If You Find the Evangelical Love Affair With Donald Trump Baffling, Let Me Explain It

Apparently The Donald is capturing the Evangelical vote, for the moment, anyway. The question is, why?

Trump does not exactly radiate piety. He’s been married three times. He’s mostly known for making money and firing people on a bad reality show.

Worse, the church he claims to attend says he’s not an “active member.” Turns out it is the church his parents attended. The Donald apparently doesn’t know what denomination the church is part of; he called himself a Presbyterian, but the church in question is part of the Reformed Church in America.

Digby wrote,

In South Carolina this week, Trump explained that evangelicals love him, and he loves them. And he loves the Bible more than anything, even his own book, “The Art of the Deal,” which he loves very, very much. He declined to identify his favorite Bible passages, because he says the Bible is so intensely personal to him, but he was more forthcoming awhile back when pollster Frank Luntz asked him if he’d ever asked God for forgiveness.

“I am not sure I have. I just go on and try to do a better job from there. I don’t think so. I think if I do something wrong, I think, I just try and make it right. I don’t bring God into that picture. I don’t…” Trump said. “When I drink my little wine — which is about the only wine I drink — and have my little cracker, I guess that is a form of asking for forgiveness, and I do that as often as possible because I feel cleansed. I think in terms of ‘let’s go on and let’s make it right.’”

His piety and spirituality are very moving.

I would add that most Presbyterian churches in America serve non-alcoholic grape juice for communion, although the Reformed people do use wine.

There’s a lot of analysis out there trying to explain why evangelicals, of all people, would embrace this guy as one o’ there’n. Betsy Woodruff tells us that Trump has been courting churches for the past few years, which may be a clue he is actually serious about the President thing and is not just in it for the attention. She writes at The Daily Beast,

Turns out, Trump has been courting the evangelical vote for quite some time. The Donald J. Trump Foundation has made donations to evangelical groups like Iowa’s The Family Leader ($10,000 in 2013, PDF), Samaritan’s Purse ($10,000 in 2013, PDF) and the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association ($100,000 in 2012, PDF), according to IRS forms posted on Guidestar.org.

Earlier this month, Graham’s son, Franklin, praised Trump’s debate performance on Facebook.

“[H]e’s shaking up the Republican party and the political process overall. And it needs shaking up!” Franklin Graham wrote.

And like other right-wingers who have fallen under Trump’s spell, there’s the authoritarian angle. Evangelicals are tired of Republicans who promise to do things like end abortion and stop same-sex marriage, and then don’t do it because of those pesky constitutional limits on their powers. Trump is a man of action who is just going to fix things, see? See also Steve M.

I’d like to point out one more thing about people who consider themselves religious. Psychologists who study religiosity as an aspect of personality talk about “intrinsic” and “extrinsic” religious orientations. Exactly what this means and how it is measured have shifted a bit over the years, I believe, but they are still important measures. This is from a recent study of the impact of religion on attitudes toward homosexuality:

How to distinguish intrinsic from extrinsic motivation? Allport and Ross (1967, p. 434) determined the difference as follows: “the extrinsically motivated person uses his religion, whereas the intrinsically motivated lives his religion.”  …  An example is an extrinsically motivated person, whose attitude relies heavily on the statements of fellow believers as well as religious leaders. This person is expected to be particularly homonegative if their peers and religious leaders speak out decidedly against homosexuality. It is conceivable that the attitude of an extrinsically motivated person would be built on the abbreviated and therefore most likely more radical commentary of religious authorities. In comparison, intrinsically motivated persons will occupy themselves intensely with the foundations of their religion and, in doing so, will possibly come to a more sophisticated and therefore more liberal view of homosexuality.

On other words, the extrinsic orientation is mostly about social and cultural conditioning and group conformity dressed up as piety; the intrinsic orientation is more focused on actual church teaching. And I contend that religious culture warrior types are mostly extrinsics. Their religion is not something they keep in their hearts and minds; it’s the uniform they wear. It’s the banner they carry.

That the “religion” some evangelicals manifest may have little to do with the teachings of Jesus shouldn’t take anyone by surprise, because it doesn’t. It’s mostly their culturally induced biases shoved into a Christian (or whatever) package. And an authoritarian figure who promises to smite those they are biased against is just too compelling. Who cares if he doesn’t know Presbyterian from popcorn?

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