Strong religion produces judgmental, bigoted attitudes. Fundamentalists are unforgiving, less accepting of outcasts. Puritans are quick to condemn.
In the 2016 presidential election, Donald Trump exuded racism and intolerance. He implied that America’s first Black president was born in Kenya. He demanded a wall to keep out Hispanics. He tried to block Muslims from entering the United States. Trump also degraded women and boasted of grabbing their genitals. His slogan of “Make America great again” was perceived as “Make America white again.”
Trump’s most ardent supporters were white evangelicals, who backed him by an astounding 81 percent at the polls. It seemed as if those fundamentalists eagerly embraced bigotry.
It’s an old story: Less-educated white churchgoers have a record of discrimination. In the 1950s, big-time evangelist Jerry Falwell preached against racial integration, declaiming that it “will destroy our race eventually.” After integration arrived, he founded the Lynchburg Christian Academy for whites — a “seg academy” designed to evade association with Blacks.
In the 1970s, tax exemption was stripped from segregated religious schools — impelling white evangelicals to become a belligerent political force: the Christian Right. Today, that segment is a strong bastion of intolerance.
Christianity Today, the foremost evangelical magazine, has lamented, “Every week, we are treated to another revelation about the alarming attitudes of white evangelical Christians.” It said kind-hearted people should “find President Trump’s closing the door to the world’s neediest refugees repulsive. But white evangelicals support Trump’s exclusionary policy by a whopping 76 percent. … White evangelical Christians, more than any other religious group, say illegal immigrants should be identified and summarily deported.” The article concluded that too many white evangelicals “show little mercy for those who are not white Americans.”
Professor David Myers, who grew up in born-again churches, has written:
Despite my roots in evangelical Christianity, I no longer claim that identity. I don’t want to be associated with the prejudice and intolerance that the word “evangelical” now, alas, so often connotes.
Washington Post columnist Michael Gerson has commented that, by embracing Trump, born-again believers are “associating evangelicalism with bigotry, selfishness and deception. They are playing a grubby political game for the highest of stakes: the reputation of their faith.”
However, I think that the reputation of their faith has been rather obvious for a long time.
This column is adapted from a piece originally published on Jan. 25, 2021, at Patheos/Daylight Atheism.