Monday, June 24, 2024

A scene at the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021. (Photo: Tyler Merbler via Flickr)

With today’s political blurring of church and state, white Evangelicals call the Republican Party  the party of Trump and revere him as their modern-day savior. Trump, however, has made a mockery of Christian values and ideals – like his botched recited Bible verses and infamous staged photo-op outside St John’s Church in Washington, D.C., during the George Floyd protests in 2020. His zealous supporters, a core constituency of the Republican Party, have compared him to King Cyrus in the Bible, an atheist who liberated the Jews. His cultlike grip on white Evangelicals has proven their Faustian bargain for power has no moral bottom. But 37 felony counts related to mishandling of classified documents loom over Trump as he vies for a second term as president, the GOP has to assess if he’s too big of a liability and needs to be ditched. Or do white Evangelicals need to ditch the Republican Party if a Trump-like candidate doesn’t emerge in the 2024 presidential campaign?

Many Republican leaders who pledged fealty to Trump for political survival before his indictment are now distancing themselves. The indictment has the potential to further fracture the party between die-hard backers of Trump for 2024 such as Marjorie Taylor Greene, J.D. Vance and U.S. Sen. Lindsey Graham and moderate Republicans who want their party back. The Republican presidential hopefuls are the first to break rank. The most shocking of them, and what Trump loyalists would call a turncoat, is his former vice president, Mike Pence.

“Let me be clear. No one is above the law,” Pence said. The “handling of classified materials of the United States is a serious matter.”

While many political operatives are trying to inch away from Trump, his everlasting white Evangelical base – churchgoers and voters – loves him, and makes up approximately 60 percent of the Republican presidential primary electorate.

Trump won the presidency on the promise he would appoint judges with a Christian worldview. And Trump delivered. During his tenure, he nominated 274 conservative Republicans to federal benches and three to the Supreme Court – Neil Gorsuch, Brett Kavanaugh and Amy Coney Barrett – who would overturn Roe v. Wade.

Trump’s Israel policy took center stage when he moved the U.S. embassy to Jerusalem, a colossal win for Christian dispensationalists – evangelical Zionists who believe that in the Second Coming of Christ, Israel will be restored to its biblical boundaries. He later boasted, “The evangelicals appreciate it more than the Jews.”

Using the court to justify hate

Trump’s slogan to “Make American Great Again” was a dog whistle to his base to keep America a white, heteronormative theocracy, and Supreme Court rulings have worked on behalf of Trump’s evangelicals. Roe v. Wade, overturned last year, was merely the tip of the iceberg. This year Scotus has struck down affirmative action and student loan cancellation and made sundry other misguided rulings, such as the 6-3 ruling in 303 Creative v. Elenis under the guise of religious freedom that discriminates against LGBTQ+ Americans. The plaintiff, a Colorado graphic designer who opposes same-sex marriage, contested and won the case by arguing that in requiring her to serve everyone equally, the state was unconstitutionally forcing her to create messages she opposed, violating her free speech rights under the First Amendment.

In a Trumped-up Supreme Court, the uber-conservatives have eroded decadeslong civil rights gains and the Constitutional mandate of separation of church and state. In 2018, the court ruled in Masterpiece Cakeshop v. Colorado Civil Rights Commission in favor of the baker who refused to make a wedding cake for a same-sex couple on the grounds of religious freedom. In 2013, a family-owned bakery in Gresham, Oregon, called Sweet Cakes by Melissa wanted to “practice their Constitutional right to religious freedom.” Instead of servicing an LGBTQ+ clientele, Sweet Cakes closed the family shop and moved the business to their home, making it clear LGBTQ+ dollars were not wanted.

Trans rights in the bull’s-eye

Bigotry works in this political climate. Restricting transgender rights will work for Trump’s evangelical base and help the Republicans in the 2024 election. At least 650 anti-LGBTQ+ bills have been introduced in Congress, even banning drag queen story hours in some states, with more than 400 targeting our trans population, including bills banning trans people from sports and banning gender-affirming surgery. The Human Rights Campaign has declared a state of emergency for LGBTQ+ Americans.

“They have an interest in keeping the base riled up about one thing or another, and when one issue fades, as with same-sex relationships and same-sex marriage, they’ve got to find something else,” Randall Balmer, a Dartmouth professor of religion, told PBS NewsHour. “It’s almost frantic.”

The Republican Party has been broken irreparably by Trump. The party wants to win the 2024 presidency by any means necessary – the Jan. 6 insurrection was proof – and a Harvard CAPS-Harris Poll from May 23 shows Trump beating Biden by 7 points in a hypothetical match-up. “Any Republican who wanted to cross the finish line would have to kneel at the feet of the evangelical base,” Balmer said. The GOP can verbally trash Trump and even ditch him, but it is still under his yoke because it needs his base to win. 

The Rev. Irene Monroe is a speaker, theologian and syndicated columnist. She does a segment called “All Revved Up!” on WGBH (89.7 FM) on Boston Public Radio and a segment called “What’s Up?” Fridays on New England Channel News.