He’s been married three times, said lewd things, berated the beloved Bush family and offended women and Latinos, but conservative Christians helped send Donald Trump to the White House anyway.
Four out of five white evangelicals voted for the Republican nominee, according to exit polls.
How did people of faith reconcile the teaching of Christ with the tough rhetoric of the reality star and real estate mogul?
For many, it came down to a few major issues, such as abortion and Supreme Court appointments. They also were swayed by party loyalty and fear of a government under Hillary Clinton.
And something more basic: Trump courted them.
“There was only one candidate in this race, one major candidate, who actually asked for the votes of white evangelicals, and that was Donald Trump,” said Michael R. Wear, a faith adviser to President Obama and Christian author. “White evangelicals, with some merit, feel embattled and isolated. He said, ‘I’m the only one who can save you, I’m the one who hears you.’ And Hillary doesn’t even enter into this conversation.”
In 2000 and 2004, Democrats didn’t like the religious right and didn’t work with them, Wear said. “In 2006, the Democratic Party made an intentional decision to invest resources into reaching evangelicals explicitly, and it paid off. They let go of that in this election cycle.”
Leaders of the party have tried to move away from evangelicals several times, and each time it has proven too soon to do so, said Wear, author of Reclaiming Hope: Lessons Learned in the Obama White House About the Future of Faith in America.
“We are a profoundly religious country. … They are a quarter of the electorate. You can’t ignore them.”
Anglican priest Thomas McKenzie, who is the pastor of Church of the Redeemer in Nashville thinks some evangelical Christians who picked Trump for president despite his moral failings had their eyes on the Supreme Court.
McKenzie, who had publicly opposed Trump in favor of any other candidate, said Christians whose primary concerns are stopping abortions, protecting religious freedom and preserving traditional views on gay and transgender issues want a conservative high court. So they picked the candidate most likely to deliver that outcome.
“I had several conversations with people who said, 'I’m not voting for Donald Trump; I’m voting for a conservative Supreme Court,'” McKenzie said.
But the Christian witness is not aided by political power, McKenzie argued. In the case of Trump, McKenzie is concerned his administration won’t take care of the poor and the marginalized. The church is called to do it, and McKenzie hopes it steps up, especially if the next president doesn’t.
“Jesus said, "My kingdom is not of this world.' And the problem that I think that we should’ve remembered from the 1980s is that when we marry Christianity with power, it goes well for the powerful, but it doesn’t go well for Christianity,” McKenzie said. The Moral Majority, led by Baptist minister Jerry Falwell, grew to 4 million members in the 1980s and became one of the nation's largest lobbying groups.
The Rev. Dwight Parrish at Trinity Baptist Church in Asheville, N.C., also voted for Trump.
“We were looking for a candidate that would most protect the way we believe and guard the Constitution,” he said. “That document was founded on God’s word and there’s no need to reinvent the wheel. As Christians, God’s word, the Holy Bible, is our blueprint.”
Until October, Trump’s language and demeanor bothered Parrish. “It was almost an attitude of hold your nose and vote,” he said.
It became clear, however, that Trump with his positions on abortion, the Supreme Court, the military and the safety of the United States, would be the best for the future of the church and the nation, he said.
It clearly helped that he wasn’t Hillary Clinton. By Sept. 23, 35% of white evangelicals and 30% of Catholics supported Trump because “he is not Clinton,” according to Pew Research Center. They also liked that he was an outsider who would bring change.
But some of Trump’s musings were not biblical. The Bible commands believers to take care of foreigners in your land, but Trump said build a wall to keep them out. Are some people of faith more Republican than they are Christian?
Pastors said it’s not that simple.
Nathan Martin, lead pastor at Christian Challenge Worship Center in Pineville, La., said many evangelical Christians felt compelled to vote for Trump for the platform in spite of the candidate.
“The Bible is replete with examples of flawed leaders who stood for principle,” he said. “King David committed adultery, lied and murdered to cover it up, and yet is beloved because he stood for right and good. The principles of life, sanctity of marriage, love for Israel, etc., can be championed by flawed messengers.”
Mark Gonzales, executive director of the Royal Palm Association of Churches, a group of Southern Baptist Churches in Fort Myers, Fla., said it was a difficult election.
“I went up and down probably three times before I settled in to vote for him,” he said. “Do we want a guy with that kind of moral character to be chief executive, and how as a Christian can I in good conscience, vote for him ...
“I was struggling with it in the primaries. I thought, why are people gravitating to this boorish, narcissistic man.”
But he couldn’t in good conscience vote for Clinton either.
“(John) Kennedy was a womanizer, (Lyndon Johnson) was a very vile guy,” Gonzales said. “We’ve always had issues.”
And not voting for either didn’t seem right, because it would be squandering his vote. The Bible makes it clear that believers should support their government.
“The abortion issue was huge,” he said. “How do you vote for a candidate who can’t even see a baby in the womb is worth protecting? It wasn’t even about overturning Roe vs. Wade — that’s 10 steps down the road.”
Two other major issues were the Supreme Court appointments and the gay rights agenda, Gonzales said.