Are Trump-supporting evangelicals isolating themselves from the unchurched they want to reach?
A recent poll of presidential approval ratings in America may indicate a growing chasm between evangelical Christians, especially white evangelicals, and the people they are trying to reach with the gospel. While only 51 per cent of all Protestants support President Trump's presidency so far, a striking 78 per cent of white evangelical Protestants remain committed to Trump.
This high approval rating means that there has been virtually no decline in evangelical support for Trump, despite his executive orders targeting Muslims, health care plan that would strip benefits from many, destructive environmental policies, budget that would remove critical social safety nets, and threats to strike North Korea. Consequently, Trump's approval ratings nationwide have hovered around 40 per cent for the month of April.
Evangelicals aren't just supporting some troubling policies that are hard to reconcile with the teachings of Scripture. They're also moving in the opposite direction of the wider culture. While their own support for Trump solidified during his controversial, if not bumbling, first 100 days in office, Americans who are unaffiliated with a religion are largely opposed to Trump. A striking 23 per cent approve of Trump's presidency. These are the people evangelicals are trying to reach with the gospel, despite being almost the complete opposite on Trump's controversial presidency.
Although the future of the Trump administration is far from certain, there are significant storm clouds on the horizon for Trump and potentially for evangelicals who have associated themselves with his administration. A New York state investigation into Trump's mafia ties has been picking up steam, and the FBI's case regarding the Trump campaign's collusion with Russia for the 2016 election appears to be quietly building. Key political allies in Congress are either being removed from investigations or considering resignation.
As questions rise about the future of Trump and his divisive presidency, many evangelicals in America will need to face the consequences of being associated with a public figure who is viewed as toxic by many. Should collusion with Russia or illegal activities prompt Trump to resign or lead to his impeachment, evangelicals will have to face the possibility of finally drawing a line with a president who has courted them with anti-abortion policies and vague promises to be 'for' evangelicals.
In addition, the apparent division of white evangelicals from people of color within their own movement has come into sharper focus. Even as the evangelical-driven Urbana missions conference notably included Black Lives Matter in its range of topics, will this ongoing support for Trump add to existing divisions and strained relationships?
It's likely that a majority of evangelicals will continue to support conservative politicians for the foreseeable future. That inclination may not sit well with the unaffiliated, but this doesn't have to be a deal-breaker between Christians and the unchurched. There is significant common ground that Christians can pursue in their communities, from providing after-school programs and tutoring, to helping with local charities, to uniting in the pursuit of moral laws. Rev William Barber in North Carolina has modeled this creation of a moral movement that has a distinctly Christian foundation without becoming beholden to a partisan agenda.
Perhaps evangelicals who support Trump struggle to see that his controversial policies aren't just disagreeable to 60 per cent of Americans. They are viewed as unnecessarily cruel, such as detaining Muslim families in handcuffs for hours on end and threatening to separate undocumented mothers from their children. They aren't just disagreeing with 77 per cent of the unaffiliated. They have aligned themselves with a potential political pariah.
With the real possibility of Trump's presidency coming to a dramatic end in the near future, evangelicals will need to consider how their future will unfold if they are associated with one of the cruelest presidents in recent memory. If we hope to reach those who are unaffiliated, Trump may well undermine our efforts to find common ground.