September 2020 Church & State Magazine - September 2020

An Unholy Relationship: New Book Explores President Trump's Partnership With Christian Nationalists

  Rebecca Rifkind-Brown

Unholy: Why White Evangelicals Worship At The Altar Of Donald Trump by Sarah Posner, Random House, 368 pp. 

In her latest journalistic venture, Sarah Posner, a reporter for Type Investigations and a longtime scholar of church-state separation, unravels and reveals the deep connections between white evangelicalism and Trumpism.  

At a time of deep social and political unrest following the outbreak of the coronavirus and the George Floyd protests against police brutality, Unholy explains the long web of religious and political ties that led us to this moment of extreme partisan division and the rise of Donald Trump. For white evangelicals and the alt-right, the last few decades have brought anger and dissatisfaction, along with the fear of being forgotten and replaced. The election of Trump quelled these concerns and brought about a new wave of enthusiasm, which they surely hope to carry into the November presidential election.

Posner deftly probes the question of how white evangelicals, who make up Trump’s core base and are his most fervent supporters, could possibly support a man who is so blatantly and unapologetically ignorant of religion and the Bible and so completely empty of ethics or morals. After all, many of these people have dedicated their lives to their religion, and Trump represents everything that should be anathema to them. Yet what Posner uncovers, start­ling­ly, is that most of their values are actually aligned.  

Evangelicals are daily fighting against the separation of church and state, attempting to push their own beliefs onto the rest of the country’s population. Trump not only permits this encroachment but encourages it.

Posner writes, “The vast majority of white evangelicals are all in with Trump because he has given them political power and allowed them to carry out a Christian supremacist agenda.” For them, it is easy to ignore his obvious lack of religious knowledge or moral integrity because he is their very own crusader, a man they will continue to support regardless of his personal flaws.  

Furthermore, many white evangelicals believe that God  directly helped to elect Trump to carry out their religious plans. Paula White, personal minister to Trump and popular televangelist, declared her unwavering support for the president, stating, “We put God right at the center of the White House,” thereby connecting Trump’s position with the will of God. Televangelists like White hold enormous influence in the evangelical community, and their followers will listen to what they preach, influencing the support of Trump.  

Trump empowers the evangelicals and the alt-right in their opposition to LGBTQ rights, reproductive freedom, and immigration, among other issues. As the policies of the country have moved toward freedom and equality in the last few decades, permitting abortion and marriage equality, evangelicals have stood firm in their opposition to this change.  

Posner notes that while evangelicals have in the past flocked to the likes of politicians such as U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.), Trump has offered a crudeness that most other Republican politicians lack. In es­sence, he was willing to say what most other politicians would not. From “build the wall” to “lock her up,” Trump is the strong­man who voices the very thoughts and concerns of the alt-right.

Yet the so-called “Christian values” evangelicals have been fighting for over the last five or six decades are also wrapped up in a history of white supremacy. Posner does a great job linking evangelicalism to the outburst of white nationalism, exemplified by their opposition to desegregation and the decision in Brown v. Board of Education, coupled with their current anti-immigration stances along with other xenophobic views.   

Posner’s bold assertions and well-argued analysis make Unholy essential reading for anyone interested in understanding how evangelical and alt-right leaders of the last few decades such as Paul Weyrich and Jerry Falwell paved the way for the election of Trump and sparked the rise of the loud, often angry, voices of the anti-establishment right wing that so often dominate political discussion today.  

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