The most startling statistic to come out of the 2016 presidential election was that 81 percent of white evangelicals cast their votes for Donald Trump, who will never be mistaken for an avatar of family values. As Election Day approaches, here are seven reasons (seven is considered a “perfect number” in the Bible) why those who claim to be Christians might want to reconsider how they voted four years ago.
u The Bible evangelicals in particular claim the Bible is their sole authority, but the Bible, especially the Hebrew Bible, has plenty to say about immigrants. Exodus directs that strangers should not be mistreated or oppressed; Leviticus says that a foreigner should be treated “as one born among you;” and Deuteronomy reminds the Israelites they were once strangers, so they should “love” foreigners. (As more than one pundit has observed, two-thirds of Trump’s wives were immigrants.)
The issue of borders and sovereignty is always tricky, but how is turning away refugees at the southern border or caging children in any way consistent with biblically mandated hospitality?
u In Matthew 25 — the Bible again, this time the New Testament: Jesus enjoins his followers to feed the hungry, clothe the naked, visit the sick, care for prisoners and, yes, welcome strangers. No Christian has yet explained to me how tax cuts for the affluent and depriving citizens of access to medical care are in any way consistent with Jesus’ plea to look after the interests of those he called “the least of these.”
u Evangelical history: Evangelicals should look to their own tradition for guidance as they approach the ballot box. Christians in the 19th century were leaders in prison reform and public education; they understood the necessity of “common schools” as a way for children of the less affluent to become upwardly mobile.
While some Southern theologians defended slavery, evangelicals in the North overwhelmingly supported the abolition of slavery. They also supported equal rights for women, including voting rights. Evangelicals were suspicious of free-market capitalism, and they were involved in peace movements. I’ve even run across a 19th-century evangelical organization advocating gun control.
u Joseph R. Biden Jr.: The Democratic nominee is a devout Roman Catholic, someone conversant with the venerable tradition of Catholic social teaching, including care for the poor, the dignity of work and concern for God’s creation. Biden is also someone who has relied on his faith to weather personal tragedy: the death of his first wife and daughter in 1972 and the loss of his son Beau to brain cancer in 2015.
Faith, as Biden himself has said, “provided me comfort in moments of loss and tragedy, it’s kept me grounded and humbled in times of triumph and joy.” He added: “My faith teaches me to walk humbly, while President Trump tear gassed peaceful protestors so he could walk over to a church for a photo op.”
u The abortion myth: Many Christians claim to be single-issue voters, and opposition to abortion, they say, is non-negotiable. Abortion, it should be noted, is not what brought evangelicals into the political arena in the late 1970s. It was resistance to the rescission of tax-exempt status for racially segregated institutions, including Bob Jones University; evangelical leaders initially praised the Roe v. Wade decision and did not get around to embracing the anti-abortion movement until just before the 1980 election.
I continue to believe that abortion should be approached as a moral issue, not a legal one. If people of faith are truly serious about limiting the incidence of abortion — as opposed to, say, using the issue to bludgeon their political opponents — they should take heart from the fact that abortions have declined since 2011 (the Obama-Biden administration) — not, according to the Guttmacher Institute, because of legal restrictions but because of a reduced number of pregnancies.
u Family values: Remember “family values”? This was the rallying cry for the Religious Right from the late 1970s until, well, the 2016 election, when suddenly the rhetoric all but disappeared. Supposed concern for the family was invoked to justify opposition to equal rights for women and civil rights for gays (although that logic always struck me as tortured).
Ironically, the cudgel of family values was first used against an evangelical Sunday school teacher (still on his first marriage, 74 years and counting) and in support of a divorced and remarried former Hollywood actor in 1980. If Christians are truly concerned about family values, they might want to reconsider their 2016 support for a self-confessed sexual predator and tally the number of his marriages, not to mention his extramarital affairs.
And how does a supposed concern for family values mesh with children ripped from their parents’ arms at the southern border? The administration now admits they cannot find the parents for more than 500 of those children. Family values?
u The Ten Commandments: According to Politifact, the number of Trump’s false or misleading statements since his inauguration soared north of 22,000 in August. Now, on the campaign trail, he’s quickened his pace, up to around 50 a day. Those who want to post the Ten Commandments in public places might want to reconsider their alliance with someone who so blithely violates those commandments, especially the one about false witness.
Randall Balmer, a Santa Fe resident, teaches at Dartmouth College and is a contributor to The Spiritual Danger of Donald Trump.