President Trump made headlines Sunday for making a rare appearance at church along with his wife, Melania. He attended a Lenten service at the historical St. John’s Church, which is near the White House and has hosted presidents for decades.

But one reason Trump’s leaving his home to walk a few steps through a park to attend a church service was so newsworthy is because the man who was once called evangelicals’ “dream president” by the head of one of the world’s largest Christian universities is known more for spending his Sundays golfing than going to church.

But most of Trump’s Sunday appeared to be spent doing neither. The leader of the country seemed to spend most of his sabbath attacking perceived enemies (John McCain and Christopher Steele); blasting illegal immigration and spreading news about MS-13, a violent gang that includes undocumented immigrants; and characterizing himself as a victim in widespread political attacks from late-night talk shows and “Saturday Night Live.” And much of his approach appeared to be in direct conflict with first lady Melania Trump’s Be Best initiative, which speaks out against social media bullying.

AD
AD

Perhaps the unusually prolific tweeting on a Sunday came about because of the rough week the president had. The Washington Post’s Anne Gearan wrote:

“The weekend barrage of presidential pique came after a difficult week and ahead of what may be another for Trump. He suffered an unusual congressional defeat last week when some Republicans joined Democrats in rejecting his declaration of an emergency to get funding for his promised wall along the southern U.S.-Mexico border. That forced Trump to issue the first veto of his presidency to negate the congressional rebuke. The New Zealand shooter invoked Trump as “a symbol of renewed white identity and common purpose.” Trump described the massacre as horrible on Friday but said he does not consider white nationalism to be on the rise, despite the findings of experts, including within his own government.”

It is perhaps the president’s personality — including his approach to his enemies — more so than his policies that makes him so relatively unpopular with the American public. But it appears that his responses to those who do not share his values and worldview have not caused him to significantly lose the support of a group that has consistently backed him the most — white evangelicals.

According to the Pew Research Center:

“Roughly seven-in-ten white evangelical Protestants (69%) say they approve of the way Trump is handling his job as president, according to the Center’s latest polling in January 2019. This is somewhat lower than Trump’s approval rating in the earliest days of his tenure – when about eight-in-ten white evangelicals (78%) approved of his job performance – but is in line with most polls conducted by the Center since the inauguration.”

The Rev. W. Bruce McPherson delivered Sunday’s sermon, in part, in response to the New Zealand tragedy, challenging congregants to speak out against hate. He said: “Perhaps we’re called whenever we overhear or oversee hateful slurs against other people, perhaps we need the holy courage to call them out, because that’s just not us.”

AD
AD

In heeding the sermon, it is possible that instead of thinking of the suspected gunman who espoused hateful white-supremacist ideologies, Trump thought of his critics, who he has at times referred to as “haters.” And some evangelical leaders have celebrated the president’s tough stance against critics.

Tony Perkins, president of the Family Research Council, a policy group focused on promoting conservative Christian ideals, told Politico last year that evangelicals “were tired of being kicked around by Barack Obama and his leftists. And I think they are finally glad that there’s somebody on the playground that is willing to punch the bully.”

While the president’s supporters and defenders on Capitol Hill and beyond the Beltway often blast those on the other side of the aisle for not embracing conservative Christian beliefs or behaviors, Trump’s use of social media leave few believing that the biblical commands to love one’s neighbor (and enemies) as well as to speak kindly of one another are convictions that the commander in chief holds deeply himself.

Trump’s social media use — which many, including supporters, have described as troublesome — is not helping the widely unpopular president attract new supporters. Despite that, he continues to be well liked among some of the groups who backed him most strongly in 2016, including conservative Christians.

AD
AD