Are the dominant voices of white evangelical Christianity in the United States destined to be angry and defensive? Is President Trump making sure they stay that way?
I found myself asking these questions after I read my Washington Post colleague Elizabeth Bruenig’s revealing and deeply reported essay about her journey to Texas to probe why evangelicals have been so loyal to Trump and are likely to remain so.
Hers was a venture in sympathetic understanding and empathetic listening. What she heard was a great desire to push back against the liberals, to defend a world that sees itself under siege, and to embrace Trump—not as a particularly good man but as a fighter against all the things and people and causes that they cannot abide. Even more, they believe these liberals and secularists are utterly hostile to the culture they have built and the worldview they embrace.
“I think conservatives for decades have felt bullied by the left, and the default response was to roll over and take it,” said the Rev. Robert Jeffress, pastor of Dallas’s First Baptist Church and one of the very earliest and most vocal leaders of Trump’s evangelical bloc.
I confess I don’t really see the “roll over” part. Conservative politicians, Fox News commentators and talk radio hosts have engaged in plenty of bullying of their own. But I have no doubt that Jeffress was telling the truth about how he and like-minded folks feel.
This means that the nastiness that makes Trump so odious to many of us comes off to his evangelical supporters (even when it makes them uneasy) as a hallowed form of militancy against what one evangelical Bruenig interviewed called “a den of vipers” engaged in what another called “spiritual warfare.”