November 27, 2018


Trump's Christian Apologists Are Unchristian (WILLIAM SALETAN, NOV 25, 2018, Slate)

Many Americans reject Trump because of his meanness, his misogyny, his ethnic demagoguery, and his squalid and abusive personal behavior. But most WEPs don't. In a September poll for the Public Religion Research Institute, two-thirds of white Catholics and white mainline Protestants agreed that Trump had "damaged the dignity of the presidency." Most WEPs said he hadn't. In an ABC News/Washington Post survey taken in August, most whites agreed that Trump was guilty of a crime if it was true that he had directed his then-lawyer Michael Cohen to "influence the 2016 election by arranging to pay off two women who said they had affairs with Trump." Trump's core constituency, white men without a college degree, also agreed. But most WEPs didn't.

To accommodate Trump, white evangelicals have retreated from moral judgment of him. In 2011, a PRRI survey asked whether "an elected official who commits an immoral act in their personal life can still behave ethically and fulfill their duties in their public and professional life." At that point, two years into Barack Obama's presidency, only 30 percent of WEPs said yes. But in October 2016, after the release of Trump's infamous Access Hollywood tape, 72 percent of WEPs said yes. The reversal among WEPs was twice as big as similar shifts among Catholics and white mainline Protestants. In a May poll commissioned by the Billy Graham Center, nearly half of black evangelicals said personal character had influenced their voting decisions in the 2016 presidential election. Fewer than 30 percent of white evangelicals said the same.

Many WEPs haven't just surrendered moral judgment. They've abdicated social responsibility. Compared with other whites, they're more resistant to federal spending on poor people. The charitable explanation for this gap is that white evangelicals are skeptical about federal spending, not about helping the poor. But even when survey questions focus on help, not on spending, they're unmoved. The BGC poll asked respondents to choose, from a list of 12 issues and traits, which was most important in determining how they voted in 2016. Among black and Hispanic evangelicals, a candidate's "ability to help those in need" was the second or third most commonly named factor. Among white evangelicals, it ranked almost dead last.

WEPs are also reluctant to acknowledge racism. The September PRRI poll asked whether recent police shootings of black men were "isolated incidents" or "part of a broader pattern of how police treat African Americans." Seventy-one percent of WEPs said such killings were isolated incidents, compared with 63 percent of white Catholics and 59 percent of white mainline Protestants. In the BGC survey, 59 percent of non-evangelical whites agreed with the statement, "I am disturbed by comments President Trump has made about minorities." But a plurality of white evangelicals disagreed with it.

Trump's connection with WEPs on racial issues goes deeper than indifference. It's based on shared identity. In the words of Christian essayist Michael Gerson, evangelicals have degenerated into an "anxious minority," defining themselves as "an interest group in need of protection and preferences." Stetzer, based on his analysis of survey data, finds that race and ethnicity, not faith, are driving much of this process. Many white evangelicals see their religion not as a universal calling but as a heritage that sets them apart. They fear people of other creeds, colors, and languages.

Posted by at November 27, 2018 4:21 AM