Nobody wants to be accused of relying on emotions over intellect . Nor do people want to be thought of as those governed by feelings more than facts, but this is the heart of evangelical belief.
The majority of President Trump supporters are white evangelicals as statistics continue to show. The world has puzzled over this phenomenon for more than three years. Why this faith demographic over all others? But should we really be surprised?
My perspective as a former evangelical and graduate of several evangelical institutions may uniquely qualify me to answer these questions.
One glaring flaw among evangelicals is the propensity to believe in contradistinction to the rest of society, a quality in which they revel. This stems form a clear biblical distinction between believers and unbelievers, light and dark, righteous and unrighteous, spiritual and carnal and the forces of goodness and the forces of darkness. Evangelicals are in the business of trafficking in the realm of the unseen. So what does this have to do with Donald Trump?
Evangelicals are not constrained by logic, reason or facts. They are only bound by the teachings of holy scripture (as they see them). Evangelicals have always had a healthy appetite for Apocalypticism, or the culmination of this temporal world in a cataclysmic finale called Armageddon. The problem is they are always in need of “players” to fill the necessary roles to see this end achieved. Enter Donald J Trump, forty-fifth president of the United States.
Many evangelicals see Trump as their ticket to heaven, so to speak. He will finally help usher in the End Times, thereby, initiating “The Rapture” of evangelicals where they will watch the unfurling of Tribulation events from the safety of heaven. All of this is based on an emotional connection to the Bible.
Belief in the Bible as the divine and perfect inspired Word of God begins with the presupposition in the supernatural. With this conviction firmly lodged in place, evangelicals construct a massive edifice supporting inerrancy using science and reason wherever and whenever convenient, and rejecting it when it impinges on this doctrine. The problem is appealing the the supernatural gives one boundless freedom to modify and reinterpret “facts” to fit their theological model. Everything can potentially be made to conform to their beliefs because a God who delights in confounding the scientific community is behind it all.
I am not saying evangelicals are or cannot be immensely rational and intellectual. I am saying, however, when it comes to their faith, heart always wins over head. They pick and choose when science and reason are their friends or their enemies. For instance, there is no evidentiary proof or rational basis for the Christian faith. Belief in the miraculous resurrection is embedded in trust in the biblical accounts which in turn is rooted in an emotional belief in Jesus as the eternal son of God. Unflinching objectivity suggests doctrines like this and the Trinity are later Christian inventions devised by men with no biblical justification.
Evangelicals avail themselves of scientific advancements as much as non evangelicals except when it “oversteps” its authority and makes incursions into the realm of faith. Evangelicals entertain a conspiracy theory the scientific community contains those who allow a personal bias against the miraculous to dictate their investigation. They begin with the presupposition miracles do not exist which is identical to evangelicals’ presupposition miracles did exist and will one day resume. Scientists refuse to incorporate the possibility of the supernatural in their work. This of course is not true, unless and until their is such evidence to lead to this theory.
A point which needs to be emphasized is evangelicals default to this position to blur the real issue. The existence of God is not in question. It is the credibility of the Bible as the source of absolute authority to affirm the belief in God. God’s existence is ultimately non rational but a study of the Bible’s reliability is well within the scope of rationality.
Press any evangelical hard enough and ultimately they will default to a personal God experience as irrefutable proof of the Bible’s divine authority. Trusting in a book that contradicts science, logic and common sense must find its source in emotional conviction.
I have been there many times as a former evangelical. I did not think I was being unreasonable or emotional whenever I deferred to my personal experience with God for my assurance. My relationship confirmed what the Bible taught, therefore, my faith was ultimately fact based, I reasoned. It made perfect sense to me.
Trying to get an evangelical to readjust their thinking is no small task. Forcing them to confront their own dependance of a mystical encounter with God which is transferred to the Bible which a believer then rationalizes to be supported by archeology, history, science, logic and so on, is a herculean feat. You are asking a person to deny the reality of a profound faith experience.
I offer only one challenge to those who think this is enough. What about the hundreds of millions who have had equally powerful divine or spiritual experiences from hundreds of other belief systems? Does their experience validate their faith?
A final brief word about the history of American evangelicalism. Regardless of what modern day evangelicals may think about the origins of their faith, it began as a reactionary movement against the cold formalism that pervaded Christianity in the early eighteenth century. Deism had supplanted theism as the Age of Enlightenment reduced God to an impersonal distant superintendent of the universe. Men like Theodorus Frelinghuysen, Jonathan Edwards, John Wesley and George Whitfield called into question the salvation of many Christians who lacked a distinct discernible emotional conversion experience. Thus, began the need for assurance as the hallmark of true saving faith. Today a conversion or born again experience remains a defining and essential characteristic of American evangelicalism.
Evangelicals are relishing their place on center stage. The eyes of the world are upon them because of their affiliation with Trump and the power and influence it has brought. The excitement of believing they are in the final days of history due to this unholy union reinforced their commitment to Trump. It makes no difference whether Trump meets biblical standards for righteousness because God uses those least likely to be thought of as his instruments for good.
“But God chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise; God chose the weak things of the world to shame the strong.“(1 Corinthians 1:27)
As much as the world thinks Donald Trump is shamelessly exploiting evangelicals for political support, evangelicals are equally using him to achieve their theological goals. Both have an agenda they want to push at any cost. What is frightening is the stakes are incredibly high and neither seems to care (evangelicals) or be aware (Trump) of what the fallout may be, and by the time they do, it may be too late.