One of the untold stories of this election is the fact that both Protestant and Catholic Christians are not as united behind the candidacy of Donald Trump as we’ve been led to believe. In a “Declaration by American Evangelicals Concerning Donald Trump” that was signed by over 80 Christian leaders, we get a glimpse of perhaps why that story hasn’t been told.
A significant mistake in American politics is the media’s continued identification of “evangelical” with mostly white, politically conservative, older men. We are not those evangelicals. The media’s narrow labels of our community perpetuate stereotypes, ignore our diversity, and fail to accurately represent views expressed by the full body of evangelical Christians.
We are Americans of African and European descent, Latino/a, Asian American, and Native American. We are women and men, as well as younger and older evangelical Christians. We come from a wide range of denominations, churches, and political orientations.
As we’ve seen with other slices of the electorate (i.e., millennials), when we hear about the views of Evangelical Christians, what we’re actually hearing are the views of predominantly white Evangelical Christians. As Tobin Grant noted recently, that view is reinforced by polls.
So, when pollsters talk about “evangelicals,” what they really mean are “white, non-Hispanic Protestants who identify as a born-again or evangelical Christian.”
This decision to define evangelicals as white, self-identified born-again Christians inflates the support for Republicans.
By contrast, African Americans are one of the most religiously devout groups in this country, while Latinos tend to be overwhelmingly observant Catholics. But when pundits write about the intersection of religion and politics, those are not the kinds of voters they seek out.
The group of 80 Christian leaders who signed that declaration have a very powerful message that needs to be heard.
We believe that racism strikes at the heart of the gospel; we believe that racial justice and reconciliation is at the core of the message of Jesus.
We believe the candidacy of Donald J. Trump has given voice to a movement that affirms racist elements in white culture—both explicit and implicit…
Because we believe that racial bigotry has been a cornerstone of this campaign, it is a foundational matter of the gospel for us in this election, and not just another issue. This is not just a social problem, but a fundamental wrong. Racism is America’s original sin. Its brazen use to win elections threatens to reverse real progress on racial equity and set America back.
Donald Trump’s campaign is the most recent and extreme version of a history of racialized politics that has been pursued and about which white evangelicals, in particular, have been silent. The silence in previous times has set the environment for what we now see.
That last sentence is particularly poignant. But the truth is, much as we are witnessing today, a lot of white evangelicals weren’t necessarily silent in the past. Reverend Martin Luther King’s “Letter from Birmingham Jail” was written to white clergymen who had issued “A Call For Unity,” which, interestingly enough, called for “law and order” in the face of non-violent demonstrations against racist Jim Crow laws and heralded the response of local police.
We commend the community as a whole, and the local news media and law enforcement in particular, on the calm manner in which these demonstrations have been handled.
One need not be religious to notice the racism involved in equating “Evangelical Christian” with white conservative Evangelical Christian.