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White Christians help to sweep Trump to power

10 November 2016


Against the odds: Republican Party supporters of Donald Trump celebrate at the New York Hilton Midtown, New York, on Tuesday night

Against the odds: Republican Party supporters of Donald Trump celebrate at the New York Hilton Midtown, New York, on Tuesday night

DONALD TRUMP celebrated his election as the 45th President of the United States on Wednesday, on the back of overwhelming support from white Evangelical Christians.

Exit polls suggest that 81 per cent of white Evangelical voters voted for Mr Trump, which is believed to be the widest margin for a Republican presidential candidate among Evangelicals since 2004.

He secured key victories in states including Florida, Ohio, and Pennsylvania, all of which were won by Barack Obama in 2012. Wisconsin, New Hampshire, Michigan, and Iowa also swung from blue to red. His appeal to white working-class voters proved decisive.

The result was welcomed by members of Mr Trump’s “Evangelical executive advisory board”, which was appointed in June. Paula White, who is Mr Trump’s spiritual adviser, said that she had never seen “such solidarity between Evangelicals and Catholics, Pentecostals, Charismatics and Baptists. We were brought together with a mutual love for our country and through a mutual faith in God.”

Overall, exit polls suggest that a majority of Christians voted for Mr Trump, including 56 per cent of those who attend church at least once a week. Despite courting their vote, Mr Trump declined to mention God in his acceptance speech, in which said that it was “time for America to bind the wounds of division”. He promised that “every single American will have the opportunity to realise his or her fullest potential. The forgotten men and women of our country will be forgotten no longer.”

After conceding defeat, Hillary Clinton broke with tradition by not speaking publicly for some hours. Later, she said that the country owed Mr Trump “an open mind and the chance to lead”.

The Republican party has maintained control of both the House of Representatives and the Senate. It will hold governors’ offices in 33 states, the highest number since 1922.

“Overcome, reconcile, reach out, and be American,” tweeted the Presiding Bishop of the Episcopal Church in the US, the Most Revd Michael Curry.

The Archbishop of Canterbury offered prayers “that the United States of America may find reconciliation after a bitter campaign, and that Mr Trump may be given wisdom, insight and grace as he faces the tasks before him.” 

The Prime Minister, Theresa May, congratulated Mr Trump, and spoke of the “enduring and special relationship” between the US and the UK. The two countries would remain “strong and close partners on trade, security and defence”.

The Vatican’s Secretary of State, Cardinal Pietro Parolin, told Vatican Radio of “our prayer that the Lord may enlighten and support him in his service of his country, of course, but also to the well-being and peace in the world”.

Roman Catholic voters were divided: an NBC poll suggested that while 60 per cent of white RCs voted for Trump, while 67 per cent of Hispanic Catholics voted for Clinton. 

Exit-poll analysis showed that a majority of those on low incomes voted for Mrs Clinton. Almost two-thirds (62 per cent) of those living in rural areas or small cities voted for Mr Trump. Other strong indicators of Trump support were the belief that the family’s financial situation had worsened; that trade with other countries led to job loss; and that illegal immigrants should be deported. Anger about how the federal government was working, and the belief that the ability to bring change was the most important candidate-quality were also strong indicators.

“The election exposed the arrogance and hubris of progressive elites,” wrote Dr Anthony Bradley, Associate Professor of Religious Studies at the King’s College, New York, on Twitter. “Mock & ignore working class folks to your own peril. . . If your Christianity only engages elites, college grads, artists, ‘creatives’, urban professionals, etc. you won’t understand why Trump won.”

The Rector of Kimpton with Ayot St Lawrence, in the diocese of St Albans, the Revd Bonnie Evans-Hills, who was born in Colorado, said that it was important not to “point an accusatory finger at the US electorate”, but to explore the reasons for the result.

Most of the people she knew in the US intended to vote for Trump, she said, and they were largely “hard-working, university graduates, that they have felt disempowered for a very long time.Trump has been saying all the ugly things they have held inside and were too ashamed to express. No other offer has been on the table that they feel they can access.”

The Revd Mark Michaels, Rector of St Francis’s, Potomac, in Maryland, said that the election revealed “deep disenchantment with our governing class and inherited political system, as well as deep frustration with the inability of either major party to put forward a trustworthy and likable candidate”.

There was “an apocalyptic edge to the whole spectacle, and a sense among many that the system is so corrupt and inefficient and our national problems so severe, that we must destroy all and try to rebuild out of the ashes. As the factories close, small-scale farming vanishes, and the opioid epidemic rages, small towns look like apocalyptic wastelands in many parts of our country, parts that the ruling elite have largely ignored for decades.” 

He described how many Christians, “especially rural, working-class white people, harbour a deep nostalgia for the social order of the past, in which the Church had a much more central role, and religious values were more deeply valued by the wider culture.

“I worry deeply about how Christian faith is so deeply tangled with resentment and nostalgia for an old order, that was, of course, not a good or safe one for many kinds of people. I worry that those who wrestle with the complex moral and political questions posed by the gospel don’t seem to be heard by the wider Church.

“The Church will need to work to bring people back together and to rebuild trust, but it’s very difficult to know what to say that will be heard clearly through the fog of fear and resentment.”

The co-chair of the National African-American Clergy Network, the Revd Barbara Williams-Skinner, told Religious News Service: “It’s like a mourning, it’s like a funeral in some parts of America, in black America, among Muslim Americans and among immigrants I’ve talked to this morning."

Christian leaders who spoke out against Mr Trump included the best-selling author Beth Moore and Russell Moore, president of the Southern Baptist Convention’s Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission.

On Wednesday, he suggested that conservative Evangelicals were now “politically homeless”, but that “political power— or the illusion of it — has not always been good for us.” The Church must “stand against the way politics has become a religion, and religion has become politics. . . We will pledge allegiance to the flag, but we will pledge a higher allegiance to the cross.”

The President of Sojourners, the Revd Jim Wallis, is among 60 Chrisitian leaders who have signed a petition calling for “unity of support around the election outcome”, and seeking “beginning of the healing”.

“We collectively believe it is time to put partisan politics aside and end the toxic gridlock,” they write. “It is time for men and women of goodwill to work together towards finding solutions to the many challenges that confront the American people.”


Now for the reality WE ARE taught that perfect love casts out fear. It is also true that fear can cast out love.

During the run-up to the United States presidential election, it became clear that many American citizens are deeply fearful for their economic and national security. It is on these fears that Donald Trump, a wealthy businessman with no previous experience in public office, rode to victory.

His campaign was unscrupulous about playing on prejudice, even against immigration, the dynamo of American history. After the first African-American President, talk of “taking back our country” conveyed ugly undertones, particularly in the light of Mr Trump’s other innuendoes.

Mr Trump made it clear, however, that he saw almost anyone or anything as fair game, since it was crucial to his appearance of defending American freedom to demonstrate an untrammelled freedom of speech.

But if his success implies an unattractive side to American society, it has to be remembered that this was a protest vote. One reason for Hillary Clinton’s poor performance in the polls is that she is closely associated with the political ascendancy of the past 30 years.

It seems that many people who felt that the American dream was slipping away from them wanted to end the Clinton-Bush see-saw. Although the Democratic party is not what we would recognise as left-wing in the UK, it is ironic that this protest vote by many poorer voters has delivered overwhelming political control to the more right-wing Republican party .

As the UK is seeing, however, it is easier to stir up a “movement” than it is to govern. In due course, Mr Trump will have to look as if he has indeed begun to make America great again. Economically, this is a big ask. Internationally, it has its risks. Mr Trump, whose approach, so far as we know, is going to be isolationist and protectionist, will need prayer if he is to be converted into a statesman.

The Churches in the US are obliged to abstain from comment that can be perceived as political during a presidential election. Now that there is a President-elect, they will have a renewed part to play as the voice of America’s conscience.

Forthcoming Events

2 July 2022
Bringing Down the Mighty: Church, Theology and Structural Injustice
With Anthony Reddie, Azariah France-Williams, Mariama Ifode-Blease, Luke Larner, Will Moore, Stewart Rapley and Victoria Turner.

4-8 July 2022
HeartEdge Mission Summer School
From HeartEdge and St Augustine’s College of Theology.

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