Book Review Number 39

BELEIVE ME: The Evangelical Road to Donald Trump – John Fea

John Fea is a professor of American history; he is also a practicing evangelical Christian. He takes the title of his book, “Believe Me”, from one of Trumps most commonly used expressions. Whether it is about building a wall or claiming he is protecting Christian heritage, and in spite of his disdain for the truth that refrain has been constant. And to most Americans’ surprise 80% of white evangelical Christians believed him; they likely were the constituency that put him in the White House.

The author tracks the history of white American evangelical Christianity from the mid-seventeenth century when Puritans first arrived, through the rise of Donald Trump. The central theme he proposes is that throughout that entire time period fear has been the key driver of these generations of white evangelical Christians. Universally they seem to have always longed for society to remain static and see any signs of social or political progress as something to be feared.

Professor Fea argues that the embrace of Donald Trump is the logical outcome of this long-standing white evangelical approach to public life which is defined by the politics of fear, the pursuit of governmental power, and the nostalgic longing for an America that has passed, or never existed to begin with.

The author contrasts the civil rights movement with the militant white evangelical rhetoric we hear from those vying for political power today, individuals like Jerry Falwell Jr, Robert Jeffress, and Paula White, to name just three. The civil rights movement was about people of color demanding to be treated equally; the current white evangelical movement seems to be about demanding that everyone else yield to those white evangelicals’ right to manipulate the federal government to fit their agenda and belief system. In short they have abandoned the tenets of their faith in favor of political influence. The author observes that that has not worked well so far; and he speculates that a “faithful presence” might be a better strategy than casting aside Christian values to gain a “seat at the table” of political power.

I believe the author sincerely recounts the history of the white evangelical movement and its presence today. I appreciate his observations from a historian’s perspective. I do not share his “fear” explanation for that history, however. I grew up in that dysfunctional religious environment. From my personal experience I think white evangelical Christians, as a class, are driven more by intolerance than fear. In many case, as exemplified by the likes of Robert Jeffress and other powerful national white evangelical leaders, they tend to fan the flames of division, separation, and hate to advance political objectives.

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