Is Evangelical Support for Trump a Contradiction?Historians in the News
tags: religious history, interview, Donald Trump, Evangelical Christianity
But what if Trump wasn’t a trade-off for evangelicals? What if an obsession with manhood and toughness made a figure like Trump the natural fulfillment of their political evolution?
This is the argument Kristin Kobes Du Mez, a historian at Calvin University, makes in her new book Jesus and John Wayne. According to Du Mez, evangelical leaders have spent decades using the tools of pop culture — films, music, television, and the internet — to grow the movement. The result, she says, is a Christianity that mirrors that culture. Instead of modeling their lives on Christ, evangelicals have made heroes of people like John Wayne and Mel Gibson, people who project a more militant and more nationalist image. In that sense, Trump’s strongman shtick is a near-perfect expression of their values.
To be candid, I wasn’t sure what to make of this thesis, but I’m also not an authority on American evangelicalism. So I contacted Du Mez, who teaches at a Christian college and has spent 15 years studying evangelicals, to talk about the direction of the movement and how it led to Trump and what she calls our “fractured political moment.”
A lightly edited transcript of our conversation follows.
The contrarian argument at the core of your book is that the relationship between Trump and (mostly white) evangelicals is more harmonious than most people suggest. Can you sum up your thesis?
Kristin Kobes Du Mez
Well, there are all these theories that evangelicals were holding their noses when they voted for Trump, that they were somehow betraying their values. But I’ve studied evangelicals for a long time and I was watching them very closely during the election and in the aftermath, and I just didn’t see any regrets at all. There was no angst or no sense that this was somehow a difficult trade-off. In fact, what I saw was a bunch of enthusiasm. There were some evangelical leaders who were expressing caution about Trump, but most of the rank and file had zero difficulty supporting Trump.
And when did that become clear to you?
Kristin Kobes Du Mez
I’d say right around the time the Access Hollywood tapes were released — that’s when it crystallized for me. So we had these tapes where Trump is talking about sexually assaulting women in such crass terms. And the media really homed in on white evangelicals at that moment, asking if this was a bridge too far. Although there was a little hesitation here and there from evangelicals, about a week later they were all back on board.
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