Christian evangelicals and the 2020 U.S. election

At the end of 2019, the famous American evangelical magazine “Christianity Today” published an editorial saying that it supported the House of Representatives’ impeachment of Trump and hoped to drive him out of the White House. Since evangelicals have always been staunch supporters of the Republican Party, this kind of “disharmonious” sound from within is particularly noticeable. The 2020 election has entered a critical stage. Whether Trump can still gain the support of this core group of voters has a major impact on his prospects for election. This article attempts to sort out the religious beliefs and political tendencies of evangelicals, discuss their interactions with the Republican Party and Trump, and analyze the possible performance of evangelicals in the 2020 election on this basis, and evaluate their political influence .

Religious Ideas and Political Inclinations of Evangelicals
Evangelicalism is a group of Protestant Christians in the United States. It is not the name of a specific denomination, but includes many denominations. Because of their large numbers and high enthusiasm for political participation, evangelicals play an important role in American political life.

1. The origin, composition and evolution of American evangelicalism
The word “Evangelical” in the gospel comes from Greek, meaning “good news,” which originally meant no sect, but later evolved into a general term for evangelicals. The American Evangelical Association and the “Road to Life” research institute jointly launched a standard for evangelical Christian identification in 2015. Simply put, it is to respect the absolute authority of the Bible and believe that conversion to Christ can be redeemed and reborn, and it is an obligation to spread the gospel. Therefore, the identification of evangelicals is mainly based on the self-identification of believers and their sectarian attributes. In reality, evangelicals focus on academic research, support sectarian cooperation, and emphasize social care and responsibility, which makes the term “evangelical” stained with a strong social and political color.

In 2017, the American Institute of Public Religion conducted a survey on the religious identity of Americans: among evangelicals, whites accounted for 64%, Africans accounted for 19%, Hispanics accounted for 10%, and others accounted for 6%. The proportion of white evangelicals in the national population dropped from 23% in 2006 to 17% in 2017. 62% of white evangelicals are considered political conservatives, the highest proportion of all religious groups; 25% of white evangelicals have a four-year college degree, which is the lowest of all religious groups; white evangelicals and The median age of white Catholics is 55, which is the oldest of all religious groups. Among white evangelicals, 49% consider themselves Republicans, 31% are independents, and 14% are Democrats; among African evangelicals, the relevant figures are 5%, 22%, and 69%; and Among Hispanics, they were 19%, 41%, and 29%. [1] It can be seen that whites have always been the mainstay of evangelicals, but their proportion is declining, and their education level and family income are lower, they are older, are extremely conservative, and tend to support the Republican Party. In view of the significant differences in political positions between white and non-white evangelicals, many scholars and polling organizations believe that they should not be regarded as a whole, but should be divided into white evangelicals and non-white evangelicals. Since the proportion of white evangelicals is significantly higher than that of non-whites, and many African Americans who believe in the gospel do not like to be called “evangelicals”, in most cases, people often refer to white gospels when they refer to “evangelicals” send.

The 2020 US general election has entered the final stage. As the core support group of the Republican Party, the performance of evangelicals will directly affect whether Trump can be re-elected. Although there have been voices openly opposed to Trump in evangelicals, it is difficult to reverse the firm support of evangelicals for Trump. The picture shows on August 27, 2020, Trump gave a speech on the South Lawn of the White House to accept the Republican presidential nomination, saying that the US has an unprecedented degree of party and ideological opposition and faces a “most important” presidential election in history in November this year. .

2. The political position of evangelicals and their closeness to the Republican Party
Evangelicals claim that the United States has a unique Christian identity and is a “city on the hill” and that Americans are “God’s chosen people.” They believe that human affairs are not divided into sacred and secular realms. All areas of human activities are under the control of God. The main mission of mankind is not to practice self-cultivation, but to declare the glory of God’s kingdom in the world. This ideal continues to inspire evangelicals to transform their religious sentiments into political enthusiasm and achieve their goals by influencing policies.

First, evangelicals believe that the secularization of the government is a serious injury to their ideas. 64% of white evangelicals believe that humans and other creatures have always existed in their current form, while only 8% of white evangelicals believe that humans evolved naturally. [2] Evangelicals believe that God created man and believe that the world should maintain respect for the “Bible”. However, the U.S. government has continuously stripped religious factors from social activities, such as prohibiting prayer in public schools and declaring that it is unconstitutional to teach both evolution and creation in public schools. This makes evangelicals very angry.

Second, evangelicals are very sensitive to issues related to gender roles. They believe that gender is determined by God and that marriage can only exist between men and women. Therefore, it is difficult to agree with the feminist movement, especially the gradual acceptance of homosexuality in society. Evangelicals believe that there have been too many immoral behaviors in the United States that violated God’s will, so they established social organizations such as the United States Concern for Women, the Moral Majority, and the Christian Union to actively pressure the government to change its policies.

Third, abortion is a topic of great concern to evangelicals. They believe that life belongs only to God, not to themselves, and that only God has the right to decide life and death. The fetus is not just a mass of cell tissue, but a living person with the image of a god, whose life must be guaranteed. 77% of white evangelicals believe that abortion is illegal under any circumstances; while 83% of nonbelievers, 64% of African-American Protestants, 60% of white mainstream Protestants, and 56% of Catholics believe that abortion is illegal under any circumstances. Abortion is legal. [3] The evangelicals value the right to life far more than freedom, and abortion has become its primary concern.

Fourth, on the issue of immigration, the attitude of evangelicals has undergone a major reversal. They originally sympathized with immigrants and were willing to help them obtain equal status in the United States, because this is in the same line as the way Jesus rescued the poor in the Bible. But then the focus of evangelicalism turned to focus on its own status. According to a survey conducted by the American Institute of Public Religion in October 2019, the proportion of white evangelicals who agree with the view that “immigrants are invading American society” is 75% higher than that of Republicans; a poll conducted by the Pew Research Center in May 2018 showed that 68 % Of white evangelicals believe that the United States has no obligation to help resettle refugees, which is 25% higher than the national average. [4] Evangelicals have become a staunch anti-immigrant group.

Fifth, religious and ideological shocks from outside have caused evangelicals to be highly vigilant. Representative of evangelicals-Billy Graham, founder of “Christianity Today” magazine, preached the anti-communist gospel, advocating that communism is not only a political ideology, but also an ungodly religion, intended to conquer Christianity United States. Some white evangelical pastors also believe that Islam and Islamic law are the greatest threat to the United States. They believe that only by preaching the rebirth and revival of Christianity in the public domain and selecting politicians who can fight against “global conspiracies.” Save America and the world.

On the surface, the evangelicals have no interest in power itself, but they hope to use power to achieve their political goals and build a Christian country full of religious sentiments. Polls show that white evangelicals are more inclined than other religious believers to believe that religion should at least have a certain impact on policy making. [5] It is precisely because of dissatisfaction with the big government, youth rebellion, female awakening, and racial equality that white evangelicals have come together with conservatives who hold similar ideas. In the 1960s, the Democratic Party first introduced a Catholic as a candidate for president, and then passed the Civil Rights Act. These actions aroused dissatisfaction among a considerable number of evangelical voters. According to statistics, the last year that white evangelicals contributed net votes to the Democratic Party was 1964, and then they turned to support the Republican Party. In the late 1980s, about one-third of white evangelicals were identified as Republicans, and by 2015 this proportion reached 68%. It is now generally accepted that the term evangelical means “voting Republican Christians.”

The interaction between evangelicals and the Trump administration
In recent years, evangelical support for Republicans has been highly stable, but their close relationship with Trump is unusual. As an atypical Republican, Trump’s personal style is significantly different from the image of the president recognized in the evangelical concept, but he has won the greatest support in history from evangelicals. The emergence of this contradiction is largely due to the seemingly helpless choice made by evangelicals. Unscrupulous means to achieve religious goals means that evangelicals are becoming more politicized.

1. The performance of evangelicals in the 2016 U.S. election
A Pew poll in January 2016 showed that 5% and 23% of the people who think Trump is very religious or acceptable are respectively 22% and 37% who think that Trump is weak or completely lacking. %, which is not only lower than other major Republican candidates, but also behind Democratic candidates Bernie Sanders and Hillary Clinton. [6] At the time, 59% of evangelical leaders declared that they would not vote for Trump. [7] After Trump distanced himself from his campaign opponents, he quickly sent a positive signal to evangelicals. In June 2016, Trump held a closed-door meeting with more than 900 evangelical leaders in New York. They made promises on a number of issues and won the favor of evangelicals. The latter immediately established the “Evangelical Advisory Committee.” , To help Trump’s campaign. Since then, evangelical leaders who know Trump’s “selective blindness” about their “improper” behaviors such as marrying three times, repeatedly boasting that they are good at “playing” women, going to church from time to time, and opening casinos, in order to achieve Political goals are no longer bound to their own principles.

There is another reason why evangelicals turn to support Trump. During the administrations of Reagan and Bush Sr., evangelicals did not make significant progress in pushing Congress to pass legislation on issues of particular concern. Although Bush Jr. said that he often communicates with God to gain political guidance, he has also made insufficient efforts on issues such as the prohibition of abortion and same-sex marriage. Therefore, the evangelical’s trust in the establishment of the Republican Party has been continuously overdrawn. Trump has always used the label of anti-establishment and anti-traditional to show others. Relatively speaking, evangelicals are more willing to try to believe in him, hoping to really benefit from such an anti-establishment.

In the 2016 general election, 81% of white evangelical voters who voted supported Trump, the highest among all religious groups, and was 65 percentage points higher than Hillary’s vote among evangelicals. This result has also become the biggest gap between all Republican presidential candidates and their Democratic opponents in evangelical votes since 2000. [8] The evangelicals proved by their actions that their attitude towards Trump has changed from disgusting to full acceptance.

2. Interactions with evangelicals since Trump took office
After Trump took office, he did not live up to the expectations of evangelicals, and vigorously promoted a series of issues they were concerned about, and won the full affirmation of evangelicals.

On the issue of abortion, Trump announced the resumption of the “Mexico City Policy” (Mexico City Policy) that was revoked by Obama in 2009, which prohibits the federal government from providing funding to overseas NGOs that support abortion; he also supports anti-abortion Annual abortion parade and declared that he would veto any bill that might weaken the protection of human life. On the issue of religious freedom, Trump signed the “Religious Freedom Administrative Order” in May 2017, declaring that churches and religious groups will not lose tax exemption status for participating in political activities, and also allow employers to refuse to pay employees for reasons of religious belief The cost of birth control is included in the health insurance plan. On gender-related issues, Trump repealed the Obama administration’s federal guidance to encourage schools to allow students to use all school facilities that match their gender identity in the first month of his tenure; in January 2019, the United States The Supreme Court ruled that the Trump administration’s executive order prohibiting transgender people from joining the military is in conformity with the Constitution. On immigration-related issues, the Trump administration has taken an extremely tough attitude. It has carried out several operations to arrest illegal immigrants in the country, and made every effort to build the US-Mexico border wall, which has caused the government to shut down. In June 2019, Trump even risked the world and implemented a policy of “separation of flesh and blood” against illegal immigrants. In terms of US-Israeli relations, in December 2017, Trump announced that the United States recognized Jerusalem as the capital of Israel and initiated the process of moving the US embassy in Israel from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem. This move is well received by evangelicals. Evangelicals believe that only by treating Jerusalem as the capital of Israel will the prophecy of Jesus’ second coming to earth be fulfilled. In March 2019, Trump announced that the United States recognized Israel’s sovereignty over the Golan Heights. Most importantly, Trump appointed two conservative justices on the Supreme Court, giving conservatives a 5:4 advantage over liberals, which is considered by evangelicals to be the most valuable gain. Trump also appointed more than 100 federal circuit court and district court judges, and recruited a large number of evangelicals into the government. In his cabinet, 9 evangelicals have successively held ministerial positions. The evangelicals are very satisfied with these measures of the Trump administration. The leader not only prayed for Trump at the White House many times, participated in Trump’s election campaign, but also created public opinion among evangelical voters, portraying Trump’s election. He became a “sovereign power granted by god” and mobilized voters to continue to support him. In general, white evangelical support for Trump can be summarized into two factors.

First, policy factors. Trump has not only made progress on almost all important issues that evangelicals pay attention to, but also significantly elevated the status of Christianity in the public sphere, providing evangelicals with opportunities to expand their social influence that they have been pursuing for decades. Further promoted the integration of politics and religion. Of course, not all Trump’s policies are acceptable to evangelicals. For example, most white evangelicals oppose Trump’s “separation of flesh and blood” policy and do not approve of tax cuts for the rich. But evangelicals have found that Trump has clearly surpassed his Republican predecessor in fulfilling his promises, and he is a trusted ally. From a policy perspective, Trump is irreplaceable.

Second, the value factor. Evangelicals claim that the United States is a country entrusted to God and plays a special role in God’s plan, but it is experiencing obvious moral and religious decline. The only solution is to treat the past as a model and use it to guide future religious and political agendas, so as to restore its status as the kingdom of God. Trump’s campaign slogans of “America First” and “Make America Great Again” coincided with their pursuit and saw the dawn of eliminating the influence of Democratic liberals with Trump’s help. 86% of white evangelicals believe that “America First” is a concept they use to describe their own ideas. [9] It is obvious that Trump has played an indispensable role in his plan.

3. Self “healing” and psychological “correction” of Trump supporters
Evangelical support for Trump politically does not mean that he is personally appreciated. In fact, Trump’s consistent vulgar words and deeds, alienation from churches and even violations of doctrines have always embarrassed evangelicals with strong moral sense. They don’t know how to reconcile this contradiction between religious values ​​and political needs. . Thus, some leaders in evangelicals acted as coordinators. They claim that Trump is God’s choice and must be accepted anyway; voters are not electing saints, and Trump does not need to be perfect. This is also God’s way of employing people. Pastor Jerry Falwell Sr., President of Liberty University of the United States, declared: “Whether Trump is a good Christian or not is a question between him and God. Evangelicals believe that everyone is a sinner. We Not perfect.” Evangelical Christian and former Secretary of Energy Perry (Rick Perry) said in an interview with Fox News: “Trump and his authority come from God. God has always used imperfect people, King David. Not perfect, Saul is not perfect, and Solomon is not perfect.” Franklin Graham, an evangelical preacher, declared that the criticism of Trump came from “a devil’s power.” Under their guidance, those evangelical voters who were suspicious of Trump gradually believed that Trump would defend the American Christian heritage and push the United States toward a unique Christian country, regardless of whether he was pious or not. Therefore, there is no need to care about Trump’s personal words and deeds. He is only a messenger of God. Christians can achieve their perfect religious pursuit through an imperfect Trump.

Internal division of evangelicals and the 2020 U.S. election
According to statistics, the support of evangelicals to Trump has been relatively stable for a long time, but Trump’s continuous and even escalating “bad behavior” has angered a group of evangelicals, and their dissatisfaction with Trump is finally It broke out before Christmas in 2019, causing the conflict between Trump and some evangelicals to quickly become public.

1. The emergence of the “Christianity Today” incident
On December 20, 2019, when Trump’s impeachment case was raging, “Christian Today”, known as the “flagship” magazine of evangelicals, published an editorial saying that Trump had turned to foreign governments for help against domestic political opponents The practice is not only against the constitution, but also against morality.[10] Therefore, he supports impeachment and expels him from the White House. This caused a huge response within evangelicals, with supporters and opponents fighting fiercely. The magazine “Christian Today” has a national circulation of about 130,000 copies. After that editorial was published, the publication lost 2,000 old subscribers, but added 5,000 new subscribers. The journal subsequently published a second editorial, continuing to criticize Trump. More than a dozen evangelicals, including seminary professors and history professors, jointly supported the editorial’s comments. Encouraged by this, certain pastors who opposed Trump are also traveling the country to raise funds, trying to prevent Trump from running for the Republican Party. But at the same time, the son of the founder of “Christianity Today” publicly criticized the editor of the magazine, claiming that the editorial violated his father’s purpose of establishing the magazine. Pastors from more than 180 parishes jointly thanked Trump for his dedication to evangelicalism in another Christian publication, The Christian Post. At the campaign rally in Florida, several pastors also launched the “Evangelism to Trump” campaign.

2. Reflections and influence of some evangelicals
When Trump participated in the 2016 election, the evangelicals had mixed views on him. After Trump entered the White House, some evangelicals who were dissatisfied with his words and deeds in the campaign tried to be patient and continue to observe. However, Trump not only failed to constrain during his tenure, but also used the presidency to do more behaviors that are unacceptable to evangelicals who uphold orthodox religious teachings and moral values. These people’s dissatisfaction with Trump has been accumulating, and it broke out after the “Tong Wumen” incident was revealed. Evangelicals who oppose Trump believe that Christianity is sacred, and believers should maintain high morality and pure character, and regard God as the only source of correctness. During Trump’s tenure, he has repeatedly lowered moral standards. He has no bottom line in business activities. He is proud of the insults against women. He habitually uses distorted, false and defamatory language to publish Twitter and enforces illegal immigrants. The cruel “separation of flesh and blood” policy. If you continue to support Trump, you will violate your promise to God, you will not be able to face the doubts of the secular, and you will fall into unrighteousness. They believe that principles should not be abandoned for the sake of practical interests. Opposing Trump is not to support the Democrats, but to hope that a more suitable candidate in the Republican Party can replace him. In addition, these people are also disturbed by the massive loss of young people among evangelicals. They believe that if Trump is allowed to set a bad example for young people, there will be no future for evangelicals.

However, “Christian Today” is a magazine focused on intellectuals and does not have much overlap with the middle and lower evangelicals who support Trump enthusiastically. This is not the first time the magazine has criticized Trump. Judging from the current situation, it is difficult for the magazine’s appeal to win widespread response. Evangelicals who support and oppose Trump are actually caught in a conflict of two morals. The former believes that not voting will bring immoral consequences to Trump (letting the Democrats to power), and the latter believes Trump’s own behavior It’s immoral. Although the former basically agrees with the latter’s judgment and believes that almost all Democrats are more decent in their words and deeds than Trump, but once they think of their support for abortion and forcing religious institutions to accept arbitrary gender changes, Trump’s actions are nothing. It is intolerable. Moreover, Trump’s tenure is limited after all, but the benefits he can bring to evangelicals are long-term. For evangelicals, ethical results can be obtained through unethical means. Isn’t this more preferable than ethical means in exchange for unethical results?

The 2020 US general election has entered the final stage. As the core support group of the Republican Party, the performance of evangelicals will directly affect whether Trump can be re-elected. Although there have been voices openly opposed to Trump in evangelicals, it is difficult to reverse the firm support of evangelicals for Trump.

First, the basic conditions for Trump to win support from evangelicals have not changed. The main reason why evangelicals support Trump is that he can truly represent the interests of evangelicals, and there is no replacement for Trump in the Republican Party. Even if there is, it is difficult to expect others to do better than him. Therefore, evangelicals have no choice but to continue to support Trump.

The second is that party status surpasses religious principles and has become a leading factor in shaping the voting tendency of evangelicals. Researchers at the Pew Center found that, compared to any other demographic indicator, political parties have a stronger driving force than religion in influencing political opinions. Because the Republican Party and the Evangelicals converge in value, the bond that connects the Evangelicals and the Republican Party is very strong, flexible, and able to accommodate differences on certain issues. [11] Therefore, partisan factors have largely shaped the identity of evangelicals.

Third, there is no option for evangelicals to switch to the Democratic Party. In recent years, identity politics represented by the ultra-left trend has become popular in the Democratic Party. The political party ideals characterized by support for immigration, abortion, and LGBTQ rights are seriously opposed to the demands of conservatives. For evangelicals, even if they don’t like Trump, they cannot support the Democratic Party.

Fourth, the division of evangelicalism has not yet reached the level of subverting elections. Although the conflict between some evangelicals and Trump became public, their main support for Trump has not undergone a qualitative change. Polls at the end of 2019 show that about 75% of white evangelicals still support Trump, which is significantly higher than the national support rate of 42%. Nearly two-thirds of white evangelicals stated that Trump has not compromised the dignity of the presidency, while most followers of other religious groups believe that Trump has damaged the image of the president. [12] After the impeachment case was initiated by the House of Representatives, 99% of white evangelicals opposed Trump’s impeachment and removal. [13]

Regardless of its value orientation or policy philosophy, the alliance between evangelicals and the Republican Party is relatively stable. A poll conducted by CNN after the 2016 election shows that 57% of white voters support Trump, but if evangelicals are removed from it, the result becomes 59% of white voters support Sheila Here, [14] shows the importance of white evangelical support to Trump. But in the marriage between the two parties, the Republican Party is in a dominant position. The evangelicals have never controlled the Republican Party, but the Republican Party chose or even controlled the evangelicals. In some respects, the position of the Christian right in the Republican Party is comparable to that of African-American voters in the Democratic Party. The Democratic Party supports the cause of civil rights, while the Republican Party runs counter to it. Therefore, even if African-American voters are not sufficiently loyal to the Democratic Party, they have no choice but to abandon the election. Similarly, the two parties in the United States have such opposite perceptions of the Christian right-wing agenda that conservative Christians must either depend on the Republican Party or they can only withdraw from political participation. In this sense, the strong political initiative displayed by evangelicals on the surface can hardly conceal their passive position in reality.

In order to help Trump succeed in re-election in the 2020 election, evangelicals are actively mobilizing. Ralph Reed, founder and chairman of the Alliance for Faith and Freedom, said that there are still about 15 to 17 million evangelical voters who have not registered or went out to vote. He plans to mobilize 1 million among these voters— 2 million people went out to vote. Considering that Trump won the presidency by relying on about 80,000 votes in the three swing states in 2016, he believes that these new voters will further enhance Trump’s advantage. The evangelicals who oppose Trump believe that as long as the votes of white evangelicals who support Trump are reduced by 5% in 2016, he cannot be re-elected. Therefore, in the election year, the debate among evangelicals surrounding the attitude to Trump will become more intense.

In the long run, the gradual decline in the political influence of white evangelicals is the general trend. This is not only a direct consequence of the decline in the proportion of whites in the national population, but also related to the gradual aging of evangelicals and the lack of successors. According to statistics, nearly one-third of white Americans who grew up in evangelical Christian families gave up their childhood faith. Twenty years ago, only 46% of white evangelicals were over 50 years old, and now it is 62%; only 10% of Americans under 30 years old consider themselves white evangelicals. The rate of loss of young believers is so fast that some demographers predict that by 2024, evangelicals may no longer be an important political force in the presidential election. [15] Although this judgment is somewhat sloppy, it does reflect a trend, which means that in addition to continuing to cooperate with evangelicals, the Republican Party will have to start to attract more voters.