Many theories have been floated in an effort to explain why so-called Evangelical “Christians” have turned a blind eye to Trump’s obvious (and likely continuous) sexual behavior, whether it comes in the form of harassment and abuse, paying porn stars for sex, or just good old-fashioned adultery, all of which would seem to rub against everything spelled out in the Good Book about, well, banging your neighbor’s wife… or something like that.
But the mistake people make in trying to explain this phenomenon is by approaching it in “moralistic” terms. The supposition being that as supposedly devout Christians these folks would naturally share a universal antipathy towards adultery that overcomes their burning desire to force women to bear children they neither wanted nor expected. That’s wholly misreading the roots of Evangelicalism.
The history of white Evangelical Christianity in this country can be summarized much like George Orwell summarized the totalitarian state in his seminal novel, “1984”:
If you want a picture of the future, imagine a boot stamping on a human face — forever.
But it’s a little more like this:
If you want a picture of Evangelical Christianity, imagine a boot stamping on a woman’s face — forever.
In an opinion piece written for the Cleveland Plain Dealer, Rodney Hessinger, a history professor at John Carroll University, and Kristen Tobey, an assistant professor of religion and social sciences, explain that it is not revulsion towards adultery, but preservation of patriarchy, that underlies Evangelical “thought,” such that it is, and that’s why Trump will be given a pass by many evangelicals (predominately of the White and Southern variety) no matter what he does, up to and including sticking his penis into a corpse.
Many commentators have puzzled about the seeming hypocrisy of those who would see adultery and womanizing as grave sins. And yet for those who know the history of evangelicalism in America, this should be no surprise at all.
In fact, there are good reasons why we should expect this result. The history and sexual politics of evangelicalism in America fit well with Donald Trump and his message.
As it turns out the whole idea of Evangelical Christianity is rooted in a conception of Biblically-inspired male dominance and superiority that was used as a selling point for the religion’s spread in the South, albeit cleverly packaged as “family values”:
The authoritarian dynamic was central to Southern antebellum families. To win Southern hearts, evangelicals buttressed patriarchy, empowering fathers and looking the other way when they took prerogatives which crossed moral lines. Catering to Southern values, evangelicalism became one of the predominant forms of religious expression in America.
Trump’s ratings with Evangelicals have actually soared since the Stormy Daniels story came out—from 61 to 78 % approval. The reason for this is simple. One of the pillars of Evangelical Christianity is the perception that Evangelicals are “outcasts” standing bravely against the evil forces of the world. This is a feature of the cult, not a bug, because it spawns a group persecution complex that solidifies their community. As the authors point out, “religious outsiders have much to gain from boundary maintenance, often courting outcast status or even persecution to rally the faithful. “
So Trump’s sexual antics and his sociopathic insouciance when confronted with them mesh perfectly with the Evangelical mindset. His behavior conjures up sentiments not of revulsion, but of common cause. He’s an “outcast” that provides the Evangelical community a foil against which it can assert its discrete identity. Any criticism of Trump just reinforces this mindset. And most importantly, his abusive attitudes towards women reinforce the patriarchy and exploitation of women that have girded much of the entire Evangelical scheme from the get-go:
The Second Great Awakening, the high water mark for evangelicalism in America, saw countless scenes of sexual shame. Whether it was Joseph Smith embracing polygamy, the even more scandalous complex marriage system of John Humphrey Noyes, or the countless sexual indiscretions of “reverend rakes” in Methodist, Baptist, Congregational, and Presbyterian churches, charismatic preachers were known for stealing the affections of female parishioners.
Kinda makes you think the whole thing is really rooted in guys getting laid, doesn’t it?
This is fertile ground for a con artist like Trump. The authors point out that his whole campaign could have been lifted from an Evangelical template:
This sense of being besieged is also echoed in the president’s rallying call, “Make America Great Again.” This slogan, harrowing up fears of the rise of racial and sexual minorities in America, also conforms to the classic evangelical sermon form, the “Jeremiad.” Since the time of the Puritans, evangelicals have used the Jeremiad to voice lamentations of social decline, thereby chastening and strengthening their ranks.
So we shouldn’t be looking anytime soon for those Evangelicals who make up his base of support to recoil in horror at Trump’s sex scandals, or for that matter anything else he does up to and including money laundering or conspiracy with the Russians.
In their minds he’s one of theirs, and always will be.