Just weeks before the 2016 US presidential election, political pundits and religious leaders were confused: how could evangelical Christians betray their values to support a man like Donald Trump? How could the self-proclaimed “moral majority” vote for a twice-divorced man who bragged about his assaults on women, mocked his rivals, lied frantically, enjoyed being vulgar, and bragged about his “manliness” on TV? national?
Maybe it was just a relationship for pragmatic purposes, some ventured. After all, Trump had promised to “protect Christianity” and prioritize evangelical interests. But history shows that evangelical support for Trump was not a mere compromise. For the past half-century, conservative white evangelicals have championed a combative ideal of masculinity and have urged Christian men to aggressively defend “Christian America,” a religious and political order that is patriarchal, hierarchical, and at bottom, antidemocratic. Evangelical support for Trump in no way meant betraying these values, but, on the contrary, materializing them.
Although they like to claim that their faith is grounded in theology, America’s contemporary evangelical movement is as rooted in cultural identity as it is in theology. If evangelical Christianity has spread so widely in the United States, it is, in large part, because of the culture it has created, the culture it sells. Evangelical publishers publish “Christian lifestyle” books that sell by the millions, Christian radio and television reach hundreds of millions more viewers, and Christian conventions, networks, and influencers serve as powerful gatekeepers in the marketplace. consumption. Its products cross denominational and national barriers and flood the markets of Europe, Africa, Asia, Latin America and Australia.
Popular music, books, and sermons taught men that God was a warrior God and that they, too, had “a battle to fight.” The battle could be spiritual, but also physical: against the communists in the Cold War and, after the attacks of September 11, against radical Islamism. But it could also be fought within the country itself, with the mobilization of conservative Christians to fight against internal enemies: secularists, liberals, feminists or democrats.
The key to sustaining this activism was to fuel the sense of siege. Preachers like Jerry Falwell and Mark Driscoll used militaristic language to warn their parishioners of dire threats; when they struck fear into their followers, they were reinforcing their own power through promises of protection and demands of absolute loyalty. Conservative Christian political organizations resorted to similar tactics, stoking fear to raise funds, mobilize voters, and justify their aggressive methods.
Over time, conservative evangelical doctrine came to be defined by a new orthodoxy, more political than theological. Polling data reveals the profiles of that orthodoxy: in the United States, white evangelicals are more likely than members of other religious groups to support preventive war, justify torture, oppose immigration reform, support construction of a wall on the border and being in favor of the death penalty; they are more likely than other Americans to own firearms, deny the relationship between racism and police violence, reject political compromises, prefer strong and reclusive rulers, and approve of breaking the rules when they deem it necessary. And they are much more likely than other American religious groups to show authoritarian tendencies, to deny that there are moves to prevent certain sectors from voting and to believe that Trump was robbed of the 2020 election.
The anti-democratic nature of militant Christian nationalism was exposed on January 6, 2021. On the day that insurgents stormed the United States Capitol to try to annul the presidential election, participants carried crosses and banners reading “Jesus Saves.” , Trump rules” and “Jesus is king, Trump is president”; and a group of the Proud Boys got down on their knees to pray. While these were arguably extremists, recent polls reveal that more than a quarter (26%) of white evangelical Protestants believe that “true patriotic Americans may have to resort to violence to save our country.” ”. The warrior ideal has profoundly influenced the American evangelical movement, but its influence is not limited to the United States.
To prevent the spread of authoritarianism around the world at this historical moment, it is crucial to understand its deep religious roots.
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