Comments from Rep. Steve King (R-Iowa) about being able to relate better to Jesus Christ after the lawmaker was accused of embracing racist views have attracted a bit of criticism. But King’s views on immigration — and Western civilization — are quite common among the conservative Christians who helped elect him and other politicians like him — including President Trump.
“When I had to step down to the floor of the House of Representatives and look up at those 400-and-some accusers — you know, we’ve just passed through Easter and Christ’s Passion — and I have a better insight into what he went through for us, partly because of that experience.”
While King has a history of making comments that his critics deem racist and xenophobic, it was his words in a January New York Times interview that led some within his party to rebuke him publicly. He said:
“White nationalist, white supremacist, Western civilization — how did that language become offensive?” King said. “Why did I sit in classes teaching me about the merits of our history and our civilization?”
King probably expected criticism from his political opponents, but it appears that it was the response he got from his fellow GOP lawmakers that led King, a conservative Christian, to just a few days after Easter make references to the betrayal Christ endured.
While some view King’s words as absurd, his view is not that uncommon among those who feel as though conservative Christians are under assault because of their worldview — including their politics.
Family Research Council President Tony Perkins explained white evangelicals’ ongoing support for Trump last year to Politico, saying:
Evangelical Christians “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.”
“Christianity is not all about being a welcome mat which people can just stomp their feet on.”
In fact, King was responding to a question from Pinky Person, a 90-year-old pastor, who later told The Washington Post’s Isaac Stanley-Becker that she loved King.
Person, like many Christians, thinks Christians are being persecuted for their faith. She told King at the Tuesday town hall in Cherokee, Iowa:
“Christianity is really being persecuted, and it’s starting right here in the United States.”
Christian persecution is an issue globally. About 215 million Christians around the world experience high levels of persecution, according to Open Doors, a Christian organization that supports Christians living in more than 60 countries.
After Sri Lankan officials blamed a Muslim militant group for an Easter morning bombing that left 290 people dead and 500 wounded, far-right groups and activists — many of whom have politics similar to King’s — described the incident in terms of religious persecution.
At Tuesday’s event, King explained his view that Christianity defines American culture and referenced a previous conversation with a radio show host who pushed back on the lawmaker’s efforts to put forward a resolution that “honored Christ at Christmas.” King said: “This is a Christian nation, and I’ll prove it to you.”
And many voters, particularly white evangelicals, who are backing King — and the president, who shares many of his hard-line views on immigration and racial issues — don’t need proof. They already feel the same. And they fear that the United States becoming more racially and religiously diverse could threaten that.
A 2018 Post-ABC poll found that 75 percent of white evangelicals described “the federal crackdown on undocumented immigrants” as a positive thing. And a 2018 Pew Research Center poll found nearly 7 in 10 white evangelicals saying the United States has no responsibility to house refugees.
For all of the attention given to the reasons for the close relationship between the GOP and white evangelicals because of their shared stances on social issues such as abortion and LGBT rights, white evangelicals’ increasingly hard-line views on immigration have almost made the Republican Party their exclusive political home — and King is one of their leaders.
But that obviously doesn’t make him or his views Christlike — especially to those on the left hoping to prove that the most Christian take on immigration wouldn’t be King’s, which has included defending Nazis while referring to migrant children as “somebody else’s babies.”
Alan Noble, an English professor at Oklahoma Baptist University, writes about the “evangelical persecution complex” and how it manifests in political spaces. He told the Fix:
“What I find more offensive is the general flippancy with which he uses Christianity to promote his political agenda. There’s no sense in which he is referring to something sacred in these comments. It’s just another cultural framework, like ‘western civilization’ and ‘patriotism,’ that he can use to justify himself.”
King will likely continue to make headlines for his views on immigration and race and attract criticism for it, but in doing so, he is also signaling to a swath of the American public that is anxious about Trump’s possible defeat that the country they call home could look quite different if those like King are defeated.