by Elizabeth D. Rios.
Almost every Evangelical knows what the 81% means when talking about politics. Nothing more actually needs to be said in many cases because most on both sides of this political discourse know. If you are reading this and you don’t know, where have you been? That percentage represents the 81% of white evangelicals who voted for Trump in the 2016 election. Others state that 35%-45% of all evangelicals voted for Trump. And still others debate if it was 81% at all. At the end of the day, it does not really matter the exact number because what we are seeing in America is that too many Evangelicals voted for Trump knowing all he represented BEFORE going to the polls.
What white evangelicals saw (and continue to see) in Trump is a hero. Some even have referred to him recently as Jesus Christ himself with a billboard ad that stated “the Word became flesh” (verified here for those who can’t believe anything negative). THAT is scary!
They see him as the hero that will be the one to slow the growth of diversity (specifically brown taking over America although Brown as in Latinos is the majority in the U.S. already), slow the shrinking role of religion (because in no way does legislating public and private behavior even for non-Christians look like the Taliban) and here’s the biggie reversing Roe vs. Wade, which if can accomplish that, he will be delivering on an evangelical dream that five Republican presidents, including Ronald Regan could not deliver. All this is mesmerizing for white evangelicals so much so that they are willing to do (and have done) anything to get these deliverables, even if they have to sell their soul to do it. Which they have also done.
For many (not all) evangelicals of color, Trump is simply a tragedy in American politics. At first no one took this reality star seriously but then a shift occurred, a racist base was rallied and a biblically illiterate and/or privileged white evangelical community aligned with his agenda and well, the rest is history.
You see, there are two groups theologizing about why they stand for the side they stand on. One comes from a place of privilege and the other (those with that self-awareness) come from a place of intersections. Grace Ji-Sun Kim and co-author Susan M. Shaw, in their book Intersectional Theology: An Introductory Guide share that “intersectionality recognizes that people experience multiple and intersecting systems of oppression and domination simultaneously. Rather than applying “single-axis” thinking, intersectional analysis relies on “both/and,” an analytical lens that allows for complexities and contradictions of holding positions of dominance and subordination at the same time and having those concurrent locations mold and fashion experiences that are not race or gender or race plus gender but are rather the confluence of race and gender into something that is both and neither.”*
With intersectionality in mind, why would evangelicals of color support Trump. He has attacked standing rock, the disabled, transgendered, veterans and almost every race. I am sure I left out some category!
While he fared well with white evangelicals in 2016, he did have a lower representation of evangelicals of color. I remember waking up the day after the election wanting to vomit. Wondering what happened to the soul of people who voted for him and that was before I knew that what made his win bigger (although, still not enough to win the popular vote) was the votes of people I thought were my brother or sister in Christ.
So here’s the thing, for white evangelicals, their interpretation of scripture on the issues mentioned is what has them standing by Trump no matter what he does (although we cannot forget their hypocrisy because if this was Obama, his head would have been on a plate already). And for evangelicals of color, it’s the same thing. Their interpretation of scripture on the immigrant, the poor via policies and rhetoric concerning DACA, the border wall and such is what has them standing against Trump. I would add that the divisive daily rhetoric at rallies or hourly it seems via tweets have also added to the disdain among evangelicals of color. As a generation Xer, I have never seen the racial tension I see today.
With all this said, here is one positive thing I can say about the Trump administration. There has been a remarkably high number of promises that Trump has actually kept. That is also something not seen with many Presidents. Most people don’t vote because they are used to presidential candidates overpromising and under delivering once they get into office. I must say, given the fact that the President has shown he is a compulsive liar with the Washington Post reporting 6,420 false or misleading claims over 649 days in office keeping promises has shocked me.
Given his reputation, few really expected Trump to make good on many of his promises. Yet he has assembled an impressive record on deliverables, including what seems to be the cherry on top for white evangelicals, moving the U.S. Embassy to Jerusalem.
Manoel de Mello, a Brazilian Pentecostal pastor whose followers numbered in the millions, reﬂected the mindset of those who now stand against Trump as evangelicals. He asked his listeners one day, “What good does it do to convert a million people if at the same time the devil unconverts ten million through hunger, disease and military dictatorship?” White evangelicals can easily compartmentalize their theology because their theology has no understanding of the intersections people of color live through every day of their lives.
What white evangelicals tout as “of God” cannot possibly be and here is my short list of why. Trump lacks compassion (Col 3:12); Trump appeals to fear and anger (1 John 4:18); Trump is enamored with ‘greatness’ and ‘ego’ but has no concern for ‘goodness’ (Matt 5:5-8); Trump lies – a lot! (Wisdom 1:11 NRSV); Trump is hostile to women (Col 3:8); Trump does not model sacrifice or altruism but does model antagonism and racism (Matt 19:30; 5:43-48); and very obviously Trump does not care about the poor (Matt 19:21).
We may not be in a dictatorship yet but from his very words many believe it probably can happen here! In other words, since Trump made promises to evangelicals to get their vote, all the other stuff he says for his own self-gratification is something he may just mean and that is precisely the problem for many evangelicals of color. How else can he disregard humanity and the earth and still get away with it? And this my friends, is What Some Evangelicals of Color See that Most White Evangelicals Don’t! What a tragedy.
I write this on the eve of the 2018 mid-term elections. In Florida, where the gubernatorial race is heated and neck in neck. Faith-based leaders like myself have been vocal on social media and supporting their choice of candidates because we know we need to win back the Senate (to start) the process of a democracy that will never be perfect but at least will return to the normalcy of “WE the people” versus the nightmare we are living through right now of “ME the people.”
Rev. Dr. Elizabeth Rios is the Founder of the Passion Center, a justice-oriented faith-based community helping people stand up and live out the gospel mandate of loving God, loving themselves and loving their neighbor in Miramar, FL. Find out more at www.ThePassionCenter.org and www.ElizabethRios.com
*Grace Ji-Sum Kim and Susan M. Shaw, Intersectional Theology: An Introductory Guide (MN: Fortress Press, 2018), xxii.
Pentecostals & Charismatics for Peace & Justice is a multicultural, gender inclusive, and ecumenical organization that promotes peace, justice, and reconciliation work among Pentecostal and Charismatic Christians around the world. If you like what we do, please become a member!