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Trump’s Challenge to Evangelical Values and Racism

Marquez Ball

It has been said that 11:00am on Sunday morning is the most segregated hour in America, meaning black and white Christians are still very divided. I’ve often struggled with the racial divide amongst Christians, especially when we believe in the same God. Very few African American Christians would consider themselves to be evangelical, because for many the term often implies a white racist. Many White evangelical Christians on the other hand would deny being a racist and would consider themselves Christian conservatives, believing in biblical authority and inerrancy of scripture. The 2016 presidential campaign of Donald Trump is challenging white evangelicals to prove that evangelical is not a code word for “white racist.”

What Then Is An Evangelical?

The National Association of Evangelicals highlights historian David Bebbington’s summary of evangelical distinctives:

  • Conversionism: the belief that lives need to be transformed through a “born-again” experience and a life-long process of following Jesus
  • Activism: the expression and demonstration of the gospel in missionary and social reform efforts
  • Biblicism: a high regard for and obedience to the Bible as the ultimate authority
  • Crucicentrism: a stress on the sacrifice of Jesus Christ on the cross as making possible the redemption of humanity[1]

Notice that these distinctives do not include racial bigotry or allegiance to a political party. Donald Trump’s campaign success has caused alarm amongst some conservatives, but it also reveals that he had more support than many believed. Evangelicals who hold Christian values over politics are left wondering how it is that Trump has gained any traction with evangelicals. Trump owns a casino and strip club, and has been divorced twice and married three times.

Jim Wallis, author of America’s Original Sin: Racism, White Privilege and the Bridge to a New America, says, “It’s time to name Trump’s dangerous rhetoric for what it is. It is not only racist, but also fascist, with all the dangers that ideology implies. The truth is that we have seen this before. And it’s time to tell the truth.”[2] Evangelicals who support Mr. Trump will find it difficult to explain their support for someone who is clearly not converted.

Evangelical Divide

In light of perceived evangelical support for Donald Trump, Russell Moore, a leading evangelical and a “nice guy”, is struggling with being identified as an evangelical. In a Washington Post op-ed Moore says, “It wasn’t even intentional on my part. I just noticed a few weeks ago that I had stopped describing myself to people as an ‘evangelical.’ I had begun, subconsciously, to say that I am a ‘gospel Christian’…The word ‘evangelical’ has become almost meaningless this year, and in many ways the word itself is at the moment subverting the gospel of Jesus Christ.”[3]

While Moore struggles with being called an evangelical in the era of Trump, Robert Jeffress, pastor of the First Baptist Church of Dallas said that if Trump wins, “Evangelical Christians will have a friend in the White House.”[4] Public Religion Research Institute found that support for Mr. Trump is growing amongst evangelicals. In November 2015, only 37% of evangelicals were in favor oh him, but by January 2016, support had grown to 53%.[5] Moore and Jeffress show that there is a tug of war for the conscience and conviction of evangelicals. It’s not the first time, and will not be the last.

Wrong Side of History

For evangelicals, politics and religion have been consistent dance partners. During the civil war, the forefathers of modern evangelicalism supported the continuation of slavery. Several leading denominations, including Baptist, Methodist and Presbyterian split over the issue of slavery. The Southern Baptist Convention – the largest evangelical denomination in the country- was formed in 1845 by Southern churchmen who split from northern Baptists after a national Baptist agency refused to appoint a slaveholder as a missionary. It was not until 1995 that the Southern Baptist Convention issued an apology for the institution of slavery, admitting that they were on the wrong side of history.[6]

In 1844, the Methodist Episcopal Church split when one of the church’s five bishops, James O. Andrew acquired slaves through marriage. When Andrew refused to free his slaves, dissidents drafted a Plan of Separation, in order to organize their own ecclesiastical structure.[7] Tension between northern and southern Methodists grew worse in the years leading to Abraham Lincoln’s election in 1860 and eventually the Civil War. It was not until 2000 the United Methodist Church saw the error of their ways and issued an apology regarding slavery.[8] While many evangelicals have made efforts towards reconciliation, Mr. Trump’s presidential candidacy once again presents a challenge to the conscience and conviction of evangelicals.

Does Race Matter?

This month, at least 500 evangelicals and other conservatives have agreed to meet with Mr. Trump to discuss his faith and values. Southern Baptist Convention President, Ronnie Floyd, who will attend the meeting, has expressed his disappointment that all candidates have avoided a conversation about racial reconciliation in America.  Commenting to the Baptist Press, Floyd states, “We have a conversation that has been totally ignored, and it’s one of the greatest problems in the country today. I would like to ask Mr. Trump, whoever else is left and ends up running … ‘what do you plan on doing about that?”[9]

As an African American, I hope more of my white evangelical friends would see that the issue of race is no longer a sleeping giant, but one that’s alive and poised to strike; now is the time to remove it. If white evangelicals hold true to Christians values over racial bigotry, more African Americans may be willing to consider themselves evangelical.

Will Mr. Trump’s presidential candidacy expose evangelicals’ Christian values or racial bigotry?











12 thoughts on “Trump’s Challenge to Evangelical Values and Racism

  1. Veronica Mullins

    I agree to go with our convictions but what candidate stands for what we “Christians” stand for? I will vote however reality tells me neither presumptive nominee represents a true “Christian”. As I say to many Christians in my circle the silence of the Church has failed our country not the politicians.

  2. Avelinn

    I honestly believe that evangelical support of Trump has much to do with a desire to preserve a comfortable way of life. I think we in the church have associated and linked Christian values so closely with American values that we can longer see the difference anymore. Is it really our job to try and maintain the most comfortable life? I think evangelicals are afraid that life as we know it is going away. We have become very comfortable as American Christians, not wanting to see or deal with anything outside of our comfort zone. But imagine what Jesus and his disciples saw and dealt with on the earth. Why do we feel in some way that we have a “right” not to have to see or deal with the messy things? At least that’s the way I feel.

    And I’m sorry to say this, but I think a large part of the disconnect between black and white Christians on this issue is because many of us (black Christians) have, like white evangelicals, confused/merged our faith and our politics. So when blacks joined in with the mainstream,mostly white evangelical church, many of us felt compelled to change our politics, as if changing our politics to conform with the white evangelical church was what Jesus was asking us to do.

    Please don’t misunderstand. I’m not saying our outlooks on social issues don’t change as a result of our encountering Christ. But because we as black Americans have in large part either enabled white evangelicalism to continue seeing our country in a way that often overlooks racism, we shouldn’t be surprised when white evangelicals feel it’s okay to overlook racial prejudice in order to preserve what they consider to be their distinctly Christian way of life. We have for a long time, allowed white Christians to call this a Christian nation, as if slavery or the genocide of the American Indians was not a stench in the nostrils of God. Because of the tendency among white evangelicals to view their prosperity as an indication that they are favored by God, and confirmation of this nation’s Christian roots,(and no one has spoken out against it and rebuked it!) voting for Trump doesn’t even cause most white evangelicals to bat an eyelash if it means it can preserve the way of life that they have become accustom to and that “clearly” is as a result of the favor of God.

    Yes, I know there are some generalities in this post (not all white evangelicals feel this way, and not all black evangelicals are enabling) and I’m not sure I’ve expressed myself the best here. But I just feel it’s so important to look at this situation objectively and acknowledge there is a need for repentance. Particularly within white mainstream evangelicalism. Because there is idolatry of country, idolatry of comfort, and idolatry of culture at work here. Where are the watchdogs to call out the sin at work here?

  3. Marquez Ball

    Brian you are correct I wanted to show that not all African Americans agree with President Obama just as not all Evangelicals agree with Trump. The challenge that we have is that too often both groups remain silent which causes our Christian values to be trampled by both parties.

  4. Brian Hawkins

    In your above comment, you state that, “Many African Americans totally disagree with some of President Obama’s policies but simply stay the party line rather than challenge it from a convictionial perspective.” That is a vitally important admission, because that is also precisely what many white evangelicals also do. Take care not to read too much racism into it. And especially be careful not to attribute the racism of a part to the whole. With that clear, I think your article is well-written and helpful.

    Not that you’ve changed my mind! I couldn’t vote for Trump with a gun to my head. I will vote for a candidate who represents Christian values, even though there is hardly a chance of him winning.

  5. g

    Thank you for your courage. Your bold expressions are exactly what we need to hear more of. I pray that you remain faithful and humble to verbalize what our Lord has place on your heart.

  6. Anne

    I want to add that God is sovereign. We see many instances in the Bible where leaders were weak, selfish, or even evil. They held the position because their leadership suited God’s purposes. He cares who leads our country and who leads every country, and He is the one who puts them into power. That means He is not only responsible for who is elected, he is also responsible for who wins the nominations and has the opportunity to run for election. As Christians, I don’t believe in not voting. Last time a lot of evangelicals said they wouldn’t vote because they couldn’t vote for a Mormon and they wouldn’t vote for Obama. Well, that didn’t mean one of them wouldn’t be in the White House. Pray, and then vote.

  7. Marquez Ball

    Very true, it’s time we stop ignoring our Christian convictions in favor of a party candidate. We are in this crazy situation because we’ve allowed candidates to take advantage of party politics and ignore Christianity.

  8. Marquez Ball

    You are correct, I did not mention Clinton in this article because I don’t see her as the best solution, I’m not sure we (black, white, etc) Christians have given ourselves one. As long as we say we have convictions but choose not to measure candidates by them we will continue to have this issue. Here’s what I hope if black and white Christians can come together and agree to be lead by our Christian values before political party or race we can “Make America Great” for the first time. Many African Americans totally disagree with some of President Obama’s policies but simply stay the party line rather than challenge it from a convictionial perspective.

  9. Anne Prendergast

    Russell, We need to stay in on this conversation. I just started following RAAN because of one of your posts. We reformed folks need to stick together. Jesus before politics. I know there are many African American Christians who cannot support Clinton, but just like the white population, there are many who are swayed by the media. We need to take the time to look at the TRUE record of both candidates and ask for God’s wisdom. In addition, to the extent that some evangelicals have the ear of Donald Trump, they need to guide him in the direction of Christ. I remember in Louisiana when I had the choice between Edwin Edwards and David Duke for governor. You have to lean in and make a wise decision.

  10. G. Burdell

    While I agree that Trump poses huge problems for white evangelical Christians, I would politely ask if you would willingly support Hillary Clinton? African American Christians have largely gotten a pass in voting overwhelmingly for Obama, who supports clearly un-Biblical policies, and nowhere do you mention the issues a Christian should have in voting for Clinton. Since there is clearly no candidate in this election that I can support, should I just stay home?

  11. Marquez Ball

    Russell I’m really sorry to hear that, my aim is not to make you sad but to ask how important are our Christian values. Please let me know what makes you sad if I can make something clear I’d be glad to.

  12. Russell Moffett

    Thi article makes me sad. I will not be looking at RAAN in the future.

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