If one asked a neutral observer in late 2015 or early 2016 which Republican candidate would have the backing of evangelical Christians, it’s hard to imagine anyone stacking up with Ted Cruz and Marco Rubio.
Political experts were caught off-guard when evangelical Christians not only threw their support behind Donald Trump in early 2016, but did so in a big way. That strong support continues today with evangelical voters and prominent Christian leaders alike. The roots of that support — which Trump sees as “loyalty” — help to drive significant parts of Trump’s agenda.
It became clear early on in 2016 that white evangelical voters, particularly in the South, didn’t care that Donald Trump was the embodiment of what they supposedly disdained à la Bill Clinton. The twice-divorced real estate developer said he’s never asked God for forgiveness despite its central tenet to the faith. Born and raised in a wealthy enclave in Queens, New York, Trump became the quintessential Manhattanite who looks down his nose at the rubes who read bibles and talk about Jesus.
However, those same evangelicals saw Trump as someone willing to fight for them even if they didn’t see eye to eye with him personally. Trump easily won most of the Southern state primaries, with white evangelical Christians making up the bulk of his support, choosing him over Ted Cruz.
It wasn’t just voters. Trump gained early support from evangelical Christian leaders. Robert Jeffress, the senior pastor at First Baptist Church of Dallas, while never officially endorsing Trump—a big no-no that could cost his church its tax-exempt status—walked a fine line by saying in a February 2016 Fort Worth appearance with Trump that Christians would “have a true friend in the White House” should he win the nomination and election.
Jeffress’ support for Trump strengthened throughout 2016, and his rhetoric only grew more ridiculous. In September 2016, Jeffress lashed out at fellow Christians, saying in an interview with Sean Hannity of Fox News, “I am getting sick and tired of these namby-pamby, pantywaisted, weak-kneed Christians who say they are going to stay home in November out of moral principle.” Jeffress also called Christians who identified as conservative “fools” and “hypocrites” if they did not cast a vote for Trump.
Such rhetoric is disgraceful coming from someone who proclaims to be an ambassador for Jesus and His teachings. Jeffress comes off more like a person engaging in idolatry, ironically attacking fellow believers for choosing to put spiritual integrity ahead of a temporal political force.
It wasn’t just Jeffress. Christian leaders such as Franklin Graham and James Dobson backed Trump, shrugging off his boastful sexual exploits and infidelity, his insults over the appearance of others, as well as the disgraceful rhetoric he espoused about John McCain’s time as a POW in Vietnam.
It only got worse as Jeffress’ overt support of Trump became apologia once Trump took office. When Trump made his infamous “shithole” comment when describing immigration from countries such as Haiti, Jeffress said Trump was “right on target in his sentiment,” despite Trump’s potty-mouth language. Jeffress recently said Christians were not “compromising their beliefs in order to support this great president.” Franklin Graham joined in on the inanity when he preposterously suggested Trump might become the victim of a “deep-state coup.”