Who Are Those ‘Evangelical’ Voters?

How Christian nationalism and the prosperity gospel affect 2016.

Eight years ago, any political analyst daring to suggest that Donald Trump would be the next Republican presidential nominee would have been ridiculed. Yet here we are, almost midway through the primary election season and what was once a laughable proposition is close to reality.

The rise of Trump the businessman into the realm of politics is no doubt one of the most peculiar political phenomena of all time — whether he wins or loses. He has truly capitalized on the anger and frustration at the status quo of American politics. “Down with the establishment!” is the battle cry for most Trump supporters, and paired with the spectacular campaign theme of “Make America Great Again,” this has understandably captured hearts and minds.

There is, however, one particular group of voters that Donald Trump has appealed to far more effectively than any other candidate, and it has political pundits, pastors and strategists completely baffled: the so-called Evangelical voter. Trump won virtually the entire South in this primary race — often referred as the Bible Belt — which has baffled Beltway talkingheads. Given Trump’s New York values and his arrogant dismissal of the need to ask God’s forgiveness — because Trump doesn’t really make mistakes — we can understand the confusion.

Political pollsters have lumped together those who claim to be non-Catholic Christians into the category of Evangelicals. It’s quite the category of voters given that what many call Christianity today is a far cry from what it was 60 years ago or even farther back to the founding of our nation. Today there are countless denominations, and many of these different sects under the banner of Christianity have twisted the teachings of Jesus Christ to fit their own personal beliefs, lifestyles and political worldviews.

For example, most liberal churches conflate loving the sinner with loving (and celebrating) the sin. Other followers are told that socialism’s brand of social justice is really what Christ taught, but in so doing, they essentially claim that the state is our savior.

There are other teachings that contradict Scripture that are prevalent on the Right. Writing for The Week, author Pascal-Emmanuel Gobry highlights two heresies that can be identified among many of Trump’s followers — Christian nationalism and the prosperity gospel.

Christian nationalism is essentially the belief that Americans are the new “chosen people” and America the new favored nation. While Scripture does say in reference to God’s promise for Israel to Abraham, “I will bless them that bless thee, and curse them that curse thee,” this doesn’t mean that just because we as a nation support Israel we will be exempt from any judgment. Nor does it mean that because we have been so blessed as a nation those blessings will remain forever.

Gobry writes, “It’s easy to see how the heresy of Christian nationalism could power the rise of Trump. If you’re a Christian who believes so deeply in American exceptionalism that you forget that, actually, God judges all nations, and that all fall short of the glory of God, you might see in Trump’s overt nationalism a quite natural thing, and be ready to brush off his other departures from what is usually considered good Christian conduct, such as his bigotry, his cruelty, or his misogyny.”

The second heresy at play here is the prosperity gospel. Gobry notes, “In its most crude forms, the prosperity gospel says that God rewards financially those who pray. If you don’t have the car you want or the house you want, if you pray hard enough, God will give it to you. Again, this takes the very biblical idea that God sometimes rewards the righteous in this life, while forgetting the equally biblical idea that sometimes the righteous have to suffer, and sometimes they have to expect their reward in the afterlife — and that a man’s worth is never, ever judged by his possessions.”

Trump met with several prosperity preachers last September, and he generally has their support if not their outright endorsement.

Many Christians within our culture have fallen for one or both of these heresies, and as a result Trump is seemingly the best candidate in their eyes. Because the love for money and the lust for power outpaces the love for Jesus within many Christian churches, Trumpism has a powerful appeal. The candidate has the money, and he wants the power. What prosperity-seeking American wouldn’t want to make America great again?

So while we’re rethinking how many conservatives there actually are in America, perhaps we should also consider what it means to be an evangelical.

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