As a voting bloc, evangelical Christians have expressed such airtight loyalty to former President Donald Trump that moderates are bracing themselves in this election cycle like a family that dreads a disagreeable uncle’s presence at dinner.

Pastor Paula White, left, and other faith leaders pray with then-President Donald Trump, center, during a rally for evangelical supporters in Miami on Jan. 3, 2020. Lynne Sladky/Associated Press, File

“Almost every congregation that I know is either divided or tense about these sorts of political controversies coming out of the Trump years,” said Russell Moore, a former Southern Baptist leader and current editor in chief of Christianity Today, a publication founded by Billy Graham and widely considered to be evangelicalism’s flagship magazine.

Moore is bracing himself after his cantankerous experience during the rise of Trump, a man not widely known for his religious devotion, who nevertheless won historic numbers of white born-again Christians.

After a few of Moore’s broadsides against Trump, he returned fire in May 2016, calling Moore “a terrible representative of Evangelicals and all the good they stand for” and “a nasty guy with no heart.”

Moore’s discontent rose to a climax a month before Election Day that year with the release of the “Access Hollywood” tape on which Trump bragged about groping women. After prominent Christian leaders downplayed the incident, Moore tweeted: “The political Religious Right Establishment wonders why the evangelical next generation rejects their way.”

Welcome to politics in the Trump age.


The dispute stirred resentment within the denomination. Some Southern Baptist pastors began withholding funds from the ethics commission Moore led at the Southern Baptist Convention. Moore denied rumors that he might lose his job, but after the election, Moore apologized to those who thought he was attacking Trump voters, not just the man himself.

By then, Trump won with a stunning 81% of white evangelicals, a turnout that Moore attributed to long-festering fears and anxieties among his supporters over cultural displacement and political exclusion. Evangelical voters were looking for a straight-talking strongman-style leader and, most important in their time of discontent, he was on their side.

Moore resigned his commission post and more recently has published a book titled “Losing Our Religion: An Altar Call for Evangelical America.” It takes a closer look at the Trump controversies, the recent abuse scandal in the Southern Baptist Convention and the dubious rise of “Christian nationalism.”

I wish him luck, and I hope it will be read by more people than those of us who already agree with him.

What really drew my attention is the reason he has given in interviews for writing the book.

As he told NPR’s Scott Detrow on “All Things Considered,” “It was the result of having multiple pastors tell me, essentially, the same story, about quoting the Sermon on the Mount in their preaching – turn the other cheek – to have someone come up after and to say, ‘Where did you get those liberal talking points?’”


“Liberal talking points”? What a degrading way to refer to the Gospel, in my view. But, after years of hearing increasingly incendiary rhetoric on the politics beat, it rings sadly true to me.

More alarming, Moore noted, “when the pastor would say, ‘I’m literally quoting Jesus Christ,’ the response would not be, ‘I apologize.’ The response would be, ‘Yes, but that doesn’t work anymore. That’s weak.’ And when we get to the point where the teachings of Jesus himself are seen as subversive to us, then we’re in a crisis.”

Indeed, we’re in pretty bad shape if the word of the Bible is spun into a partisan political doctrine. But it’s also inevitable when we have so many other divides unresolved, including in our houses of worship.

As Pew Research Center has found in recent years, voters who go to religious services at least monthly were more likely to vote for the Republican candidate in the most recent presidential election, while less frequent attendees were more likely to back the Democrat.

Among non-Hispanic white Americans who attend services at least monthly, 71% voted for Trump in 2020, while only 27% voted for Joe Biden. White Americans who attend religious services a few times a year or less were more evenly split: 40% voted for Trump and 58% voted for Biden. Just 10% of Black voters who frequently attend religious services voted for Trump.

Does this constitute a crisis? Or just business as usual? Neither should make us feel good.

Nevertheless, as an old saying often attributed to ancient Chinese puts it, “crisis” contains both “danger and opportunity.” Awareness of the dangers can help us take opportunities to talk and work together. Blessed are the peacemakers.

Clarence Page is a columnist for the Chicago Tribune. He may be contacted at:
Twitter: @cptime

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