One of the things that greatly grieves me as a Christian is the ever-widening gulf between African-American and Caucasian believers. Among the issues that constitute this gulf is the presidency of Donald Trump. While President Trump is not the antecedent to differences among white and Black Christians, his presidency is the inexorable result of 21st century racial politics — a politics that has its roots in the 19th century. Further, such politics is inextricably linked to the history of Christianity in America.
When Donald Trump formally launched his presidential campaign, virtually no one (including me) took him seriously. Indeed, I assumed that he was simply doing what he does best, which is building his brand. (Clearly, I was wrong, though I still believe that he wanted to win the election much more than he actually wanted to govern.)
Trump overcame opponent after opponent during the Republican primary races, which was surprising in and of itself given what appeared to be a formidable field. Further, his vulgarity as well as his checkered financial and marital history normally would have prevented him from securing the GOP nomination. Most importantly, Trump’s apparent lack of religious conviction should have disqualified him in the eyes of the majority of Christians (of whatever race).
Yet, white evangelicals couldn’t seem to get enough of Trump. This is reminiscent of their embracing Mitt Romney, who is a Mormon, over President Obama, who is an avowed “traditional” Christian. (Evangelicals, who generally consider Mormonism to be a cult, have raged against it since its founding by Joseph Smith circa 1830.) Nothing, it would seem, trumps race in our political life.
As for Trump, his religious awakening occurred coincidentally (or not) around the time that he began running for president. White Christians embraced — and eagerly so — a man who is the personification of nearly everything that they have publicly abhorred. I understand that the presidential election constituted a binary choice, and Hillary Clinton was simply unacceptable to many. However, following Trump’s improbable Electoral College victory, I initially was surprised that such support continued unabated, despite his incessant lying and continued controversial words and actions.
In the final analysis, the said reality is that evangelicals were not merely supporting Trump in spite of who he is; in some ways they were supporting him BECAUSE OF who he is. Specifically, Trump’s many flaws don’t disqualify him due to a single, overriding factor: He speaks to the congealed fears that most white Americans, especially Christians, have regarding this nation’s changing demographics. Trump, the patron saint of “birtherism,” gives voice to long-simmering anxieties that boiled over during the Obama years.
Further, whereas the Bible commands believers to shelter, clothe and feed the foreigner/stranger, Trump and his followers argue that there is “no room at the inn” for Mexicans, Syrians, Muslims or people who are from “s-hole countries.” I would say that the racial and ethnic component to Trump’s brand of racial politics is undeniable — but there many people who still deny it.
This brings me to my central point. Blacks and whites can, and should, have vigorous debates regarding the role of faith in our lives. (That should be true not only inter-racially, but intra-racially as well.) However, one area in which all people should agree — whether Christian or otherwise — is that standing on the side of racism is an inherent moral evil. It is an evil with which there can be no compromise. Like many African-American Christians, I have long bemoaned the fact that our white counterparts seem to care only about abortion and gay marriage; the fight for racial equality is the role of “social justice workers.”
It is relevant to note that multiple studies, by faith-based as well as secular researchers, have shown that African-American Christians are the most devout group of religious people in the nation. (To be clear, “most devout” refers to areas such as most frequent attendance at church on Sunday, most frequent attendance at church during the week, most likely to read the Bible outside of church, most likely to adhere to traditional Christian beliefs, etc.)
Importantly, I am not suggesting that Black Christians are better than white Christians. (Indeed, we have much spiritual “housecleaning” to do ourselves.) Still, it is important to understand that faith-in-action is an inextricable component of the African-American religious tradition, especially as it regards to those whom Jesus called “the least of these.” Time will tell whether we will work together to build a bridge over the racial gulf or build walls around it.