It shouldn’t surprise us then when ordinary Americans who describe themselves as evangelical Christians imbibe the message of elevation of white grievance and minimization of racial offenses. We’ve seen in polling that white evangelicals remain among Trump’s most loyal followers.
“Trump’s favorability among white evangelical Protestants never crossed 50 percent. Once he became the nominee, his favorability among white evangelicals shot up to 61 percent,” Robert P. Jones of PRRI tell me with regard to its recent polling. “This is a pretty typical pattern for white evangelicals, who are strong Republican partisans. It peaked at 74 percent right after his inauguration in February. It has decreased modestly to 65 percent in our most recent poll, but that is nearly 30 percentage points higher than Trump’s favorability among the general public.”
These voters, unlike virtually every other religious group, these Americans are skeptical that African Americans face discrimination. (“Six in ten white evangelicals say black Americans do not experience discrimination, while other white Christian groups, including white mainline Protestants and white Catholics, are divided,” PRRI found in polling earlier this year.) Likewise only 43 percent of evangelical Protestants think gay, lesbian and transgender people face a lot of discrimination.
One can see why Trump’s appeal to white grievance and affection for Confederate monuments finds such favor among white evangelical voters. That may explain in large part why their “leaders” aren’t leading from a moral or religious perspective, but are following their flock, acting as tribal defenders of this segment of the population.
This would not be the first time white, largely Southern clergy took the side of white nationalism and veneration of the Confederacy or were resistant to pleas for respect from minorities. In the 1960s, white clergy urged the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. to go slow and to avoid confrontation with white authorities. In his letter from a Birmingham, Ala., jail, King replied in words equally applicable today. He wrote he was “greatly disappointed with the white church and its leadership.” He wrote:
There was a time when the church was very powerful–in the time when the early Christians rejoiced at being deemed worthy to suffer for what they believed. In those days the church was not merely a thermometer that recorded the ideas and principles of popular opinion; it was a thermostat that transformed the mores of society. . . .Things are different now. So often the contemporary church is a weak, ineffectual voice with an uncertain sound. So often it is an archdefender of the status quo. Far from being disturbed by the presence of the church, the power structure of the average community is consoled by the church’s silent–and often even vocal–sanction of things as they are.But the judgment of God is upon the church as never before. If today’s church does not recapture the sacrificial spirit of the early church, it will lose its authenticity, forfeit the loyalty of millions, and be dismissed as an irrelevant social club with no meaning for the twentieth century. Every day I meet young people whose disappointment with the church has turned into outright disgust.
Sadly, today the successors to the go-slow white clergy mirror and magnify the moral feebleness of Republicans, bringing disgrace on them both.