I simply completed studying Tim Alberta’s masterly new ebook, “The Kingdom, the Power, and the Glory: American Evangelicals in an Age of Extremism.” It’s a strong and emotionally resonant account of the transformation in evangelical politics that has introduced us to the present second: A godless man, Donald Trump, could now possess extra devoted help from white evangelical Christians than every other president within the historical past of the US. And most worrisome of all, that help is now disproportionately concentrated among the many most churchgoing section of the Republican voters.
One of many troubling facets of the Trump period for me, as a churchgoing evangelical, has been watching the evolution of his help amongst white evangelicals. In the course of the 2016 primaries, I took some solace in the truth that Trump’s help appeared to say no the extra a voter went to church. According to the 2016 American National Election Studies Pilot Study, he acquired majority help from white evangelicals who seldom or by no means attended church, however he acquired barely over a 3rd of the votes of white evangelicals who attended weekly.
As we headed into the final election, a self-justifying narrative emerged. Numerous churchgoing evangelicals advised pals and neighbors that Trump had been their final selection amongst Republicans however that they needed to vote for him in opposition to Hillary Clinton as the one pro-life possibility remaining.
Quickly sufficient, nevertheless, the churchgoing dynamic flipped. I observed the change amongst individuals I knew earlier than I noticed it within the information. After Trump gained, of us within the pews warmed as much as him significantly, particularly those that have been most firmly ensconced in evangelical America. Most home-schooling households I knew turned militantly pro-Trump. I watched many segments of Christian media grow to be militantly pro-Trump. And I at all times observed the identical development: the extra fundamentalist the Christians, the extra seemingly they have been to be all in.
Then the information began to substantiate my observations. In 2018, Paul Djupe, a Denison College professor, and Ryan Burge, a statistician and affiliate professor at Japanese Illinois College, reported that Republican approval for Trump was positively correlated with church attendance: The extra usually individuals went to church, the extra seemingly they were to strongly approve of Trump. By 2020, white evangelicals who attended church month-to-month or extra have been more likely to support Trump than evangelical voters who attended not often or under no circumstances.
I’m definitely not arguing that each one common churchgoers are fundamentalists, however in my expertise fundamentalists are nearly at all times common churchgoers. To know why they help Trump, it’s essential to grasp fundamentalism extra broadly and to grasp how Trump suits so neatly throughout the tradition of fundamentalist Christianity.
For some readers, that is perhaps a head-spinning thought. How on earth might a secular, twice-divorced, philandering actuality tv star slot in neatly with fundamentalist Christians? It is unnecessary till you perceive that the true distinction between fundamentalism and mainstream beliefs isn’t what fundamentalists imagine however how fundamentalists imagine. As Richard Land, a former president of the Southern Baptist Conference’s Ethics & Spiritual Liberty Fee, as soon as advised me, “Fundamentalism is much extra a psychology than a theology.” That’s why, for instance, you may have competing Christian fundamentalisms, competing Muslim fundamentalisms and secular actions that possess fundamentalist traits.
I grew up in a church that almost all would describe as fundamentalist, and I’ve encountered fundamentalism of each stripe my total life. And whereas fundamentalist concepts can usually be fairly variable and complicated, I’ve by no means encountered a fundamentalist tradition that didn’t mix three key traits: certainty, ferocity and solidarity.
Certainty is the important thing constructing block. The fundamentalist thoughts isn’t clouded by doubt. In truth, when individuals are absolutely captured by the fundamentalist mind-set, they usually can’t even conceive of good-faith disagreement. To fundamentalists, their opponents aren’t simply fallacious however evil. Critics are derided as weak or cowards or grifters. Solely a grave ethical defect can clarify the failure to agree.
That certainty breeds ferocity. Certainly, ferocity — not piety — is a principal trait of each actually fundamentalist motion I’ve ever encountered. Ferocity is so useful to fundamentalism that it may well cowl a large number of standard Christian sins. Defending Trump in 2016, Robert Jeffress, the pastor of First Baptist Dallas, an evangelical megachurch, explained, “Frankly, I need the meanest, hardest son of a gun I can discover. And I believe that’s the sensation of a whole lot of evangelicals.”
Alberta captures this rage effectively in his ebook. He tells a gut-wrenching anecdote about receiving a nasty be aware in 2019 on the funeral of his father, a pastor. After Alberta spoke on the service, he was handed the be aware from a member of the congregation condemning him as a part of an “evil plot” to “undermine God’s ordained chief of the US” and demanding that he search absolution by investigating the “deep state.” This may be a wierd message to direct at a journalist below any circumstance. However to take action at his father’s funeral is grotesque.
But certainty and ferocity are nothing with out solidarity. It’s the sense of shared objective and neighborhood that makes any type of fundamentalism actually potent. There’s an plain attract to the concept that you’re becoming a member of a neighborhood that has achieved an understanding of life’s mysteries or found a path to resolving injustice. As indignant as fundamentalists could really feel, on the identical time, there may be true pleasure amongst comrades within the foxhole — at the least so long as they continue to be comrades.
I’m reminded of an infamous quote by Mike Huckabee, a former Baptist pastor, concerning the need of loyalty. Explaining Trump’s hostility towards Ron DeSantis, Huckabee mentioned, “I believe there are two virtues — loyalty and confidentiality. Be loyal to the individuals who helped you and discover ways to maintain your mouth shut.”
Once more, that’s not piety. It’s solidarity.
If you acknowledge the psychology of fundamentalism, fundamentalist Christian enthusiasm for Trump makes significantly extra sense. His fundamentalist supporters are sure that he’s fulfilling a divine objective. They’re ferocious of their response to opponents, particularly these Christians they imagine to be weak or squishes. And so they expertise great joy of their motivated, activist solidarity.
However the keys to fundamentalist success are additionally the supply of its final failure. Certainty, ferocity and solidarity can mix to create highly effective social and political actions. They will have a steamrolling impact in establishments as a result of their opponents — nearly by definition — have much less certainty, much less ferocity and fewer solidarity.
We’ve seen this phenomenon in each secular and spiritual areas throughout the political spectrum. A small variety of extraordinarily assured and aggressive individuals can flip a corporation the wrong way up. Political activists who possess fundamentalist depth can push by means of resistance — at the least till their inherent intolerance creates ample backlash to set off actual opposition.
That’s how fundamentalism fails. Certainty, which provides a lot objective, in the end struggles within the face of advanced realities. Ferocity, which permits fundamentalists to bully and intimidate opponents, additionally limits the power to win converts. And solidarity, which creates neighborhood, can grow to be stifling, because it encourages conformity and punishes those that elevate good-faith questions.
Why accomplish that many fundamentalists love Trump? As a result of in his certainty, ferocity and calls for of loyalty, he’s a much more culturally acquainted determine than an individual of restraint and rectitude such because the departing senator Mitt Romney, who has the piety of a real believer however doesn’t possess the ferocity of the fundamentalist. Thus Romney was culturally out of step with the thousands and thousands of Christians who wished, within the phrases of Jeffress, “the meanest, hardest son of a gun” they might discover.
That’s why Trumpism, too, is in the end doomed to fail. It’s engineered to destroy, to not construct. The very traits that give it life additionally plant the seeds of its destruction. And in order we watch the continued marriage between Trumpism and fundamentalism dominate the correct, the right query isn’t whether or not fundamentalism will completely remake American tradition in its personal picture. Moderately, it’s how a lot harm it would do earlier than it collapses below the burden of its personal rage and sin.