The people that have been most loyal to Donald Trump are the court evangelicals and their followers. While that support hasn’t completely ruptured, it has been strained by the president’s decision to stand down our troops in Northern Syria, allowing Turkey to invade. While a lot of news stories have highlighted this tension, not many have explained the reasons behind white evangelical support for the Kurds, who are the targets of Turkey’s incursion into Syria.
The most severe criticism of Trump came from Pat Robertson, who suggested that the president is in danger of losing “the mandate of heaven” as a result of this decision.
David Brody, chief political analyst at the Christian Broadcasting Network, followed up with this.
Analysis on @realDonaldTrump decision to withdrawal troops from NE Syria: The Trump Administration just threw a PUNCH TO THE GUT of the evangelical community. The Kurds are left as sitting ducks and scores of religious & ethnic Minorities could be slaughtered by Erdogan. Sad day!
— David Brody (@DavidBrodyCBN) October 7, 2019
Franklin Graham was careful not to criticize the president, but called on Christians to pray.
The Kurds are the ones who have been leading the fight against ISIS in Syria. Also pray for the Christians who the Kurds have been protecting. They could be annihilated. Would you pray w/me that Pres. @realDonaldTrump will reconsider? Thousands of lives hang in the balance. 2/2
— Franklin Graham (@Franklin_Graham) October 9, 2019
Even Mike Huckabee joined the chorus.
I generally support @POTUS on foreign policy & don't want our troops fighting other nations' wars, but a HUGE mistake to abandon Kurds. They've never asked us to do THEIR fighting-just give them tools to defend themselves. They have been faithful allies. We CANNOT abandon them.
— Gov. Mike Huckabee (@GovMikeHuckabee) October 7, 2019
But it was Tony Perkins, head of the Family Research Council, that got to the point.
An invasion by Turkey into NE Syria would pose a grave threat to the region’s Kurds and Christians, endangering the prospects of true religious freedom in the Middle East.https://t.co/zBuf2sCErX
— Tony Perkins (@tperkins) October 5, 2019
To understand what’s going on, we have to know something about the Kurds, as well as one of the main messages traveling around the white evangelical community.
As Peri-Khan Aqrawi-Whitcomb explained, the Kurdish people are unique in the Middle East in that, for centuries, they have “identified themselves primarily by their ethnicity and then by their religious affiliation.” As a result, religious diversity has been a central feature of Kurdistan from the beginning. While most Kurds are Sunni Muslim, the religions of Yazidism, Yarsanism, Judaism, and Christianity also flourish.
A central theme among white evangelicals lately has been the idea that Christians are being persecuted around the globe. They were thrilled when Donald Trump skipped the UN session on climate change in September, and instead, gave a speech about religious persecution. As a reminder, here is what court evangelical Robert Jeffress had to say about that.
On Fox & Friends, pastor & Fox News contributor Robert Jeffress hails Trump for having "the guts" to "skip a UN climate change summit on an imaginary problem to address the very real problem of global persecution of believers." pic.twitter.com/c0JDDZ6ETM
— Bobby Lewis (@revrrlewis) September 23, 2019
At the end of that segment, Fox displayed some data under the title “Christian Persecutions.” While they didn’t identify the source, it likely comes from a report published by the US Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF), which found that Christians are the most persecuted religious group in the world. The fact that Tony Perkins is a commissioner on the USCIRF (along with Gary Bauer, president of American Values) provides some context for his tweet that I referred to above.
As the Turkish invasion of Northern Syria unfolds, it will be important to watch what happens to Trump’s support among white evangelicals. It hasn’t completely broken yet, but with the looming prospect of impeachment, keep in mind that the court evangelicals have one of their own waiting in the wings: Vice President Mike Pence.
That is probably why, two days after the announcement that Trump would green-light Turkey’s invasion of Northern Syria, the White House announced that the president would speak at the Values Voter Summit this Saturday, an event sponsored by the Family Research Council. Last year, Trump sent Pence to this event as the representative of his administration. He can’t afford to do that this time.