There are six assumptions that make up the key to understanding what those White Evangelicals who voted for and are staying with Donald Trump see when they look at life and the Bible when they claim that they’re righteously following God and that Bible. Part One of this series included the first two. Here are the third and fourth elements:
(3) White supremacy. The white race is blessed and chosen to dominate any other.
Slavery was built into the socio-economic structure of the United States from the beginning, but reactions to Abolition, movements for racial equality, and desegregation were crucial to the mindset of those White Evangelicals supporting Trump, a mindset that was usually stoked by leaders from the South. In 1847, the largest Protestant denomination in the United States and the one that dominates Evangelicalism today, the Southern Baptist Convention, split from the Northern Baptists to protect slavery.
Well after the civil rights movement of the 1960s, in 1997, they apologized. But maintaining White privilege was already built into the Evangelicals who would eventually support Trump.
These White Evangelicals reacted especially negatively to the Supreme Court’s 1954 call for desegregation in Brown v. Board of Education. They responded with the creation of their own separate schools and an emphasis on home-schooling.
Then came Loving v. Virginia in 1967 that ended prohibitions on interracial marriage. A new kind of segregation was needed in response, this time in the area of marriage. Even today, “sexual purity” movements are not just a reaction to changes in the culture’s sexual mores but also are means by which parents can work to arrange the “right marriages” for their children.
In 1967 Evangelical political leader Jerry Falwell founded a segregation academy in Virginia that was advertised as a “private school for white students.” Bob Jones University excluded black applicants until 1971, but prohibited interracial dating, which led to a Supreme Court decision and ended only in 2000.
After federal civil rights legislative victories during the Johnson administration, Republicans chose a “Southern Strategy” to appeal to White voters against African Americans by playing on White racial resentment of gains of people of color. Code words, urban legends, and bigoted insinuations were useful to appeal to these White Evangelical voters and have been used by Republican candidates since.
Sunday mornings remain “the most segregated hours in this nation.” Yet the White Evangelicals who support Trump fear the loss of their status as the better race.
They were a major bloc that voted for Trump because of their racism. And for them, the Bible thus must still be seen as supporting their Whiteness even if one of their great fears is being accused of racism.
(4) Anti-intellectualism. An open liberal education is a threat to belief.
Religious institutions in the United States were responsible for the beginnings of numerous great American universities and colleges, many of which are now seen as threats to those Evangelicals who support Trump. In 1995, Evangelical historian Mark Noll chronicled the history of Evangelical anti-intellectualism in The Scandal of the Evangelical Mind, saying, “the scandal of the evangelical mind is that there is not much of an evangelical mind.”
Of course, there’s a long history of “anti-intellectualism” in American society alongside liberal educational advances. In 1642, Puritan John Cotton warned: “the more learned and witty you be, the more fit to act for Satan you will be.”
There’s also a long history of the “self-made man,” often a manual laborer, farmer, or cowboy who valued “practical” education, as opposed to book-learning from the liberal arts and sciences. That prejudice is reflected today when educators tell graduates that they are now about to enter “the real world.”
Using the teaching of evolution as the major excuse, these White Evangelicals sought protection in separate parochial schools and home-schooling. They founded their own safe colleges usually in places far from what they considered the temptations of cities or major universities. One, for example, advertised that it was “fifty miles from any known form of sin.”
As part of the rise of 20th century Fundamentalism and again in recent decades reacting to the rise of feminism and other social equality movements, Evangelical denominations even purged their own seminaries to return them to the teaching of doctrines and practices that basically affirmed the six principles outlined here. Of course, the official claim was that their professors were not teaching the Bible correctly or in an acceptable “orthodox” understanding.
As large industries such as the fossil fuel industry began to see that they could use Evangelicals, they created their own “science,” promoted criticism of mainstream research and tied it to various doctrines and social issues they identified as crucial to those who would support Trump. Popularly, Paul’s claim to the Corinthians could be a proud rallying cry: “We are fools for Christ’s sake.”
In 2012 Justice Antonin Scalia, these White Evangelicals’ hero, appealed to this anti-intellectualism at a religious conference to demean those whom he felt challenged his faith:
“God assumed from the beginning that the wise of the world would view Christians as fools…and He has not been disappointed. Devout Christians are destined to be regarded as fools in modern society. We are fools for Christ’s sake. We must pray for courage to endure the scorn of the sophisticated world. If I have brought any message today, it is this: Have the courage to have your wisdom regarded as stupidity. Be fools for Christ. And have the courage to suffer the contempt of the sophisticated world.”
These and the other six elements explain why the charge of hypocrisy not only doesn’t affect these White Evangelicals but actually affirms their beliefs to them. In fact, they explain why it’s a waste of time to expect that religious doctrines are the key. They’re subordinate to the worldview represented by all six.
Next month: Part Three with the final two of the six key elements of the lens that explains their support for religious and political leaders even if they’re hypocrites. l