Popular black Pentecostal preacher Bishop T.D. Jakes and Religious Right organizer Ralph Reed, founder of the 1990s era Christian Coalition and more recently, the Faith & Freedom coalition, discussed the Evangelical vote in the 2020 election in a forum hosted by The Washington Post. Jakes avoided endorsing a candidate but pronounced the nation’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic “an atrocity.” Reed strongly urged support for the President’s reelection.
The live streamed event was held on the afternoon of Monday, September 14, exactly 50 days before election day 2020. Moderated by Sally Quinn, a writer, journalist, author of a blog on religion at The Washington Post, and widow of longtime Washington Post editor Benjamin Bradlee, the event predominantly focused on incumbent Donald Trump and, interestingly, never once made mention of his opponent, former Vice-President Joe Biden.
Held in the form of two distinctive interviews, the event touched on issues relevant to the upcoming election and the current societal rift in America, including the COVID-19 pandemic, race relations, police brutality, and criminal justice reform. Both Jakes and Reed gave credit to President Trump for his efforts on criminal justice reform. Jakes stated the importance of states following the federal model on criminal justice reform, as many people are outside of federal prisons. Reed added that his organization has worked on criminal justice reform since 2013, which he sees as a need to reform “an institutional system that disproportionately affects people of color.”
On race relations, Jakes is pleased to see that there is more unification and buy-in among white Evangelical Christians on issues of race relations and the disproportionate police violence against black Americans, but he added that we as a country still have a long way to go. Jakes stated the importance of saying “Black Lives Matter” as black lives are “disproportionately on fire.” He added that we can, and he does, support good police officers, while holding the bad ones accountable. “We have lost our ability to reason together and to come to compromise,” said Jakes. When asked about the “Black Lives Matter” slogan, Reed stated that his organization “believes that black lives do matter.”
Further on the issue of race relations, Jakes stated, “I am no longer looking to the White House to fix this issue,” and added that he is looking at the people on the streets and “We the People” to make the change. Reed, on the other hand, pointed to the issue of abortion, which he sees as an issue of injustice in the black community, along with the need for education reform and further criminal justice reform.
In response to recent discussions, mostly on Twitter, about Jesus’ skin tone, Jakes asserted that the argument is “juvenile.” “It wasn’t about his skin, it was about his blood,” stated Jakes.
If there was a point of divergence for the two faith leaders, it was the COVID-19 pandemic and more specifically, President Trump’s response to the pandemic. Jakes referred to the country’s handling of the pandemic as an “atrocity.” He added that as a pastor, the effects of the pandemic hit even closer to home. “They’re numbers to you, but they’re bodies to us [pastors],” stated Jakes, as pastors, of course, preside over funerals and burials.
Reed, however, said that, “Donald Trump took extraordinary steps to save hundreds of thousands, maybe even millions of lives.” In response to allegations that many white Evangelical Christians, and even the President himself, refuse to wear masks, Reed stated, “I’m at a conference this week where we’re wearing masks,” and added that he is “currently doing Evangelicals for Trump events where we abide by public health guidelines in respective states and wear masks.”
Exit polls from the 2016 election report that Trump won approximately 81 percent of the white Evangelical vote. A recent Pew Research Center survey, conducted earlier this summer, showed that 72 percent of white Evangelical voters approved of the way Trump is handling his job, slipping numbers for the President. The same poll, however, shows that if the election were held that day, 82 percent of the white Evangelical voters surveyed would vote for Trump or leaned toward voting for him.
One issue area where Reed sees Evangelicals enthusiastically supporting President Trump is on the reopening of churches during the COVID-19 pandemic. “What we don’t like is when we think the faith community has been targeted,” Reed stated, in reference to states allowing the reopening of bars, massage parlors, and other social settings, while refusing to let churches reopen.
Constituting one of the largest voting blocs in the country, a spotlight will be on Evangelical Christians as American voters head to the polls in just 50 days.