Around eighteen years ago, my wife and I drove out into the countryside beyond Louisville to find somewhere quaint to attend church one Sunday morning. It’s not hard to find quaint churches nearly anywhere in rural America and certainly not in Kentucky. We found a Reformed Baptist church.
It was God’s will that we did so. By Reformed, I think they meant “Calvinist.” At the very least they very much believed in human depravity.
The preacher that Sunday began by excoriating Bill Clinton for his sins. This was not a hard task. I am sure the preacher had something to say about extra-marital affairs. Support for abortion rights. General disregard for Christianity. What stuck in my mind, however, was the far more gravely mentioned sin of the president being a “card-carrying member of the ACLU.” I wondered if Bill Clinton really carried membership cards around with him, but I presumed the preacher knew his stuff.
By this point, I was convinced that Bill Clinton was just about the devil incarnate. Who else would carry one of those cards around with him? My palms were sweaty. My face was red. I was pretty sure the ACLU was outside ready to put the mark of the beast on my forehead. Would I stand firm and die? Or buckle to the local Democratic minions of Satan?
In the nick of time, the minister brought us back from the brink. “Bill Clinton is not the Antichrist,” he cautioned. “He is only a pawn of the evil one.” Exhale, sort of. Nuance.
It was a great Sunday morning, for a time. The message was undoubtedly more interesting than the average sermon.
We left the church when another minister prayed that a congregant would recognize the sin that had caused her to have a miscarriage.
Political attacks on Bill Clinton we could endure. I hadn’t voted for him. Cruel theology? No way.
The political world has turned a great deal since then. In 1998, I would have been stunned to think that Hillary Clinton would run for president twice and nearly win the White House.
Today, though, many are stunned (or horrified but not surprised) that 81% of white evangelicals voted for Donald Trump.
Remarkably, the more often one enters a church, the more likely one is to vote Trump. One has to attend at least weekly in order to become a very likely Trump voter. Nearly all of those who stay for Sunday school vote Trump, and a stunning 100% of Americans who attend Wednesday night services voted Trump.
So-called “coffee house” services, held most often on Saturday and Sunday nights, are the exception to this rule. This is especially true if those churches serve meatless meals to the young adults without children who attend coffee-house services.
But 81% of white evangelicals voted for Donald Trump. I am white. I am a self-identified evangelical. I did not vote for Donald Trump.
It was a narrow escape, this not voting for Trump. Fortunately, we don’t go to Sunday school, and, as Presbyterians, we attend reliably short services. Into the sanctuary at 11:20 or so, five minutes late, out by 12:15. We visited a local Anglican church a few years ago. It lasted nearly two hours. The service we visited was outstanding. Good music, and the welcome committee gave me a free mug. But we knew if we chose that church, we would end up voting for someone like Trump. I’m only going back if the mug breaks.
I think churches put something into their heating and cooling systems. Or maybe it’s the air fresheners in the bathrooms.
Apparently, though, it’s only a problem at white churches. One can go to black or Latino churches without voting for Trump, even if their services last much longer.
“I woke up to an evangelical family I no longer resembled,” Katelyn Beaty of Christianity Today wrote after the election. “…at some point you have to get up and leave the table.”
“If this is evangelicalism,” John Fea tweeted, “I am out.”
David Wells once observed that although he felt like resigning from the evangelical movement in the wake of the Moral Majority, he did not know “to whom” he should resign? And how? There was no Twitter in 1981.
So now that Beaty and Fea and others have left the table, 100% of white evangelicals support Trump.
Almost 100%. I haven’t resigned yet, because I don’t use Twitter or any other social media. And I don’t know to whom I should send a letter. Jerry Falwell, Jr.?
In a panic, I googled “Donald Trump Antichrist.” This confirmed my worst fears. Donald Trump is indeed the Antichrist. Melania is the Whore of Babylon. Chris Christie is wormwood. Vladimir Putin is the beast of the north or the east or some direction.
I then realized that my fellow evangelicals have become minions of Satan. They voted for a misogynistic fraudster who mocks disabled people and prisoners of war and brags about groping women. Are they possessed? Deluded? When charismatic evangelicals raise their hands during worship, are they really white nationalists ready to salute the new Führer with a Sieg Trump? Simply sinful, as in really sinful and totally depraved?
Then I remembered the wise preacher from the Reformed Baptist church outside of Louisville. Was Bill Clinton really the Antichrist? Were Democrats really his minions? No, Clinton was only a pawn of the evil one. In fact, maybe that went a bit too far. Maybe he was just a sinful and flawed politician.
It could be that most of my friends and relatives are not really minions of Satan.
It could be that they voted for Donald Trump in roughly the same numbers that white evangelicals voted for Mitt Romney and George W. Bush. Voting is largely habitual. Most of those who voted Republican last time around were going to vote Republican this time around.
It could be that although Hillary Clinton spoke about her Methodism and quoted the Bible with some frequency, she made no systematic effort to win the votes of white evangelicals.
It could be that the Democratic Party was more unabashed than ever about its support for abortion rights and that Trump was just as unabashed in his pro-life pandering.
It could be that evangelicals, along with many Catholics and Mormons, are deeply concerned about the future religious freedom of individuals and institutions.
There are all sorts of reasons why white evangelicals voted for Donald Trump. None of them was persuasive to me, but I understand why many thoughtful and thoughtless evangelicals alike voted Trump.
I’ll walk out of a church when a minister prays that a woman recognize the sin that caused her to have a miscarriage, but a collective vote for Trump does not cause me to leave behind anything. I care about the many other things my fellow evangelicals do, not just what they do in the voting booth. Now that a few weeks have passed, I’m back from the brink, ready to exhale.