A number of articles published during the heat of the midterm campaigns explored Trump’s steadfast support from Evangelical Christians. A connected inquiry looked at the antagonism to immigrants and immigration displayed by this particular voting bloc–an antagonism Trump exploited (and probably caused to increase).
“Who’s organizing the massive caravan on track to hit the US Border, just in time for the Election?”
That was just one headline last week on the website of the Christian Broadcasting Network, the Pat Robertson-founded evangelical media powerhouse that has become, in recent years, a de facto mouthpiece for the Trump administration.
As the Vox article quoted above noted, the ramped-up and distorted coverage of the caravan was part and parcel of Trump’s Nativist message. The question was, why did that message resonate with followers of a man whose message was to welcome the stranger? Why, for that matter, have polls consistently shown that a staggering 75 percent of white evangelicals enthusiastically support the federal crackdown on undocumented immigrants (only 46 percent of Americans overall support those measures).
According to a Pew Research Center poll in May, 68 percentof white evangelicals say that America has no responsibility to house refugees, a full 25 points over the national average.
Here’s a clue: a July poll by the Public Religion Research Initiative (PRRI) found well over half of white evangelicals willing to admit to feelings of “concern” about the declining percentage of Americans who are white.
I’ll leave scholarly explanations of the disconnect between these well-documented attitudes and the purported religious beliefs of those who hold them to the theologians and sociologists, but one of my sons has a theory about religions in general that I think bears on the issue.
His is a simple formula: if a religion focuses on helping people wrestle with life’s important moral and ethical questions, it’s good. If it prescribes the answers–if it tells adherents what they must believe and how they must act and teaches that people who don’t agree are wrong–it isn’t.
There’s a fair amount of research on authoritarian personalities, and their need for “bright lines” and clear rules to follow. People who are deeply uncomfortable with ambiguity are drawn to more rigid and prescriptive religious and political beliefs. They aren’t interested in wrestling with moral dilemmas or finding the balance between competing visions of the good. Fundamentalist theologies–whether Christian, Jewish or Islamic–not only offer the certainty they crave, they promote distinctions between “us” (the “saved,” the good guys) and “them” (the infidel, the Other).
The Other is to be feared and/or hated.
So they cherry-pick and “interpret” the passages in their bibles that seem to counsel welcoming the stranger or helping the widow and orphan. And they cheer when an authority figure tells them that their skin color and their beliefs are superior and must be protected from contamination.