Why Conservative Christians Support Trump

Jesus Weeping - Conservative ChristiansI was really struck by a line in David Cay Johnston’s excellent The Making of Donald Trump, “Trump says he does not see any reason to seek divine forgiveness because he has done nothing wrong in his entire life, an oft-made observation so at odds with the most basic teachings of Jesus that I am at a loss to explain any religious leader embracing him.”

I understand: one of the most basic tenets of Christianity is Original Sin. So Trump calling himself a Christian should be offensive to any Christian who takes their religion seriously. But add to that a man like Trump who so clearly has sinned again God, and it makes you want to bang you head against a wall. Still, I think I can explain: religion is politics.

Earlier today, I was looking at the FiveThirtyEight polls-plus forecast for the 2016 presidential election. Trump has a 99.3 percent chance of winning Utah. I understand: Utah is a red state and you may think it is no big deal. But back in March, there was a whole lot of reporting like Kira Lerner’s Mormons Detest Donald Trump. It wasn’t alone in reporting this idea:

Mormons also have a deep memory of religious persecution, and Trump’s Islamophobia, bigotry, and rejection of Muslims is “certainly something Mormons find distasteful,” [Matt] Bowman told ThinkProgress.

Professor Bowman also said, “Trump, both in his private life and his public persona — his crassness, his affairs — all of that kind of thing offends Mormon sensibilities.”

Mormon’s Love Trump!

Real Clear Politics, however, has Trump leading Clinton by 14.7 percentage points.

I used to use the term “cultural Christian” as a pejorative. But I now tend to think that all religious (and areligious and anti-religious) belief is merely tribal signaling.

Let’s contrast Trump to Clinton for a moment. She may be something of a hawk, but she certainly isn’t a demagogue who will persecute religious minorities. She certainly seems to have lived a socially conservative life. And despite what most people seem to think, Clinton is actually quite religious — a lifetime member of the United Methodist Church.

But the Mormons of Utah aren’t swayed by this, just as conservative Christians elsewhere aren’t. And I think they are right not to be so. Because their religion isn’t about Kolob or magic underpants or any of the other silly things that Mormons are rightfully known for. As much as I may look up into the night sky a marvel at existence, that just isn’t what religion is for the vast majority of people. For them, religion is social. And that means that it is political.

Religion Is Politics

So when a Catholic takes Communion, they don’t actually believe that the little wafer literally turns into the the body of Jesus — even if they tell you that they do. They are just making a public statement, “This is who I am in the society of which I am part.” And this is why American protestants went from not caring about abortion in 1970 to caring about little else in 1980.

This is a fact that we liberals — especially of my generation — miss when it comes to religion. We think of Jesus as the Prince of Peace and have a very hippy conception of the man. But that’s just one Jesus. It’s one I like: guy who didn’t care about hygiene, hung out with the dregs of society, and stood for the poor. But for conservative Christians, Jesus is more like Rambo, coming back to kick some ass.

Conservative Christians Should Love Trump

So we can’t claim that our own Jesus (Especially people like me who aren’t believers anyway!) is right and that others’ are wrong. None of it matters. I used to use the term “cultural Christian” as a pejorative. But I now tend to think that all religious (and areligious and anti-religious) belief is merely tribal signaling.

Donald Trump will cut taxes on the rich. Donald Trump will make it harder to get an abortion. Donald Trump will deregulate. These are the reasons that Mormons and other conservative Christians will vote for him. Religion is politics. And it always was. Jesus said, “Blessed are the gentle, for they shall inherit the earth.” I believe modern conservative Christians are working the opposite side, “Blessed are the powerful, for they shall inherit the earth.” I think they are wrong. In fact, I think they are evil. But I think they are quite right to support Donald Trump.

6 thoughts on “Why Conservative Christians Support Trump

  1. I wonder to what degree the popular notion, “Catholic guilt,” stems from not believing the wafer is Jesus’s toeflesh or whatever. I certainly remember not believing it. And thinking, “I’ve got to pretend I do,” as my mom and the priest expected it. The f***ed up thing is I worried more about the priest’s disapproval than my mom’s, and my mom was a good and brilliant person I’d known my whole life!

    I’m disappointed by our Mormon friends on this. On the one hand, Salt Lake has a gay mayor. They’re reforming. Slowly, as is usually the case with powerful social norms, but it is happening. OTOH, Trump betrays the very existence of community, something I always assumed was a Mormon cultural virtue.

    And I continue to think it’s a virtue. I imagine most Mormons are thinking the way one person in your link to a good theological debate over Trump did; “so, you hate Hillary because you’re convinced she’s lying, but you defend Trump because you hope he’s lying?” I suspect the majority of Utah voters backing Trump are in this camp. He’s a sociopath, but won’t fuck with us.

    Sorry to defend Mormons on your site. I tend to like them, as, like Catholics, they generally have some notion of their theology. As opposed to evangelical Protestants, whose faith is basically a Jesus fish car bumper glue-on.

    • I don’t know. If you actually believe, Catholicism is great for getting rid of guilt. When I was younger, I felt very guilty. Now I feel more shameful. Shame seems more like something you earn.

      In defense of the Utah Mormons, however, Trump won’t do as well as McCain did. So there’s that.

      • “Shame seems more like something you earn” is a horrible line. Because it’s absolutely hilarious and true. I wish it weren’t.

        Guilt is about hating yourself for what you are, which is pointless. Shame is about hating yourself for what you’ve consciously done, which has some value. You can learn from it. But it can be taken too far, where it becomes debilitating.

        • It’s something I’ve thought a lot about. When I was younger and more blameless, I had a lot of guilt. I don’t have much of it anymore because I have enough to feel shame for. And that’s a good thing. That’s how we grow. It’s also what makes us more empathic. I’m a big believer in shame; I recommend it for everyone!

  2. I think it will be a lot closer than you think Frank. According to Robby Mook, Clinton’s campaign manager, this will be a very lopsided election. Further, the media pollsters are not paying for good numbers, which might explain why some of the primary polling was so off.

    • I know about the reporting of internal polls and so on. But the situation is the same. This isn’t an issue of turnout. I stand by my point.

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