In trying to understand why a strong minority of Americans voted for Donald Trump as president, much attention has been paid to the economic and cultural disaffection of blue-collar and rural whites. Less effort has been made in trying to explain (and not simply describe) the fact that 81% of white evangelicals threw their support behind Trump.
But in her recent Commonweal article, “Jesus Freaks and Donald Trump,” Julia Marley makes a powerful case that the Trump campaign connected well with the notion popular among evangelicals – and articulated by a host of Christian Right leaders, including Answers in Genesis (AiG) CEO Ken Ham – that it is Christians in America who are the suffering and the persecuted, that it is Christians and not Muslims who endure the most discrimination in America. The evidence for such persecution is not violence and death, but, instead, the loss of cultural hegemony, the decline and fall of Christian America.
Of course, and as we argue in Righting America, “one might respond that it makes sense to end Christianity’s privilege in the public square, given that . . . twenty-first-century America is a religiously diverse place, filled with people of very different faiths and of no particular faith” (162). But that is not the response of Ken Ham and the Christian Right. For them, the end of Christian America is not understood as a demographic reality, but, instead, as a moral and political disaster. As Marley astutely points out:
Here is where Donald Trump’s “Make America Great Again” comes into play. It’s easy to see how the slogan harks back to a whiter and more racially segregated America. But evangelicals may also be thinking of a past when there was prayer in public schools, gay marriage was illegal, there wasn’t any mainstream discussion of trans rights, and, of course, you’d only hear “Merry Christmas” during what we now call “the holidays.” Conservative Christians see religious pluralism – and the state’s reflection of that pluralism – as encroaching on their right to practice their own faith.
Religious pluralism in America equals persecution of Christians. Of course, with Donald Trump in the White House and at the podium giving the commencement address at Jerry Falwell, Jr.’s Liberty University, one might imagine that white evangelicals might take a break from their personal persecution fantasies. But no. Ken Ham is certainly not going to abandon his claims of victimage. Instead, he doubles down, linking the (alleged) persecution of AiG with the (alleged) persecution of Donald Trump:
Much of the media is dishonest – many reporters have been publishing misinformation about Answers in Genesis, the Creation Museum, and the Ark Encounter for years . . . Sadly, much of the media does to us what they do to politicians and political issues – spreading fake news to deliberately malign those they don’t agree with [emphasis in original]. The left-wing, secular media is doing to President Trump what they’ve done to us for years – spreading false accusations, lies, and misinformation; being engaged in censorship; and more.
The Christian Right wins the Presidency and the Congress, and they remain the victims. As Marley eloquently concludes, we have entered
a baffling era when evangelicals continue to cast themselves as martyrs even as their man, Vice President Mike Pence, whispers into Trump’s ear and Steve “Church Militant” Bannon churns out executive orders – a period when the evangelical Christian fantasizes about dying under Diocletian even while living under Constantine. It’s possible to see yourself as a victim while you’re assaulting others’ civil rights. And it’s possible, as Constantine did, to march into battle under the sign of the cross and fail to notice the irony.
It’s more than possible. Such irony is lost on Ken Ham and the Christian Right. Too bad for the rest of us.