While topics like climate change were painfully absent from this presidential debate cycle, the absence of religion was a welcome change from previous years. And yet, given how essential and absolute issues like abortion, school prayer, and creationism have proven to be in the past, how did religious voters choose their candidate?
Many groups decided to throw religious fervor out the door. If charity and forgiveness are at the heart of Christian doctrine, a whole swath of Evangelicals, Protestants, and White Catholics ignored it when casting their ballot for Donald Trump. Even Mormons, previously touted as fighting Trump’s racist, misogynistic, and xenophobic comments, ended up choosing him 61 to 25 percent over Clinton.
Even though so-called single-issue voters rarely vote based on one issue, once an assumption is made it is hard to overturn. White born-again Christians generally believe in the literal truth of the Bible, the atonement of Jesus Christ, and the idea that America is a Christian nation. Yet Trump’s gaffe stating “Two Corinthians” at Liberty University played out like much of his campaign: haha, oh, that’s just Donald.
This is the same group of fundamentalists, by the way, that built and visit the Creation Museum, an institution that rejects archeology, linguistics, and evolutionary biology, and is actively trying to instill the deceivingly named ‘creation science’ into public school curriculums. (Yes, some evangelicals are in the Christian left, but they are a minority.)
Evangelicalism grew from the Protestant movement, a group that voted for Trump over Clinton by a margin of 58 to 39 percent. Pew does not list the breakdown of groups within Protestantism outside of Evangelicals, so getting into the weeds about exact beliefs is difficult. Interestingly, however, sixteenth-century Protestants were early advocates for religious freedom. Protestants led the charge in democracy, separation of powers, and the separation of church and state.
Trump represents none of those things. He steamrolled through an election making promises that would require a dictator, not a president. He’s hinted at silencing the press. His recent sentiments regarding the possibility of overturning Roe v. Wade sides with one of the most contentious church-state separations in modern America. Although in a few short months Trump can potentially overturn decades of supposed Protestant values, nearly six out of ten faithful cast their ballot for him.
Catholics were much closer, 52 percent to Clinton’s 45 percent. Yet when broken down by ethnicity, 60 percent of White Catholics chose trump (37 percent for Clinton), while 67 percent of Hispanic Catholics voted for Clinton, with only 26 percent of that contingent going for Trump.
Catholics have had quite an awakening under Pope Francis, however. In a recent interview with a communist newspaper in Italy, the pope said,
It has been said many times and my response has always been that, if anything, it is the communists who think like Christians. Christ spoke of a society where the poor, the weak and the marginalized have the right to decide. Not demagogues, not Barabbas, but the people, the poor, whether they have faith in a transcendent God or not. It is they who must help to achieve equality and freedom.
If aligning with communism in a capitalist nation is not enough to swallow, Francis also discussed Trump during the interview. He expressed his concern with the welfare of immigrants and refugees around the world regardless of religious affiliation. When asked about the President-elect, Francis responded,
I do not pass judgment on people and politicians, I simply want to understand the suffering that their approach causes the poor and excluded.
Put another way, closing your doors to those in need is not the most charitable act. Trump’s rhetoric about kicking out immigrants, barring religious groups, and closing the door to refugees are in direct contradiction to what a leader like the pope would hope for. But those are also the main issues voters checked next to his name for. Overwhelmingly, White Catholics did not care about such topics, which leaves us to wonder, what role does religion really play?
Pew points out that the electorate largely remained the same: Evangelicals and Protestants voting Republican, the Jewish and religiously unaffiliated Democratic. Pollsters did note that Catholicism dropped 3 percent, with the religiously unaffiliated claiming three points. Correlation does not imply causation—not all atheists were once Catholic—but the general trend shows that regardless of what candidates say or do, it’s not easy to leave your party.
It is surprising, from a doctrinal perspective, that political affiliation overrules spiritual belief. This forces us to confront a starker reality: religion is fluid and conforms to the tribe, which is opposite of how religion is usually advertised, as a pre-existing condition. If that were truly the case, Evangelicals, Protestants, Mormons, and Catholics would have never voted for the most uncharitable candidate in modern times. Voters might claim religious affiliation, but in an election like this the numbers paint an entirely opposite picture.
Derek Beres is working on his new book, Whole Motion: Training Your Brain and Body For Optimal Health (Carrel/Skyhorse, Spring 2017). He is based in Los Angeles. Stay in touch on Facebook and Twitter.