In his short piece, Life, Liberty, and Love of the Constitution: What Mattered to Iowa’s Evangelicals David French, our friend over at National Review, took a well-deserved swipe at ex-Evangelical Rachel Held Evans. French took issue with Evans‘ assertion that the Evangelical fascination with Donald Trump proves that “[r]acism and xenophobia remain powerful forces in our country, as does celebrity worship, and white Christians aren’t as immune from these influences as they like to think.” French finds this just one more instance of the left-wing prediction that conservative Evangelicals were about to go all in for Donald Trump, and “thus reveal themselves as the unprincipled bigots the secular media believe them to be.”
But, French notes, the problem with this assertion is not only did Ted Cruz decisively defeat Trump in Iowa, but Cruz and Rubio collectively took home a commanding 55 percent of the Evangelical vote in Iowa. While my instincts told me that French was right, I wanted to confirm my intuitions by taking a quick look at the election results in Sioux County, Iowa. Results in that county were important for several reasons.
First, Sioux Center is a decidedly dark red Republican county. This is the kind of rural county that voted over 90 percent for George W. Bush.
Secondly, the county is decidedly conservative Evangelical Christian; in fact, it would be hard to find a county in the United States that was more so. How evangelical? A long time resident of Sioux Center who used to work at Dordt College tells me that some years back there were several burglaries on Sunday morning because the crooks knew that everybody would be at church. That the county is so evangelical probably accounts for the relatively tepid support for the Mormon, Mitt Romney.
Finally, Evans made a great deal of a speech given by Trump in Sioux Center – actually at Dordt College – to prove her point about the racism, xenophobia and so forth to which Trump supposedly appealed. Here’s what Evans had to say about the speech:
“But perhaps the most tantalizing of Trump’s pitches to the Religious Right, and the one with broadest appeal, is his promise to protect their power.
“‘I’ll tell you one thing,’ he told a crowd in Sioux Center, Iowa, “I get elected president, we’re going to be saying ‘merry Christmas’ again…And by the way, Christianity will have power…because if I’m there, you’re going to have somebody representing you very, very well.’
“This is the gospel of Donald Trump, his ‘good news’ to Christian voters: Stick with me and you’ll be a winner. Stick with me and I’ll give you power, protection, prestige.”
According to Evans, the Evangelical Republicans in Sioux Center would surely buy what Trump was peddling. But did they? Not even close! Here were the results in Sioux County, Iowa, according the Los Angeles Times:
As I suspected, those Republican Evangelical Christians, at least in Sioux County, Iowa, ain’t buying what Trump is selling. I’d love to hear Ms. Evans explain that!
But that is only one county in Iowa. What about the rest of the state? For insight into that question I turned to Tobin Grant, a political scientist who crunches the numbers on these questions at the Corner of Church and State Blog for Religion News Service (RNS). Here’s what Grant found:
- “Overall…Trump did worse in counties that have historically supported conservative Christian candidates.”
- “Bottom-line: Cruz mobilized conservative Christian areas; Trump did well everywhere but the most ardent Christian Right counties; and Rubio did best in the most populous, diverse parts of the Hawkeye state.”
So how could Evans have been so spectacularly wrong? Apart from the simple fact that Evans is now an ex-Evangelical mainline Episcopalian with an axe to grind, French provides the clue:
“In the Evans version of history, the true historical roots of Christian conservatism lie not in opposition to abortion and the degeneracy of the sexual revolution but rather in opposition to racial integration. In other words, in their deepest hearts, race trumps religion. Christian conservatism isn’t about the Bible, about faith. Nor does it spring from deep conviction about the Constitution, as expressed by John Adams: ‘Our Constitution was made only for a moral and religious people. It is wholly inadequate to the government of any other.’ No, for Evans and other critics, Evangelical conservatism is about ‘persistent fear of the perceived “other.”‘”
Yes, of course, it is all about racism, xenophobia and such, except that the lily white, right-wing, Republican Evangelical Christians in Sioux County, Iowa gave more votes to the African-American candidate alone than Donald Trump. The two Hispanic candidates and the African-American candidate defeated Trump in that Republican and Evangelical stronghold 80 percent to 10 percent.
Clearly, those who think conservative Evangelical Christians are still plagued by racism and xenophobia in 2016 need to reconsider views.