Why do many evangelical Christians have a strong allegiance to Trump?
Evangelical Christians — a key voting bloc for former President Donald Trump — have influenced the country’s religious, cultural and political discourse for decades.
But a new book explores an increasing rift among evangelicals. One side is increasingly political and attracting members, while the other is losing members as it seeks to stay out of partisan politics.
The Atlantic’s Tim Alberta chronicles a personal journey in his new book, “The Kingdom, The Power, and The Glory: American Evangelicals In An Age of Extremism.” Alberta is an award-winning journalist who grew up in an evangelical church.
Growing up the son of a preacher in the conservative town of Brighton, Michigan, Alberta faced backlash from right-wing media after publishing a book about Trump’s rise to power in the Republican party around the time his dad died, he says. He faced confrontation at the funeral after returning to his hometown evangelical church, where his father served as the pastor for almost 30 years.
“There were people who questioned whether I was still a Christian because of how I’d criticized Donald Trump,” Alberta says. “And it was a rather eye-opening experience, to say the least.”
The cover of “The Kingdom, The Power, and The Glory: American Evangelicals In An Age of Extremism” by Tim Alberta. (Courtesy)
Book excerpt: ‘The Kingdom, The Power, and The Glory’
By Tim Alberta
Standing in the back of the sanctuary, my three older brothers and I formed a receiving line. Cornerstone had been a small church when we arrived as kids. Not anymore. Brighton, once a sleepy town situated at the intersection of two expressways, had become a prized location for commuters to Detroit and Ann Arbor. Meanwhile, Dad, with his baseball allegories and Greek linguistics lessons, had gained a reputation for his eloquence in the pulpit. By the time I moved away in 2008, Cornerstone had blossomed from a few hundred members to a few thousand.
Now the crowds swarmed around us, filling the sanctuary and spilling out into the narthex, where tables displayed flowers and golf clubs and photos of Dad. I was numb. My brothers, too. None of us had slept much that week. So the first time someone made a glancing reference to Rush Limbaugh, it did not compute. But then another person brought him up. And then another. That’s when I connected the dots. Apparently, the king of conservative talk radio had been name- checking me on his program recently— “A guy named Tim Alberta”— and describing the unflattering revelations in my book about President Trump. Nothing in that moment could have mattered to me less. I smiled, shrugged, and thanked them for coming to the visitation.
They kept on coming. More than I could count. People from the church— people I’d known my entire life— were greeting me, not primarily with condolences or encouragement or mourning, but with commentary about Rush Limbaugh and Donald Trump. Some of it was playful, guys remarking how I was the same mischiefmaker they’d known since kindergarten. But some of it wasn’t playful. Some of it was angry; some of it was cold and confrontational. One man questioned whether I was truly a Christian. Another asked if I was still on “the right side.” All while Dad was in a box a hundred feet away.
It got to the point where I had to take a walk. A righteous anger was
beginning to pierce the fog of melancholy. It felt like a bad dream inside
of a bad dream. Here, in our house of worship, people were taunting me
about politics as I tried to mourn my father. I was in the company of
certain friends that day who would not claim to know Jesus, yet they shrouded me in peace and comfort. Some of these card- carrying evangelical Christians. Not so much. They didn’t see a hurting son; they saw a vulnerable adversary.
That night, while fine- tuning the eulogy I would give the following afternoon, I still felt the sting. My wife perceived as much. The unflappable one in the family, she encouraged me to be careful with my words and cautioned against mentioning the day’s unpleasantness. I took half of her advice.
In front of an overflow crowd on August 2, 2019, I paid tribute to the man who taught me everything— how to throw a baseball, how to be a gentleman, how to trust and love the Lord. Reciting my favorite verse, from Paul’s second letter to the early church in Corinth, Greece, I told of Dad’s instruction to keep our eyes fixed on what we could not see. Read- ing from his favorite poem, about a man named Richard Cory, I told of Dad’s warning that we could amass great wealth and still be poor.
Then I recounted all the people who’d approached me a day earlier, wanting to discuss the Trump wars on AM talk radio. I spoke of the need for discipleship and spiritual formation. I proposed that their time in the car would be better spent listening to Dad’s old sermons. If they needed help finding biblical listening for their daily commute, I suggested with some sarcasm, the pastors here on staff could help. “Why are you listening to Rush Limbaugh?” I asked my father’s congregation. “Garbage in, garbage out.”
There was nervous laughter in the sanctuary. Some people were visibly agitated. Others looked away, pretending not to hear. My dad’s successor, a young pastor named Chris Winans, wore a shell- shocked expression. No matter. I had said my piece. It was finished. Or so I thought. A few hours later, after we had buried Dad, my brothers and I slumped down onto the couches in our parents’ living room. We opened some beers and turned on a baseball game. Behind us, in the kitchen, a small platoon of church ladies worked to prepare a meal for the family. Here, I thought, is the love of Christ. Watching them hustle about, comforting Mom and catering to her sons, I found myself regretting the Rush Limbaugh remark. Most of the folks at our church were humble, kind-hearted Christians like these ladies. Maybe I’d blown things out of proportion.
This article was originally published on WBUR.org.
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