When then-candidate Donald Trump clinched the Republican nomination for president in 2016, many Americans were shocked, some were thrilled, and still others were left unsettled as they struggled to determine how they would cast their votes.
But for those who supported Trump then and continue to support the president today, there was no question how they would vote in 2016.
Trump — in all his brashness and gold-plated glory — embodies the views and values his supporters hold dear, and perhaps none more notably than America’s white evangelical community.
In a recent piece entitled Judgment Days, The Washington Post offers a glimpse into the realm of white evangelical American voters and with it a taste of how they see the world, along with their perceived role in shaping it.
The themes of racism, xenophobia and moral hypocrisy are impossible to ignore, as churchgoer after churchgoer describes a frightening, changing world from which only Trump can save them.
It was summer, and all over the Bible Belt, support for President Trump was rising among voters who had traditionally proclaimed the importance of Christian character in leaders and warned of the slippery slope of moral compromise. In Crenshaw County, where Luverne is located, Trump had won 72 percent of the vote. Recent national polls showed the president’s approval among white evangelical Christians at a high of 77 percent. One survey indicated that his support among Southern Baptists was even higher, surpassing 80 percent, and these were the people arriving on Sunday morning to hear what their pastor had to say.
Sheila Butler, a 67-year-old Sunday school teacher, told the Post the only way to understand how Christians like her could support Trump was to understand that “we’re moving toward the annihilation of Christians.”
“Obama was acting at the behest of the Islamic nation,” she began one afternoon when she was getting her nails done with her friend Linda. She was referring to allegations that President Barack Obama is a Muslim, not a Christian — allegations that are false. “He carried a Koran and it was not for literary purposes. If you look at it, the number of Christians is decreasing, the number of Muslims has grown. We allowed them to come in.”
“Obama woke a sleeping nation,” said Linda.
“He woke a sleeping Christian nation,” Sheila corrected.
Both women are concerned about “unpapered people”, a more palatable term than illegal aliens but nonetheless filled with disdain.
According to Sheila, she encountered “unpapered people” in the local emergency room once, and they were treated before her — proof that such immigrants come into the country and “then the Americans are not served.”
Love thy neighbor, she said, meant “love thy American neighbor.”
Welcome the stranger, she said, meant the “legal immigrant stranger.”
“The Bible says, ‘If you do this to the least of these, you do it to me,’ ” Sheila said, quoting Jesus. “But the least of these are Americans, not the ones crossing the border.”
Terry Drew is fully aware of the moral compromise involved in supporting Trump as a professed Christian.
“I hate it,” he said. “My wife and I talk about it all the time. We rationalize the immoral things away. We don’t like it, but we look at the alternative, and think it could be worse than this.”
The only way to understand how a Christian like him could support a man who boasted about grabbing women’s crotches, Terry said, was to understand how he felt about the person Trump was still constantly bringing up in his speeches and who loomed large in Terry’s thoughts: Hillary Clinton, whom Terry saw as “sinister” and “evil” and “I’d say, of Satan.”
“She hates me,” Terry said, sitting in Crum’s office one day. “She has contempt for people like me, and Clay, and people who love God and believe in the Second Amendment. I think if she had her way it would be a dangerous country for the likes of me.”
Misty Green doesn’t approve of many of Trump’s behaviors, but she said Christians “are not to judge.”
What a good Christian was supposed to do was pray for God to work on Trump, who was after all pro-life, and pro-Israel, and pro-all the positions they felt a Christian nation should be taking. And if they were somehow wrong about Trump, said Misty, “in the end it doesn’t really matter.”
Why? Because they will spend eternity in heaven, regardless.
“A true Christian doesn’t have to worry about that,” said Brett, explaining what any good Southern Baptist heard at church every Sunday, which was that Jesus had died on the cross to wash away their sins, defeat death and provide them with eternal life in heaven.
Pastor Clay Crum was one voice that stood out among the rest: he was unsure the right way to approach a president like Trump, who seemingly stands for all the right policies but is of questionable character and morality.
On this particular Sunday, Crum was preaching on the seventh commandment: Thou shalt not commit adultery.
The irony was not lost on him, and as he prepared for the morning sermon, he labored over whether or how he might broach the subject of Trump during his time behind the pulpit.
He was at the end of his sermon. If he was going to say anything about Trump, or presidents, or politicians, or how having a Christian character was important for the leader of the United States, now was the time. His Bible was open. He was preaching without notes.
He looked out at all the faces of people who felt threatened and despised in a changing America, who thought Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton were sent by Satan to destroy them, and that Donald Trump was sent by God to protect them, and who could always count on Clay Crum to remind them of what they all believed to be the true meaning of Jesus Christ — that he died to forgive all of their sins, to save them from death and secure their salvation in a place that was 15,000 miles wide, full of gardens, appliances, and a floor of stars.
Crum decided that day was not the day, closed his bible and said, “Let’s pray.”