Faith to play a clinching role in the final US election vote tally
Donald Trump may be the most profane U.S. president known, often acting in offensive ways to some Christians, especially those more liberal-leaning.
But if he stays in power, it will undoubtedly be attributed to the strong support he has from evangelicals and Catholics in the U.S. Christian communities.
Trump continued to be White Christians’ preferred candidate for the November election despite his opponent, former Vice President Joe Biden, being consistently ahead in national polls until the end of October.
Still, support among voters in three major traditions, White Catholics, White Protestants who are not evangelical, and even White evangelical Protestants, had slipped since August, according to a Pew Research Center poll published Oct. 13.
Why do these numbers matter?
Well, let’s look at the religious demographics in the United States.
According to Pew Research, 70.6 percent of people in the United States self-define as Christians, of whom 25.4 percent are Evangelical Protestants and 20.8 percent Catholic.
Among other Christian groups, what are called Mainline Protestants, account for 14.7 percent of the population and Historically Black Protestants 6.5 percent.
And in other faiths, 1.9 percent are Jewish and 0.9 percent Muslims.
In other groups, the Unaffiliated make up 22.8 percent, Atheists 3.1 percent, and Agnostics 4.00 percent.
Working out what all those self-defined groups really mean by their faith can be difficult, except in the case of more fundamental believers.
More than 1,600 clergy members, religious scholars, and other faith-focused officials and activists had endorsed Joseph R. Biden Jr., the largest group of faith leaders to back a Democratic presidential candidate in modern times, organizers of the initiative said Oct. 9.
With the U.S. having registered nearly 8.6 million cases on Oct. 25 and 225,230 deaths from the COVID-19 pandemic, along with the economy, the virus could be a key issue in voting.
The U.S. virus toll is the world’s highest, and Trump has been accused by Biden to have made many false claims on the American “success” in fighting the pandemic.
An Oct. 6–12 survey conducted by Pew found that only 24 percent of Trump supporters view the novel coronavirus outbreak as a “very important” voting issue.
The Biden endorsement was organized by Vote Common Good, a progressive organization that opposes President Trump and is focused on engaging Christian voters, The New York Times reported.
Those endorsements represent a range of major religions in the United States but mainly come from Catholic, evangelical, and mainstream Protestant Americans, organizers said.
The Pew Research Center had in August reported that majorities of white voters from those religious traditions supported Trump in 2016.
Still, while white evangelicals are among the president’s most loyal supporters, Biden’s campaign hopes to cut into Trump’s 2016 base.
In late August, Catholic nun Sister Dede Byrne spoke at the 2020 Republican National Convention.
“As a physician, I can say without hesitation: Life begins at conception. While what I have to say may be difficult for some to hear, I am saying it because I am not just pro-life; I am pro-eternal life.
“I want all of us to end up in heaven together someday, which brings me to why I am here today. Donald Trump is the most pro-life president this nation has ever had, defending life at all stages.”
Although attracting widespread praise for its pro-life policies from many Catholics, the Trump administration has also drawn criticism from the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops for resuming federal executions after decades without federal use of the death penalty, Catholic News Agency reported.
TRUMP ON REFUGEES
The bishops have also criticized Trump for lowering the number of refugees resettled by the U.S. to its lowest recorded level in the 2020 fiscal year, deciding to accept a maximum of 18,000 refugees during the year, and they said that decision was “unacceptable.”
While white evangelicals remain a core voting bloc for Trump, in the 2020 race against Biden, white Catholics are expected to be a crucial demographic, Christianity Today reported Sept. 20.
The 2016 election was gifted to Trump by 77,000 votes in three states that swung the electoral college.
Data indicates that Biden, who is a lifelong Catholic, may shift some of the white Catholic votes away from the Republican leanings it held for the past four presidential elections and make it a true swing vote going forward.
Even small changes among Catholics could affect the electoral outcome, particularly in swing states. In 2016, Donald Trump won Wisconsin, Pennsylvania, and Florida by narrow margins of 1 percent to 1.2 percent of the votes cast.
“Based on weekly survey data collected by Data for Progress, then broken down by Christian traditions, we see white Christian support for the president slipping,” wrote Christianity Today.
“Across traditions, slightly fewer Christians say they plan to vote for Trump and slightly more say they plan to vote for Biden than five months ago.”
According to organizers, the endorsements represent a range of major religions in the United States but mainly come from Catholic, evangelical, and mainline Protestant Americans.
A granddaughter of the Rev. Billy Graham, Jerushah Duford, is a committed evangelical Christian who describes herself as “pro-life.”
For most of her life, she voted Republican.
Yet this year, she is voting for Joe Biden and is encouraging fellow Christians to distance themselves from a president who she says is trying “to hijack our faith for votes,” Nicholas Kristof wrote in The New York Times on Oct. 21
“The Jesus we serve promotes kindness, dignity, humility, and this president doesn’t represent our faith,” Duford said.
She made it clear to Kristof that she is not speaking for her grandfather, the iconic evangelist who died in 2018.
She said to the journalist, “I think he would be sad. I think his greatest desire had nothing to do with policies but to introduce people to a loving Jesus, and the division this administration has caused, I believe, has hurt this effort.”
The problem with these anecdotes is that they always come from the more liberal media, and there are few from the more conservative media.
Kristof points out, “There’s nothing inherently conservative about evangelical Christianity, for Black evangelicals mostly vote Democratic and there is a long tradition of liberal evangelicals from Martin Luther King Jr. to Jimmy Carter to the writer Jim Wallis.
“But in recent decades, white evangelicals have mostly voted Republican, and Duford and others engaged in the new outreach acknowledge that many find it somewhere between scary and unthinkable to break that tradition.”
He wrote that a massive obstacle for many evangelicals considering a vote for Democrats is abortion policy.
So, an incredibly important part of the upheaval now underway within evangelical ranks is a move to redefine “pro-life” to apply to more than fetuses.
However, a group calling itself “Pro-life evangelicals for Biden” says, “As pro-life evangelicals, we disagree with vice president Biden and the Democratic platform on the issue of abortion.
LIFE FROM BEGINNING TO END
“But we believe a biblically shaped commitment to the sanctity of human life compels us to a consistent ethic of life that affirms the sanctity of human life from beginning to end.”
Another switcher is former U.S. megachurch leader and Republican, Dr. Joel Hunter, who has said he is voting Democrat for the first time.
The 77-year-old pastor explained to Premier Christian News on Oct. 31 why he has decided not to support Trump, saying he believes this is “is a key moment” in U.S. history.
So, he said his decision is uncomfortable but necessary.
“I’m coming out at this time in this election because four more years of a signal from the White House that says: ‘Only our group is important, only our nation is important, only people who think like us, are right and everybody else is a crook’ is going to continue to not only divide our nation but weaponize our rhetoric.”
It is the first time Hunter is publicly endorsing a presidential candidate. In 2016 he voted for President Donald Trump, who he thought was just “a little rough around the edges.”
“I got family like that. I got drunk uncles like that…I took a gamble because I didn’t know much about him…but then I got into it [and] I realized there’s no coalition building here. There’s nothing that can solve the problems that all of us are facing.”
Hunter has joined Pro-life Evangelicals for Biden, which pursues “a more biblically shaped life than those of Donald Trump.”
Although he remains strongly anti-abortionist, Hunter said he has come to recognize that the Republican party in its current form is not addressing those things that endanger life outside the womb.
‘TRUMP RIDICULES CHRISTIAN SUPPORTERS’
The Atlantic magazine on Sept. 29 reported that Trump secretly mocks his Christian supporters, citing aides who have worked with the president.
“Former aides told me they’ve heard Trump ridicule conservative religious leaders, dismiss various faith groups with cartoonish stereotypes, and deride certain rites and doctrines held sacred by many of the Americans who constitute his base,” wrote Mckay Coppins.
On June 2, President Donald Trump introduced the Bible into the campaign in a dramatic fashion.
On June 1, 2020, a group of peaceful protesters in Washington, D.C., was tear-gassed so that Donald Trump could be photographed brandishing a Bible in front of St. John’s Episcopal Church.
Catherine A. Brekus, Charles Warren Professor of the History of Religion in America, wrote an opinion piece for Harvard Divinity Law School, putting Trump’s action into a historical context.
In the aftermath, Trump’s critics condemned his actions as an insult to Christianity.
BIBLE AS A PROP
While Senator Ben Sasse of Nebraska, a rare voice of Republican dissent, has lamented that Trump used the Bible as a “prop,” others have censored him for making a crude calculation meant to appeal to his evangelical base.
“The Rev. Marion Budde, the Episcopal bishop of Washington, D.C., has expressed her shock and pain that Trump used the Bible ‘as a backdrop for a message antithetical to the teachings of Jesus’.”
Brekus noted, “What few have acknowledged, however, is that this is not the first time in American history that a powerful white man has flaunted the Bible after wreaking violence against black people and their allies.
“As William Faulkner taught us, ‘The past is never dead. It’s not even past.’ The spectacle outside of St. John’s Church is only the latest iteration of a scene that has been repeated countless times in America, including on southern plantations before the Civil War. Too often in our history, the Bible has been displayed as an object of racial terror.
“When Trump wordlessly held up the Bible, a smirk on his face, he did so to demonstrate his power, not to ask for peace or forgiveness.
“It was a strategy taken straight from the playbook of white Christian slaveholders, who, in their moral cowardice, boasted that the Bible justified their violence against black men and women.”
CANDIDATES GO TO CHURCH
A couple of weeks before the election on Oct. 18, both candidates went to Sunday church, Religion News Service reported noting how their attendance showed forms of American Christianity.
“According to pool reports, Biden attended Mass Sunday morning at St. Joseph on the Brandywine in Greenville, Delaware — a church he has often attended over the years.
“Reporters traveling with the candidate were kept on the bus, and the priest overseeing the service did not appear to acknowledge the candidate’s presence during his homily, which was live-streamed.”
President Trump, who once identified as Presbyterian but is reported to have declared himself “non-denominational,” attended the International Church of Las Vegas, where he was welcomed by husband-and-wife co-pastors Paul Marc and Denise Goulet and Associate Pastor Pasqual Urrabazo.
Preachers praised Trump, sometimes making direct appeals to God on the president’s behalf. One of them extolled Trump’s executive order hampering the U.S. tax code enforcement that prohibits nonprofit organizations such as churches from explicitly endorsing candidates.
He also was praised for giving “a voice to the unborn,”; moving the U.S. embassy in Israel to Jerusalem, and choosing judges who “stand for conservative and Judeo-Christian values.”
Trump’s last-minute antics worked for him in the last election, and those who want him out fear greatly he can pull another rabbit out of his hat in 2020.
A version of this article first appeared in Ecumenical News on Oct. 25, 2020