Well, where to start? I’m an alpha female, and I’m also about average height for a man. I was brought up in the 1950s. It was all about making sure you looked good for your man when he came home, or he would stray. Tough if you weren’t pretty, and I wasn’t. I’ve been in the position of not getting a job I was promised, and a pretty, less experienced woman got it instead. And I’ve had men look at me in puzzlement because I didn’t seem to fit the image they had of what a woman was supposed to be! Seriously! Tough, strong, independent, tall, not pretty, and the greatest sin of all, clever. I wasn’t, by the way, always old and fat! I was slim, but, looking back, had a good, “female” figure. I was single, so I managed my own affairs. But I was still expected to have a male guarantor when I wanted to buy a washing machine on HP. I was 34! I was also refused a loan to buy a flat, “We don’t lend to single women”.
    In a church context, I was supposed to ask my husband when I got home, not ask questions in church! And across the board, supposed to submit to men! Any men, apparently, as long as they had a willy I guess. And even though I was cleverer and better qualified than they were.
    I always wanted to be a boy. They obviously had a much better life! That, of course, is still true.
    Within the Church of England, historically, all power has been vested in ordained men. That is still largely true. And where you have gay men in charge, there is no leavening of the wife at home saying, “Oh for heaven’s sakes!” from time to time. So there is this huge weight of prejudice and very little impetus for change. Many women have led successful and happy lives in this context. Either with men who appreciate a wife as an equal (They do exist!), or being one of those women who are so exceptional that they succeed anyway. Others have compromised, and wisely remembered that all people’s lives have compromises in them. This does not make the prejudice in some way “OK”. Sadly, if things are much the same as they have always been, they are, by definition, familiar. Unless there is something chafing, often, even women see no need to change things. I asked a woman lay canon why there were no girl choristers, and she replied, “Oh it’s just the way we do things here”! I can’t replicate the tone. Simpering, roughly, because I didn’t understand, presumably!
    America? Who knows? Judging by what Trump said, there’s an awful lot of what we would call hate speech that is not illegal there. The level of education is fairly low. There do seem to be a lot of people who voted for him because they agreed with him. But there were people on TV saying that it was all “The Media”, as if he never actually said those things. So add in the people who kidded themselves, too. He has now said he’s “OK” with same sex marriage. And he has said the hate speech against Muslims and immigrants must stop. So it really is like Brexit. People voted for something that the candidate never actually believed anyway.
    I’m afraid Hillary was not voted for because some people thought it was wrong to have a female leader. There have people on television saying that. And objecting to Theresa May, and Angela Merkel, too. And there was one guy saying that 8 years of a black man in power, followed by 8 years of a woman was not the America most people signed up for. WHAT!!!!? It’s a strange place. Where you can say something so prejudiced in public and not think it strange or unacceptable to say.
    All a bit random, just off the cuff, really. Theology? Most people, in this country too, have little understanding of the God we actually worship. The husband of a gay friend of mine who has cancer was told brightly by someone in church, “God always takes the good ones”. Facile, heartless and cruel, as well as crap theology. Since the husband isn’t actually a believer that was particularly insensitive. Maybe the churches need to preach more and louder! In America, churches aren’t allowed to say anything that might be construed as political during an election. So all the theology is left to unbelievers. We need to shout louder.

  7. Stephen, I have not been on this blog for a long time. Just read your post – what a loada hogwash!!! Our views are miles and miles and miles apart. I am completely stunned by your views as well as those expressed by your supporters!!! I hadn’t realised that our views are so very diametrically opposed.

    I am not entitled to vote, not being an American citizen, but I wanted Trump to win because I believe in the sanctity of life including that of the unborn child. Clinton would legalise term abortion – that would be tragic. I do not for a moment condone his then attitude or behaviour towards women.

    I could go on, but think I’d say no more. I am absolutely gobsmacked by what is in your head revealed by your post!!!

    1. You surely cannot believe that it is right to vote for a leader who is childish and petty! Or one who lies about his future intentions? Or tells lies about his opponents? Just because you approve of one single piece of what he says. And in any case, received opinion is that Trump is liberal on abortion, but simply wanted the right wing vote. Nor should you simply assume that anyone who disagrees with you is wrong. Very few people who have an abortion are heartless and cruel, nor thoughtless about when and how they have sex. Mostly it will be a sad story, and often it will include that they have been raped, or are the victim of abuse, or incest, or just simply far too young to even bear a child safely, never mind look after one. These girls deserve your sympathy. When did Jesus ever totally condemn the sinner? Or refuse to take the part of those who needed help and support? Abortion is a tragedy, but in a far more subtle way than you imply. And if it is refused, a desperate girl will try an illegal and unsafe method that could leave her sterile, or even cause her death. A terrible thing to do to a child who has been abused.

  8. Anonymous, I think the rest of the readers are probably gobsmacked by your lack of courtesy. I think this blog exists for people to air and share their views but it stops short of people actually insulting each other. To call what someone else has written ‘ a loada hogwash’ is, to my mind, not good manners.

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