“Fractured” panel addresses why evangelicals voted for Trump

On Tuesday, Jan. 24, a group of Wheaton employees, students and locals congregated in the Barrows Auditorium to hear three panelists’ perspectives on the state of evangelicalism post-election. Executive Director of the Billy Graham Center for Evangelism Ed Stetzer moderated the discussion, titled “Fractured: Rebuilding the Church’s Witness,” directing questions to Margaret Diddams, Provost and Professor of Psychology, Vincent Bacote, Director of Center for Applied Christian Ethics and Capt. David Iglesias, Director of Wheaton College Center for Faith, Politics and Economics.
 
The panel addressed the divisive nature of the election, both in the country as a whole, with different candidates winning the electoral and popular votes, and within the evangelical church. Although most white evangelicals voted for President Donald Trump, the survey of all evangelicals showed a much more diverse choice in candidates. Many of the questions sought to address the perception of evangelicals post-election as well as how the election has impacted their relationships with those around them.
 
A major theme throughout the conversation was the motivation behind white evangelical support for Trump. Stetzer brought up a statistic that has circulated among the evangelical community since election day in the form of a question: Why did 81 percent of white evangelicals vote for Trump?
 
The general consensus among the panelists was that evangelicals voted for the party, not the candidate. Iglesias commented that although churches generally avoided endorsing a particular candidate, many held voter information sessions to offer a Christian perspective on certain issues. These sessions typically encouraged voters to value the candidates’ platforms over their character. Iglesias said, “I think the calculus was this: If I vote for Trump, I’ll hold my fingers to my nose and I’ll vote because I know he supports things that are important to me.” Bacote agreed, saying that “it would take basically an act of God” for evangelicals to vote for Clinton.
 
Stetzer brought up the resurgence of the “Moral Majority,” a religious group in the 1970s that pushed for conservative reform in response to cases like Engel v. Vitale, Abington School District v. Schempp and Roe v. Wade, which removed prayer and the reading of the Bible from public schools and legalized abortion, respectively. “With this election there was consensus that we cannot keep ceding ground, we can’t stop seeing our values being replaced by the secular machine,” Iglesias said. “Trump was able to capture that.”
 
The panelists also addressed the role of American culture on the election. Diddams pointed out that the rise of technology made it easier for voters to isolate themselves and treat those who disagree with them poorly. “When we are able to go to our own corners, we are able to de-individualize others … that’s psych talk for ‘you’re not human to me.’”
 
Stetzer moved on to how the election impacted evangelicals’ ability to share Christ with their  neighbors. Diddams and Bacote both acknowledged that many people were hurt by their friends’ decision to vote for Trump. “For many people this election was interpersonal and intrapersonal, and their feeling of voting for Trump was a feeling of betrayal by friends,” Diddams said.
 
The election caused people to question “what evangelicals actually care about,” Bacote agreed. “If you voted for Trump or you didn’t vote against him, is it because there’s some vision of America that you have that doesn’t include us?” he added, referring to the perspective he perceives among minorities.
 
The panelists also took questions from the audience, which addressed issues such as deportation of immigrants, racism in the church and submitting to government authority.
The panel concluded by discussing what the inauguration means for the future of evangelicalism. Could this election be the crumbling of evangelicalism? Iglesias reminded the audience to think about what it meant to be an evangelical; it is the good news of the gospel, he argued, rather than the “good news of America.” Bacote urged listeners to share the gospel in actions as well as speech, and Diddams encouraged them to redirect the focus of evangelism off of themselves. “Our evangelicalism has come down to ‘me,’ my testimony … It’s really God’s story, it’s God’s redemption, it’s what God has done in my life and that I am willing to tell God’s story in my own humility.”

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