Over the past three days, the media has been trying to dissect how evangelicals ended up voting for Donald Trump. Even some evangelical leaders have lamented this fact as though it means evangelicals haven’t moved past Jim Crow. While I have concerns about Donald Trump’s character and voted third party, pastoring in small town America has given me some insight as to why the evangelicals voted this way.
Before painting evangelicals who voted for Trump uncharitably, please recognize that most found both candidates deplorable. Most evangelicals, like the rest of the country, were not excited about either major party candidate. Many conversations with those in my community and church helped me realize that many found themselves stuck between a rock and a hard place. In voting for one, they would vote for his immorality, in voting for the other they would vote against some of their core theological commitments.
I have talked to very few who believe that Donald Trump is a moral person. Many struggled internally about felt forced into a corner. In fact, a large percentage of those to whom I talked voted for Trump while holding their noses. His character remains their primary concern. They agree with the liberal elites who find his morals reprehensible, but they voted for him because he would address some of their most fundamental interests, even if imperfectly. Evangelicals have much work to do to understand racial tensions, biases, and injustices and healing wounds that we should have been healing all along. But I know of none who voted for Trump because they liked his racist comments; they voted for him in spite of this and other significant shortcomings.
While they didn’t like Trump, they feared Hillary. Evangelicals removed from the coasts and the bright lights of big cities believed that Hillary utterly despised them. When she made her “basket of deplorable” comments she lumped evangelicals who hold to the sanctity of marriage in with the KKK, which we find deplorable. Hillary showed not only that she did not understand evangelicals, but she also held open disdain for them. In doing so, she also attacked their deeply held religious beliefs, grounded in the Scripture. She dismissed the foundation for their most deeply held beliefs. In reality, however, the “basket of deplorable” comments just reinforced what the last eight years of the Obama administration had already shown them.
President Obama has been openly hostile to those who would stand on their Biblical convictions. How else can we account for the federal government suing the Little Sisters of the Poor? Celebrating of Obergefell and the ostracizing detractors, heavy-handed executive orders demanding capitulation to the sexual revolution, and the praise of the abortion industry have marked the last eight years. The Obama administration has painted evangelicals as bigoted, close-minded, and hateful for holding to their theological convictions. With Hillary Clinton poised to push the envelope beyond President Obama, especially with her push to repeal the Hyde Amendment and force them to fund the abortion industry, they found this option unconscionable.
On the whole, the 81% of evangelicals who voted for Donald Trump aren’t racists, misogynists, or xenophobes. They are hard working men and women who faced a choice between two distasteful candidates. Many questioned how we could have ended up with such terrible choices. Those in my church who did vote for Trump didn’t support him until he was the Republican nominee who would stand against Hillary Clinton. They would have much preferred a Bush administration, a Rubio administration or a Cruz administration, but these weren’t options.
So when white evangelicals went into the voting booth, they faced the decision between one candidate who embodied the antithesis of their morality and the other who hated them, their values, and their faith. They are not bigots, they are not hateful, they are not racist, they are not xenophobic, they are not homophobic. They hold strong convictions based on Scripture and desire to be faithful to them. After eight years of being talked down to, made fun of, and having liberal orthodoxy shoved down their throats, they chose what they perceived to be the lesser of two evils.