Back when commentators were discussing all the obvious reasons why Mr. Trump was guaranteed to lose the coming election, many encouraged themselves with the expectation Evangelicals could not be counted on to vote for the much-married vulgarian.
In the event, exit polls showed that Mr. Trump received far more Evangelical votes than expected. Matters relating to marriage are indeed important to Evangelicals, but there are a number of other issues which seem to be even more important to them.
Since most modern journalists are not merely irreligious but contemptuous of the very concept, we can't expect them to understand the majority of Americans who still believe in God and worship Him regularly. Let's help them out by exploring the concerns which led Evangelicals to support Mr. Trump instead of voting for Hillary or staying home, despite the predictions of the self-anointed smart money.
Anyone who's read either of these classics will know that the Roman Emperor Nero had the habit of soaking Christians in tar or oil and setting them on fire to light his garden parties. This inspired the 1895 hymn "Once to Every Man and Nation":
By the light of burning martyrs,
Christ, Thy bleeding feet we track,
which is sung on You Tube as well as in churches.
No American politician is in even remotely the same league as the Emperor Nero, but that doesn't mean that Evangelicals shouldn't fear persecution of a somewhat less incendiary sort. It was bad enough when Mr. Obama called Bible-loving Evangelicals "bitter clingers," but Hillary made her opposition to the Evangelical way of life much more explicit and much more threatening. Even the Washington Post regarded her ideas as a threat to religious liberty:
Speaking to the 2015 Women in the World Summit, Clinton declared that "deep-seated cultural codes, religious beliefs and structural biases have to be changed."
Religious beliefs have to be changed? This is perhaps the most radical statement against religious liberty ever uttered by someone seeking the presidency.
Hillary didn't say "have to change," she said "have to be changed." By definition, this means using force against people who refuse to change their beliefs in favor of government-approved views.
Dead men pay no taxes. No intelligent government employee enjoys reducing revenue by killing taxpayers, so the Romans offered Christians what seemed to be an easy way out: they didn't mind Christians worshiping Jesus, they merely insisted that Christians also worship the Emperor with the same reverence they gave Jesus.
Alas, true Christians held the deep-seated belief that Jesus required that they worship Him and Him alone. They refused the life-saving compromise because they'd rather burn for a short time in the Emperor's garden than burn forever in hell.
Mr. Obama, more subtle than the Romans, declared that Christians are free to believe whatever they like - as long as they never act on their beliefs in ways liberals don't approve. Putting actions to his words, his administration threatened the celibate nuns of the Little Sisters of the Poor with exorbitant fines if they didn't buy health insurance that covered contraceptives which violated the nuns' deep-seated beliefs.
The parallel with centuries of persecution during which governments decided that "deep-seated religious beliefs have to be changed" by sanctions up to and including deadly force would concern any attentive Evangelical. Hillary not only lumped Evangelicals in with Obama's "bitter clingers," she called them "deplorable" and said that she was planning to use the full power of government to forcibly change their unacceptable beliefs. History shows that the only way to do that is to imprison or kill the refuseniks.
Mr. Trump, in contrast, made it clear that he has no intention of giving Evangelicals grief because of their ideas and that he planned to uphold freedom of conscience. This was good news for those who value religious liberty, and they look forward eagerly to his fulfilling this particular promise.
Our classic article "Hearts of Darkness" shows that ruling elites have very little understanding of the motivating power of faith. It's possible that Hillary had no idea how threatening her statement was, but it certainly moved some votes out of her column and caused worried Evangelicals to consider Trump to be a much lesser hazard to all that they hold dear than they'd thought at first.
America was based on the premise that individuals need to be free to follow the dictates of their consciences as long as they don't cause direct physical harm to others in so doing, which is why we disallow cannibalism and have problems with Islam. Traditionally, nearly all Americans have had the good sense not to goad people who believe differently, nor to attempt to force them to violate their consciences. More recently, of course, the left has reveled in doing exactly that, as Mr. Obama did with Hobby Lobby and the aforementioned nuns, and famously by forcing Christian small businessmen to choose between bankruptcy and sanctioning evildoing.
Liberals forgot, or did not care, that freedom of conscience works both ways. After Mr. Trump won the election, liberal dressmakers said they'd never violate their artistic consciences by designing dresses for Mrs. Trump because they abhorred her husband's political views. At the same time, liberals continued to agree that Christian bakers who refused to violate their artistic and spiritual consciences by baking cakes for weddings they abhorred should be run out of business, thus demonstrating two opposite views of precisely the same issue.
It's edifying to see such profound hypocrisy revealed so nakedly. Perhaps some people in the center or on the fence will realize that the First Amendment is most powerfully needed to protect the politically unpopular, because you never know when that might suddenly be you.
Once he was sworn in, Mr. Trump moved with astonishing swiftness to fulfill campaign promises. Nobody who'd read The Art of the Deal should have been surprised, because it's difficult to build a big business without a reputation for fulfilling your promises, but liberals and establishment Republicans alike were aghast that any politician would be so gauche as to take their promises to the rubes seriously.
His first few orders were related to immigration and undoing the worst of Mr. Obama's excesses. While the fur was still flying from these offenses against doctrinaire liberalism, the Wall Street Journal reported:
Mr. Trump said at the National Prayer Breakfast on Thursday morning that his administration “will do everything in its power to defend and protect religious liberty.”
He spoke specifically of repealing the law that forbids pastors from discussing political subjects, known as the Johnson Amendment. Despite the liberal media casting this idea as something akin to the end of the world without the expected "last trump," in reality repeal would return our nation to one of its founding principles. At the beginning of our nation, the thought that churches wouldn't get involved in politics would have been considered absurd.
For example, the most famous Colonial hymnbook was written by Isaac Watts and published by Benjamin Franklin. It was so famous that hymnbooks were called "Watts" regardless of origin. During the Battle of Springfield, the Continental Army ran low on paper to pack the powder and ball in their muskets. The Reverend Caldwell rushed into a church, grabbed armloads of hymnals, and shouted "Give 'em Watts, boys" as soldiers tore up pages to make wadding.Since the 1960s, by contrast, preachers have been intimidated into not even discussing political candidates or issues on pain of losing their tax-exempt status. Our Founders would be appalled and ashamed.
Evangelicals can't help but be ecstatic that President Trump may keep this particular promise; they've been betrayed many times before. They may even start to believe he meant it when he said he'd make America great again by getting back to the customs and principles that made us great in the first place.
Ever since President Wilson tried to make America subject to the League of Nations after World War I, influential Americans have tried to reduce American sovereignty and freedom in favor of some sort of one-world government. David Rockefeller said he was proud that his family had conspired to build "one world, if you will" for over a century.
Many Evangelicals believe that all Christians will be removed from the earth at some point in the future. This event, which will be signaled by the "last trump" (I Corinthians 15:52) is known as the "rapture," and is of sufficient interest that a Mr. Todd Sandberg maintains a "Rapture Index." He studies the connection between current events and Biblical prophecy in an attempt to predict how soon this will occur - though it's unclear how he plans to collect the accolades should he happen to get it right.
Vocativ explained why he maintains this index:
... these are the rough basics of Christian doomsday prophecy: The Tribulation (aka the apocalypse) is the period of mayhem and judgment that surrounds the Second Coming of Christ. The Rapture is a point in the Tribulation (possibly at the beginning) when all true Christians are beamed to Heaven, leaving the unfaithful to deal with the Antichrist and, if they fail to covert to Christianity, be thrown into a lake of fire. If you believe all this, you're far from alone - a Gallup poll from 2010 showed that 41 percent of Americans think Jesus Christ will return from Heaven by 2050.
Modern interest in the rapture was driven by Hal Lindsey's book The Late, Great Planet Earth which was translated into more than 50 languages with sales of over 35 million copies, making it the highest-selling Biblical prophesy book ever. Mr. Lindsey argued that the rapture might occur in the 1980's. The fact that it didn't was no surprise to anyone who knew that Matthew 24:36 teaches that not even Jesus knows when it will occur, but that doesn't stop people like Mr. Sandberg from obsessing over the subject.
The Left Behind series by Tim LaHaye and Jerry B. Jenkins rode on the back of this religious fervor and sold more than 65 million copies. These books are set in an era after Christians have disappeared, a time known to theology as the Tribulation. The plots center around a group of underground Christians battling a New World Order-like organization and its leader, the Antichrist.
These books were based on the Biblical prophecy that national boundaries will be eliminated shortly after the rapture. All people on earth will be united under a one-world government led by a dictator personally indwelt by no less than Satan himself.
The Bible makes it clear that one-world government is in direct opposition to God, which puts it high on Satan's to-do list. The Left Behind series was far more concerned with selling books than with Biblical accuracy but, just as other fiction writers use stories to promote the author's point of view, Left Behind argued that the future one-world government would not be a good thing. From an Evangelical point of view, striving to absorb the United States into a one-world government is not only treason, it paves the way for the Antichrist who serves Satan.
It was disturbing when Mr. Obama told Berliners that he was a "citizen of the world," but Evangelicals have been hearing such sentiments from the elite for a long time. Instead of just talking about it, however, Mr. Obama took many actions which reduced American international standing, influence, and wealth, and he told a UN meeting that giving up American freedom of action would lead to better security.
The contrast with Mr. Trump's vigorous promotion of American patriotism was startling. When both Mr. Obama and Hillary described her as running for a "3rd Obama term," her advancing his version of the one-world idea while running against a self-proclaimed patriot cost her yet more Evangelical votes.
It wasn't clear how strongly Mr. Trump meant his pro-life statements, but at least he made them. Hillary's embrace of Planned Parenthood which sells dead baby parts for profit along with her strident demand that abortion be permitted under pretty much all circumstances didn't win her many Evangelical votes.
Mr. Trump hails from just about the most pro-abortion locale in the country - Manhattan - but he seems personally to have acquired a powerful dislike of the practice. The story of his enlightenment on this issue, which predates his appearance as a serious political candidate, is a case-study in winning hearts and minds on this issue.
Like pretty much everybody else he knew as a young adult, Mr. Trump originally assumed that abortion is a natural right. It's anybody's guess whether he personally benefited from the practice but it's entirely possible.
As he matured, he acquired a distaste for what abortion entails, but still considered it to be a necessary albeit unfortunate right. He said so in 1999:
I’m very pro-choice. I hate the concept of abortion. I hate it. I hate everything it stands for. I cringe when I listen to people debating the subject. But you still — I just believe in choice.
Then, sometime in the next decade, a profound life experience fully converted Mr. Trump to a strong hatred of abortion. Clarifying his views in 2011:
[W]hat happened is friends of mine years ago were going to have a child, and it was going to be aborted. And it wasn’t aborted. And that child today is a total superstar, a great, great child. And I saw that. And I saw other instances.
The liberal media saw this as an irrational flip-flop and widely promoted his old pro-abortion recordings in conservative areas, thinking they would disgust Republican voters. In doing this, they showed a total lack of understanding of their target audience.
Evangelicals believe that everyone is born a sinner; in order to achieve a state of grace, each individual must realize that previous beliefs are wrong and change their minds voluntarily. Mr. Trump's change of heart is exactly what Evangelicalism is all about: a person realizes a truth that had escaped them before, abruptly sees sin in its true hideousness, and realizes a personal need for profound, life-changing repentance. This is utterly unlike Hillary's approach of having government force people to change strongly-held beliefs.
Donald Trump's abortion conversion is not a salvation testimony, but it's the next best thing. By publicizing this change in his life, the media helped Mr. Trump in the minds of wavering Evangelicals.
Thus far, President Trump has done the minimum we expect of Republican presidents: forbade government funds to be spent on abortion and prohibited any overseas aid from going to organizations that provide abortion. Every Republican issues these executive orders, and every Democrat undoes them; it's been that way for a lifetime.
The Trump administration as a whole, however, has been breaking new ground for the pro-life side. As usual, the mainstream media ignored the recent pro-life women's march, but Vice President Pence spoke to the marchers. In doing so, he made history: He is the highest-level official ever to address this particular decades-old march, and he did so while less than a week in office.
From the pro-life perspective, the true test will come as President Trump promotes his choice of Supreme Court justice, Neil Gorsuch. As with all such nominees, we can't necessarily know precisely what he believes until he starts writing opinions, but it's hard to complain about a judge who wrote:
All human beings are intrinsically valuable and the intentional taking of human life by private persons is always wrong.
As far as we can see, the auguries are about as good as they can possibly be.
Perhaps the most profound media misunderstanding of the Evangelical view of Mr. Trump is the assumption that they represent religious fascism. The media correctly identifies Mr. Trump as an individual who, let us say, does not exemplify the sort of life a Christian should live. They therefore assume that Christians should want nothing to do with him, and would throw him into prison Islamic-style if they could.
They could not be more wrong. Evangelicals try their best to follow a very strict set of God's laws, but God's laws are enforced by God alone. Anyone can claim to be a Christian because God doesn't enforce His trademarks. Nowhere in the American Evangelical tradition, at least since the founding of this nation, is there any concept that government should make things crimes simply because God says they're sins.
It's true that sins such as adultery and fornication were illegal until recently; a few still are, like prostitution and some non-investment forms of gambling. However, in American jurisprudence, these laws had generally been justified on grounds of expedience instead of theology. Adultery was a crime, not so much because God said it was sin, but because it was a serious breach of the marriage contract which harmed the the nuclear family, the fundamental unit of society.
As beliefs in those pragmatic grounds have eroded, so has support for vice laws. For the last half of the 20th century, sociologists argued that divorce benefited children by releasing them from the combat zone of two people who no longer loved each other, which, they believed, inevitably led to adultery. Forbidding fornication, as a victimless crime, also seemed to have no rational basis. The pendulum may be slowly swinging back as the familial and personal carnage of college debauchery, welfare-induced fatherlessness, and family breakup tears American families limb from limb, but there's no appeal to God's authority as a basis for policy change by even the most devout.
Consider perhaps the most extreme example: homosexuality. Homosexuality is a classic victimless crime in that what two consenting adults who are incapable of reproduction do in the privacy of their own bedroom cannot possibly harm anyone other than themselves. Yet the Bible, in both the Old and New Testaments, is foursquare in condemning the practice with disgust and revulsion. This taboo was historically so strong that William Blackstone, in his foundational Commentaries on the Laws of England, dared refer to it only in the most evasive of terms:
What has been here observed..., which ought to be the more clear in proportion as the crime is the more detestable, may be applied to another offense, of a still deeper malignity; the infamous crime against nature, committed either with man or beast.... But it is an offense of so dark a nature...that the accusation should be clearly made out.... I will not act so disagreeable part, to my readers as well as myself, as to dwell any longer upon a subject, the very mention of which is a disgrace to human nature. It will be more eligible to imitate in this respect the delicacy of our English law, which treats it, in its very indictments, as a crime not fit to be named...
Blackstone goes on to discuss how the historical penalty for this unnamed crime was death by sword or burning alive, but was now handled more humanely by hanging. If there was any law of God which you'd expect Evangelicals to feel the need to enforce personally, it would be anti-homosexuality.
And yet, the most notorious and extreme anti-homosexual Evangelicals, Rev. Fred Phelps' Westboro Baptist Church - whom most other Evangelicals detest - for all their repulsive protests and demeaning actions, have never once either threatened or presented violence to any homosexual, ever. Not once. Their attempts at persuasion don't work very well, but verbal persuasion is all that their religious rules permit them, and that's all they do.
Leftists and the media willfully refuse to understand that Evangelicals claim no right to enforce the laws of God on His behalf. Yes, most Evangelicals believe that liars, homosexuals, adulterers, fornicators, abortionists, and a whole host of other sinners will burn in Hell for all eternity as punishment for their sins but it is not the job of any Evangelical to send them there.
Sending people to Hell is on God, wholly and completely. Thus, in the mortal sphere, Evangelical views are meaningless and irrelevant except insofar as they set examples and try to persuade others. What difference does it make to you if your neighbor thinks you're going to Hell, so long as he treats you civilly in person and doesn't get too pushy about telling you where you're headed?
Far from being the theocrats the leftist media claims to fear, Evangelicals are natural libertarians after the mold of John Stuart Mill because they believe each person answers to God alone for his chosen actions. Evangelicals hold sinners responsible to other men only insofar as they harm others, which is why they oppose abortion: "Abortion stops a beating heart" which, they believe, is murder.
Mr. Trump is the living embodiment of this principle of maximum individual liberty. He has made it clear repeatedly that he has no intention of giving anyone grief solely because of their ideas or private choices, specifically including both homosexuals whose acts are loathed by Christians, and Christians whose beliefs are loathed by homosexuals.
This is the best possible news for those who value religious liberty and ought also to be good news for people who prefer a more libertine lifestyle, if only they would realize it. President Trump's inaugural address declared war on the one-world order which seeks to impose its views on everyone and which Evangelicals see as anti-God. Many commentators have recognized this, but since most of them are staunch one-worlders, they're aghast and dismayed at Mr. Trump's patriotic support of American nationalism.
Mr. Trump is showing himself to be a much better friend of Evangelicals than Hillary could ever hope to be - in clear statements, in concrete actions, and even in fundamental principles. If he actually makes American great again, or just boosts economic growth by a percent or two, he'll be re-elected in a landslide with Evangelicals cheering the way.
Over the past five years, the editors have been secretly working on a book that summarizes the fundamental viewpoints of Scragged.