These final two elements of the lens through which those White Evangelicals who continue to support Donald Trump see politics help us understand why they do.
(5) Capitalism. Confidence that the American economic system is divinely sanctioned.
Viewing the Bible and Christianity through the lens of Capitalism isn’t new. In The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism, Max Weber argued that “the Protestant work ethic” that developed after the Reformation was a force behind the rise of Capitalism.
Prosperity evidenced religious piety. The poor brought their misfortunes on themselves; the fact that people are rich proves God has blessed the wealthy.
American business both promoted and benefited from the rise of Evangelicals. By the 1950s, business lobbies and executives were promoting Evangelical narratives and leaders to counter the regulations of the New Deal and anti-capitalist “Godless Communism.”
American Capitalism became fully a part of the lens of these Evangelicals. This meant ignoring or interpreting unaccommodating Biblical passages.
Jesus’ call in Matthew 19:21 to give all that you have to the poor and follow him couldn’t mean that literally and was not meant for me. He couldn’t really mean what the Gospels tell us he said with “it’s easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for someone who is rich to enter the kingdom of God.”
The Hebrew prophets’ condemnations of loaning money with interest couldn’t apply to America. “Usury” should be interpreted instead as not demanding too much interest.
Evangelists such as Jerry Falwell in his 1980 Listen America! and Evangelical preachers promoted parables such as Jesus’ “Parable of the Talents” claiming that they taught basic Capitalist principles toward life.
With the influence of American New Thought and New Age teachings about prosperity for those who envision it, recent decades saw the rise of the “Prosperity Gospel” and ministers who downplay their harsher theological legalisms to make people feel happy and prosperous. Faithful Evangelicals should be financially secure - and certainly their leaders, like Joel Osteen, are.
Though there are voices in American society warning that the Bible isn’t a good promoter, for those who support Trump, Capitalism as the best economic system is a Biblical certainty. That includes its rewards for true believers and punishments for lazy folk who must not truly be Christians.
(6) Anti-Secularism. The State should promote their sectarian Evangelicalism.
Religious movements have affected politics throughout history with ideas ranging from abolition to temperance. Roosevelt’s New Deal embodied the Christian Social Gospel while the civil rights acts of the LBJ era were pressured by the movement heavily inspired by the Black church.
Following World War II, White Evangelicals eschewed politics, believing that God would do his work on governments including bringing their destruction in an Apocalypse. By 1970, Hal Lindsey’s popular The Late Great Planet Earth assured them that God would soon vindicate them.
But cultural and social challenges coupled with mainstream marginalizing of these White Evangelicals as uneducated, backward, and insular, increased the sense of victimization that had historically made them feel like “strangers in a strange land.” Biblical quotations such as “Come out from among them and be ye separate” and hymns such as “This World Is Not My Home, I’m Just A-Passing Through” were soon replaced with using the Bible for political activism.
The New Testament was a hard place to find much more for their relationship to governments than to “render” what was due to Caesar or the Apostle Paul saying: “Obey the authorities.” The places for seeing a model for an Evangelical government were the Israel of their Old Testament and the contentious you-can-interpret-it-any-way-that-works-for-you book of Revelation.
With the 1964 defeat of Barry Goldwater and the embrace of the Southern strategy, Republicans knew that these White Evangelicals were useful. Pop evangelists rose to the occasion. Movements such as “The Moral Majority,” “Focus on the Family,” and “The Family Research Council” tied the self-concept, survival, and success of the White Evangelical agenda to legislative efforts and subsequent electionary politics.
There was little faith left in waiting around for God to act. Government was to become the means for these White Evangelicals’ vindication.
Candidates must affirm these six elements of their worldview, and politicians and preachers who strayed sexually could be forgiven for “indiscretions” and “sins” if they adhered to those elements. The list of the forgiven became long.
Abortion and equal rights for LGBTQ people became rallying cries. Being “pro-life” became the shorthand litmus test assuring that candidates actually accepted all six of the elements.
They became crucial to Conservatism. Linguist George Lakoff would analyze the mental frame that internalized and politicized them - a “strict father” model that embodied all of six elements in these White Evangelicals’ worldview.
When Donald Trump arrived on the scene, he embodied them. Whether he believed anu or just knew he could get Evangelical votes by espousing them is another question.
And charges of hypocrisy didn’t matter. They’re common in the world of these White Evangelicals and their leaders.
The word “hypocrisy” doesn’t challenge anything about their beliefs. It merely says that an individual didn’t live them perfectly.
And since they believe that we’re all sinners anyway, it merely means that the hypocrite is just another human like them, saved by grace. More important is whether the hypocrite affirms the six elements.
It’s a time-waster to argue religion with them. Down through history, religions do nothing – it’s what people do with their holy books, institutions, and traditions that has an effect, and that’s done because of this lens.
People cling to religious beliefs for reasons related to prejudices, the influence it provides, egos, beliefs about their culture, and to protect their personal identities.
It’s also a waste of time to dwell on the religious beliefs they regularly tick off looking for some mysterious answer there. It’s the wrong question to ask: “How can they believe this or that and still support X, Y, or Z politician?”
Do they, or do they not embrace instead these six elements of the lens through which these White Evangelicals see the world? That’s what matters. l