LLOYD OMDAHL: Why is Trump the evangelical's valentine?

"Trump is immodest, arrogant, foul-mouthed, money-obsessed, thrice-married and until recently, pro-choice. By any conventional standards, evangelical Christians should despise him."...

"Trump is immodest, arrogant, foul-mouthed, money-obsessed, thrice-married and until recently, pro-choice. By any conventional standards, evangelical Christians should despise him."

That was the observation of blogger Jonathan Merritt as he looked at polls indicating a disproportionate number of evangelical Christians were flocking to Donald Trump's candidacy for the Republican nomination for president.

Many folks in the secular world share Merritt's disbelief at the gap between what evangelicals preach and what Donald Trump practices. As an evangelical Christian, I am more embarrassed than mystified.

Most of us who take our Christian faith seriously acknowledge that we have a gap between belief and practice. Our goal is to achieve a lifestyle beyond human frailties. That means we are always hypocrites to some degree.

But Trump evangelicals seem to revel in it, making secular political pundits grope for explanations.


In the first place, not all Republican evangelical Christians are supporting Trump, even though polls indicate that a disproportionate share are in his camp. Trump folks come from the outer fringes of faith. Between 35 percent and 40 percent attend church only seldom, occasionally or never.

One writer summarized it this way: "Lots of evangelicals-especially Trump supporters-simply aren't that religious."

Evangelical support for Trump may be strong in the pews but not in the pulpits. With the exception of Jerry Falwell Jr., evangelical pastors almost unanimously reject Trump's Bible-waving as political pandering.

In a World magazine survey of 100 evangelical leaders, only one pastor named Trump as a first choice for president.

Another explanation revolves around the anger of evangelical Christians over same-sex marriage, abortion, separation of church and state and a host of other social issues. But the Bible expects more from Christians than anger. The Apostle Paul warned that the anger of man does not achieve the righteousness of God.

But Paul notwithstanding, Christians are angry, very angry, even though many of them believe that God controls all human activity. Apparently, the disgruntled don't like the way He is running things. So they're angry.

To vent this anger, the Trump evangelicals are attracted to someone who will strike out against society and the secular government. With Trump, they can vent their anger by proxy without being exposed.

To speculate further: are Trump supporters the less-educated evangelicals who are frustrated in jobs that will not get them the American Dream? We don't have the data to answer this question.


However, Stanley Greenberg, author of "America Ascendant," claims that Trump supporters have reason to be upset because economic changes have left the public angry.

The same is true about the general frustration over illegal immigration and the idea of giving illegal immigrants a shortcut to citizenship. And this is being aggravated by the proposal to absorb refugees from the Mideast.

Is this a cutting issue with Trump evangelicals?

Here again, we would have to assume that Trump evangelicals are more concerned about immigration than are other Republicans. We have no facts, so all we can do is theorize.

A recent Gallup poll reported that race relations and terrorism are rated as the most pressing national problems. In many parts of the evangelical South, the Civil War still is being fought, and latent racism still haunts Southern society.

Racism has subsided in the South, but police shootings, protest marches, diversity conflicts and Oscar awards all have accentuated racial tensions. Is it possible that the Trump evangelicals are among those who feel most threatened by the economy, immigration and race?

While political observers attribute evangelical Trump support to religious beliefs, perhaps this support among peripheral evangelicals is based on secular considerations and has nothing to do with religion. After all, most evangelicals in America are as secular as everyone else.

Omdahl is a retired professor of political science at UND and a former lieutenant governor of North Dakota.

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