A couple of evangelical authors are puzzled about the phenomenon of Donald Trump. First our own Thomas Kidd tried to reconcile Trump’s popularity among evangelicals:
There has been much hand-wringing in recent weeks about the persistent support of Donald Trump among “evangelicals.” Why in the world would so many Christians support a rude and crude candidate like Trump, whose pro-life credentials seem obligatory at best, and who specializes in vilifying Hispanics? If we are to believe the polls, the American evangelical mind may remain quite scandalous, to use Mark Noll’s term.
I would suggest, however, that we need not despair quite so much. I frankly do not believe that most of the people identifying as “evangelicals” in these polls are evangelicals (or conservatives) in any useful sense. The sympathy for Trump is, instead, a holdover of the worst aspects of American civil religion and Bible Belt culture.
So Kidd’s explanation is to say that the evangelical support for Trump is not really the genuine article. He’s right in what he goes on to say about the porous nature of polling and evangelical identity, but I’m still not satisfied.
Next comes Tom Ascol at Founders Ministries who is less puzzled by Trump’s appeal than he is glad for the candidate’s candor (which could explain the appeal to evangelicals):
Though this class of Republican candidates strikes me as stronger across the board than at any time in recent history, the fact is that only 3 of them can lay claim to not being politicians (Carly Fiorina and Ben Carson are the other two). Interestingly, each of those three is polling surprisingly well with Trump leading the way. If Washington DC is broken then looking for leadership to someone who wasn’t a part of doing the damage makes perfect sense.
If fifty years worth of filth and rubbish have been piled on your house at the rate of hundreds of tons per day, someone who offers indelicate proposals to address the problem is attractive. Nuance and sophistication have their place, but for demolition work a wrecking ball is preferred. I think Donald Trump resonates with many voters as the kind of wrecking ball that is needed to start clearing out Washington DC.
Okay, but I think I have a better explanation. Donald Trump appeals to evangelicals for the same reason that Mark Driscoll did. In Elizabeth Stoker Bruenig’s story for New Republic last winter on Driscoll, she picked up on the virile side of the Seattle pastor’s appeal which has all the earmarks of Trump’s recent statements about women:
Driscoll’s sexual fixation was sprawling and vaguely macabre, twining together an eager sexual permissiveness with a strident focus on female servitude and sexual submission. “The problem with the church today,” he asserted in a 2006 interview, “it’s just a bunch of nice, soft, tender, chick-ified church boys,” then noted with dismay that “sixty percent of Christians are chicks and the forty percent that are dudes are still chicks.” The troubles of numerically determining emasculation aside, Driscoll’s core concern was that innovation, leadership, and discipline do not come naturally to women, and therefore lack in churches where women dominate. Citing a commitment to complementarian theology, Mars Hill allowed no women in “elder roles,” meaning that women could not “preach, enforce formal church discipline, and set doctrinal standards for the church.”
For some time, Christians have complained of a feminized Christianity that is driving young men away from church, with David Murrow’s 2011 Why Men Hate Going to Church being something of an exemplar of the form, listing chapters from “Check Your Testosterone at the Door” to “How Churches Feminize Over Time.” Murrow’s spiritual predecessor was Leon Podle’s 1999 The Church Impotent: The Feminization of Christianity, which in turn borrowed from Victorian men who found “The whole atmosphere of Anglo-Catholicism, its preciosity, its fussiness, its concern for laces and cassocks and candles…unmanly.” Driscoll was only the latest, most extreme iteration of this old anxiety.
I don’t know about you, but if evangelicals could put up with Driscoll who should have been held up to a higher standard, it’s not at all hard to believe that evangelical men, turned off by the compromise and politeness of politics and political campaigns, look at Trump as a real man.