Lipstick on a Pig

Lipstick on a Pig October 22, 2018

The dilemma moderate evangelical pastors/leaders find themselves facing is, well, the other evangelicals.  The majority.  Or, more specifically, the, “81%.”  While evangelical pastors and leaders are almost evenly split regarding their approval of the sitting president’s job performance, their congregants, their people, are much more supportive.

What to do?  These moderate evangelical pastors and leaders are learning that their people are being discipled and formed, not by them, but by Fox News, conservative social media, and other right-wing sources.

One of the things they have been trying to do, is come to grips with the fact 81% of white evangelicals voted for Trump.  Like the rest of the nation, they too have been trying to wrap their heads around such a disappointing, and revealing, statistic.  The latest effort is this article by Ed Stetzer and Andrew McDonald.

As much as moderate evangelical leaders want to try and salvage, and put the best face on, what happened this last presidential election, here are five reasons the findings of this survey fail to do that and amounts to, at the end of the day, putting lipstick on a pig.

Before we start, let’s address a quibble, the article’s title, “Why Evangelicals Voted for Trump: Debunking the 81%.”  Strange, I couldn’t find a significant, “debunking,” anywhere in the article/survey.  To debunk something is to show it as false.  There is nothing false about that percentage or its implications.  The title is somewhat misleading.  A better sub-title would have been: “Putting the 81% in context.”

Now, first, the writers note the 81% number fails to address, motivation.  The 81%’s vote wasn’t an, “enthusiastic,” vote.  Seriously?  Do we care at this point?  Imagine a person drives a truck, one that is on fire and loaded with garbage, into your living room. The driver gets out, smiles, and offers, “It’s okay, I wasn’t driving enthusiastically.”  If we were supposed to feel some sympathy for the Trump voter, because he wasn’t enthusiastic, we should not.  Our sympathy should remain with the home-owner—the rest of the country.

Second, we learn the 81%’s vote was more about the economy than the Supreme Court or pro-life issues.  Here was really the only surprise.  But, are we supposed to take comfort in this finding?  In my view, this makes the motivation for their vote even less understandable or worthy of sympathy.  At least we might understand their choosing a morally challenged, ethically stunted, con-artist, with minimal character, honesty, and integrity, if we thought due to conscience, they felt compelled to vote, “pro-life.”

But to learn they voted with the almighty dollar, mammon, foremost in mind is unbelievably worse.  This reveals an even more shallow, unwise, and selfish motivation for their decision.  For me, this was the most disappointing and shameful finding.  This also undercuts the next finding that they would cross party lines over abortion.  Why should we believe that when their primary motivation was the economy?

Third, we are informed the 81% were taking the long view with their vote.  Again, a very disappointing finding.  It tells us white evangelicals decided to ditch their long-held advocacy of the idea that, “character matters,” that candidates had to be decent people, honest, and ethical, (regardless their political views or party platform), and join the Machiavellian, modern, utilitarian chorus, to wit: The ends justify the means.

So, if the writers were hoping we would see how strategic, reflective, and purposeful, the 81% were being, please, just stop. There is nothing to admire about throwing up one’s hands and basically saying: If we can’t beat them, let’s join them.

Fourth, the writers finally get to the finding there is not enough lipstick to make up for:

“Many evangelicals are willing to overlook personal character when voting.”

Moderate evangelical pastors and leaders: This should bother you greatly.  This reveals a deep disconnect between the pastors/leaders and evangelicals in the pews when it comes to political theology and Christian ethics.  The above finding is the result of a failure to disciple; or, the result of actually forming a person to believe character doesn’t matter if it means we, “win,” or gain power.  Either way, a failure.

They go on:

“Put another way, many evangelicals struggle to hold favored candidates to the same standards expected of rivals.”

Or, we could be honest and put it a way that actually captures what this finding means: Hypocrisy.  And again, it is the result of ceding their congregants’ discipleship and formation to outside, non-Christian, sources.  Isn’t there a verse somewhere that talks about protecting one’s flock from wolves in sheep’s clothing?

Fifth and finally:

“Many of the 81 percent were not influenced by church leadership…Put another way, many evangelicals are likely turning to culture—and often the most outraged voices [emphasis added]—rather than the church for political discipleship.”

Exactly.  But here’s a question: Was the, “political discipleship,” ever offered?  And what about the political discipleship that actually pointed people toward Trump (Jeffress, Graham, Falwell, Jr., etc.)?  Too many evangelical pastors were either silent out of ignorance or fear of their conservative congregations, or they actually advocated for the candidate with the worst character and ethics.  A failure, all the way around.

So, moderate evangelical pastors/leaders, what say you?  What are you going to do about the findings in this polling?  Please decide quickly, because I’m not sure the rest of us, the world, or the good name of, “Christian,” can take much more of your people listening to everyone else, except, you.

The writers end on a positive note: “… [they hope these findings] help evangelicals submit their political engagement to God’s Word, in God’s community, and under the discipleship of godly people rather than to a party, politician, or pundit.”

I should add that I like and respect Ed Stetzer and I would bet many of the findings of this polling bother him as well, even as he tries to put the best face on them.  I just think there isn’t enough lipstick in the world to make this look pretty.

White evangelical pastors and leaders: Get your own house in order.  Stop worrying about who can marry whom, bathrooms, cakes, scary women, or the black and brown people moving into your neighborhoods.  Start worrying about the findings of this survey and the fact that rather than, “debunking,” it confirms our worse suspicions and fears about the evangelical world and the reasons for their vote in 2016.

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  • Phil Ledgerwood

    Thanks for the article, Darrell.

    Regarding enthusiasm, I completely agree with you. In terms of damage done, there’s not really a difference between wholehearted and halfhearted endorsement.

    In terms of sharing a planet with people, I would say the -reasons- behind that lack of enthusiasm can be important. Why would someone not be happy about voting for Trump but do so, anyway? Are they a single issue voter where Trump fell on their side? Do they feel that Democrats simply cannot be allowed to win no matter what? Did they genuinely believe Clinton would be a worse choice? Some of these issues are issues for everyone, and even though I might genuinely disagree with someone about their reason for (unenthusiastically) voting for Trump, some of them are more understandable than others.

    I, too, was surprised that it was about the economy, but this seems to be playing out in certain strains of evangelicalism. Did you see Pat Robertson’s caution about offending Saudi Arabia because we might lose tons of money and jobs in arms contracts?

    I’d actually be interested in an analysis, not of the election, but of the voting patterns in the Republican primaries. Because, there, you generally have widespread agreement on the issues between the choices, but Trump still won. I wonder where all these unenthusiastic voters were, then. I know the stock answer is they were spread too thinly between other candidates, but I wonder if that’s the case.

    On the other hand, I still remember Wayne Grudem, who was rabidly anti-Trump during the primaries (he said voting for Trump was morally irresponsible), changing his tune and telling Tony Perkins that he was very alarmed at the transgender restroom issue, and he thought Trump was our best chance of having that sorted out.

  • Darrell Lackey

    Thank you. Yes, good point regarding the primaries. And yes, Pat Robertson’s comments were deplorable and seem to dovetail with the survey’s findings regarding the economy or money.

  • Summers-lad

    I’m glad you mentioned that the 81% is a percentage of white evangelicals, not of all evangelicals.
    But your piece raised a question (I haven’t read the article you linked, so forgive me if the answer is there): why are church members so different in their voting pattern from Americans in general, of whom less than 50% voted for Trump? If, as you say, evangelical leaders are almost evenly split politically, church leadership would not appear to be the reason. Indeed, this would say that leaders are much more representative of the general population than their congregations.
    So why are white church members so out of step with both their leaders and the general population? Being entirely baffled by the “evangelical” support for Trump, I would be really interested in your view.

  • TinnyWhistler

    All the reluctant voters I know enthusiastically cast primary votes for Carson, despite there not being a snowball’s chance in hell he’d win by the time those votes were cast. They clearly aren’t racist because they voted for the black guy so they’re then free to reluctantly vote for Trump against Clinton and be shocked that someone might think their vote was racially motivated.

  • Darrell Lackey

    You raise the right questions. As noted in the post, I think it’s because their people are being formed and discipled by radical and fringe sources outside the Church, rather than through their pastors and leaders.

  • Darrell

    Thank you. Good point regarding the Republican primaries. Yes, Pat Robertson’s comments were deplorable and seem to dovetail with the primacy of the economy or material gain.

  • Darrell

    Thank you. You raise the right questions. As noted in the post, I think it is primarily because they have ceded spiritual formation to outside sources like Fox News, Breitbart, and social media in general.

  • Brad Feaker

    Full disclosure – I am an atheist.

    However, I really appreciate the points you made in your post. I live in Tennessee…that should tell you enough about my neighbors. Mostly white and evangelical. And it seems they have no shame. These are the folks who impeached Bill Clinton for consensual sex…and turn around and try to justify their support for a thrice divorced sociopathic philanderer who views women as objects.

    But I have said for a long time that the pact between the GOP and evangelicals is going to come back to haunt them both one day…and it seems that day may be drawing closer. Evangelicals are not interested in character – they are interested in power. They are losing their minds because the are failing so badly in the culture war they started. And they are desperate to try and regain dominance over their fellow citizens.

    Good post sir…you are a breath of fresh air.


  • Darrell

    Thank you very much, I appreciate that.

  • Iain Lovejoy

    That is 81% of white evangelicals who voted voting for Trump. With US turnouts bobbling just above 50% that’s probably under or around a half of white evangelicals actually voting for him, with the rest stsyng at home, which to a certain extent reflects the split in evangelical pastors. It’s still a really, really surprising and disappointing amount, though.

  • Summers-lad

    So why would these sources have more influence with white evangelicals than with the rest of the US population?
    I don’t see a similar effect here in the UK, where I suspect (but have no research or evidence to back it up) that church members probably hold broadly similar political views to the rest of the population in their locality and social class, although perhaps with a stronger tendency towards the centre.

  • Darrell

    That’s a good question. There are probably several factors, but one has to do with these sources appealing to, or amplifying, what they perceive as already latent within that sub-group.

  • Evangelicalism is basically authoritarian in its structure, hence the appeal of conservative, right wing candidates. Think lock-step compliance to societal “norms.” The rest of society is more evenly divided and diverse. Evangelicalism is also exclusionary, again the appeal of candidates who marginalize others. If you look at the evangelical concerns over immigration, female empowerment, abortion, gay rights, civil rights, it all centers around excluding others, defining who gets to sit at the table.

  • otrotierra

    The percentage of U.S. White Evangelicals who did not vote at all in 2016 certainly do not have a reputation for standing up against Trump and his White Evangelical followers. Such a reputation has to be earned, and the responsibility is theirs alone to earn it.

  • Wait!…Ben Carson is Black? I had not idea! Oh…I get it; he’s the evangelical ideal Black man. But, yes, your observation has merit. Although I am surprised by how many evangelicals seem to be enthusiastic about Trump. I think the statement that they were choosing the lesser of two evils is not supported by their actions overall. Trump says everything they want to hear.

  • Iain Lovejoy

    I never said they stood up to Trump, only that they didn’t actively support him. Not caring about anyone who isn’t a white evangelical is a very long-standing widespread white evangelical tradition. Actively supporting something like Trump is a newer phenomenon and not quite as universal as the 81% figure suggests.

  • RickNowlinpa

    Thank you for providing facts to otrotierra. Facts are terribly inconvenient.

  • It’s primarily about race and the erosion of white privilege for white evangelicals. It always has been. Once again we see how little white evangelicals have moved away from the fundamentalist leanings of Southern Christianity and its views on racial relations. This president finds stoking those fears an easy task.

  • I’ve seen from various polls, such as pew research, etc., that almost a third of self described evangelicals are left-leaning, i.e., post conservative, emerging church, etc.. My wife is a good example, voting for neither Trump or Hillary. Another example is the inroads made in the acceptance of gay marriages, now about 30%. That leaves about 70% still thinking it’s the 19th century or wishing it was. Whether or not that 30% will remain evangelical is in question. As fundamentalists regain control of the evangelical movement I have my doubts. A severely fundamentalist form of evangelicalism is gaining steam and numbers in the global south and Asia. Which is bad news for free democracies.

  • Iain Lovejoy

    While I don’t doubt that evangelicals predominantly lean conservative, this suggests to me that the “81%” figure exaggerates the picture because a lot of the lefter leaning evangelicals (like your wife) either don’t vote or (at least in small numbers) vote third party. A truer generalisation would be not that evangelicals are overwhelmingly Republicans and more that whether left- or right-leaning they can’t stand the Democrats.

  • Looking at the Pew Research yields some interesting data that I think follows what we are both saying. Evangelical Protestants who identify as Republican measure 56% to the 28% that identify as Democrat. Close to the 30% I thought were Left leaning. Looking at Black Mainline Protestants and a different picture emerges; they are overwhelmingly Democrat, 80%! This, no doubt due in large part to the shift that happened between the two Parties following the Civil Rights Act of 1964, pushed through by LBJ and the Democratic Party. White Southern Democrats abandoned the Party and fled to the Republican side.

    America is trending Left gradually, and some conservatives understandably find that worrisome. I think it is fair to conclude that the more xenophobic tendency among SOME evangelicals is a result of political views rather than the fact that they are evangelical. That is not to say, SOME evangelicals have a theological slant that is racist or misogynistic; a legacy of the Southern Dems who fled the Party in the 70’s. They may be smaller in number than this article suggests, but they still have a lot of sway among evangelicals.

    In the long run for America, the nationalism and White privilege Trump’s administration seems to be pushing I don’t think is sustainable or will have lasting effect. I am far more worried about the right-wing evangelicals in the third world, who can do far greater damage to those democracies that are young and easily weakened.

  • Iain Lovejoy

    The rise of right-wing evangelicals in the third world is, so I have read, heavily funded by US evangelicals.

  • Yep!