Politics before God

How America’s political divisiveness is trumping religious identity

  • Kit Kirkland


America’s 2018 midterm elections provide an opportunity to assess white evangelical Protestants’ counterintuitive embrace of Trump. Reports of the President’s past infidelities, suspicious business deals, and possible electoral collusion with Russia appear to have done little to abate the support of America’s most socially conservative law-and-order voters - white evangelical Protestants. PRRI (Public Religion Research Institute) data demonstrates though Trump never polled above 50 percent favourability with white evangelical-Protestants during the primaries, since his 2016 election the constituency has only grown more ‘Trump-drunk’ with a record 75 percent endorsing the President and his commitment to put ‘America First’. 

Although America’s Christian right have long-standing Republican inclinations, evangelicals’ self-abasement under Trump remains difficult to understand. White evangelicals have migrated from a Christian movement guilty of overt partisan identification to a movement willing to corrupt their faith values and religious tradition for political opportunities. The effect, as Gerson (2018) notes, is a faith tradition now riddled with ‘political tribalism and hatred for political opponents, with little remaining of Christian public witness.’ Keller cuts deeper, saying ‘evangelical’ used to mean those who took the moral high ground, but now it’s nearly synonymous with ‘hypocrite’ (Keller cited in Gerson, 2018). ‘With an end-justifies-the-means style of politics that would have been unimaginable before [Trump]’ (Jones cited in Coppins 2018a), it seems America’s evangelicals are putting politics before God. 

Subsequently, this article reflects on four dimensions of Trump’s success with white evangelicals. First, it discusses howTrump and the GOP presented 2016 as the ‘last chance election’. Secondly it explores Trump’s ‘priestly rhetoric’ and evangelicals’ ‘priestly faith’ in him. Thirdly, what have white evangelical-Protestants achieved under Trump in return for their votes? Lastly, how has Trump changed American evangelicalism and the nation? Is nativism and tribalism consuming their faith-tradition just as it’s dividing the country?

How to Cite
KIRKLAND, Kit. Politics before God. Journal of the British Association for the Study of Religion (JBASR), [S.l.], v. 20, p. 169-191, sep. 2018. ISSN 2516-6379. Available at: <https://jbasr.com/ojs/index.php/jbasr/article/view/35>. Date accessed: 19 june 2024. doi: https://doi.org/10.18792/jbasr.v20i0.35.