Fueled by a force apparently stronger than corporate greed, evangelical Christians have, in many cases, refused to abandon their support for Donald Trump even in the face of behavior which is directly at odds with Christian values. 

When several of Laura Ingraham’s advertisers decided against continuing their relationship with the conservative pundit because her comments about 17-year-old school shooting survivor and anti-gun activist David Hogg’s college acceptance were viewed as callous, irrelevant and bullying, Ms. Ingraham apologized. She did not criticize her former advertisers for abandoning her, implicitly admitting that she is beholden to the cultural preferences of her financial backers.

Decades ago, basketball star Charles Barkley famously stated that he should not be considered a role model, and that parents should be role models. He further stated, in the context of a sneaker advertisement: “Just because I dunk a basketball, doesn’t mean I should raise your kids.”

President Donald Trump seems to enjoy the support of certain evangelical leaders no matter what he does.. Flickr: Gage Skidmore

Despite Barkley’s demurrer, it is commonly accepted that conduct of celebrities or athletes, which may evidence their prejudice, hate and other character flaws, leads inevitably to a backlash from corporate sponsors, who seek to exert their influence in accordance with the values they perceive as according those of their audience or customers.

Corporate decisions to terminate relationships with spokespeople who engage in criminal acts or otherwise exude negativity are based on a simple economic analysis: Most cynically stated, negative celebrity conduct will alienate potential customers, therefore companies must distance themselves from such negativity. Alternatively, companies that demonstrate strong values will attract the interest of potential customers who share such values. Companies can therefore not only limit their negative associations, but can also leverage such limitation to gain new market participation.

Though they are largely unable to define morality on their own terms, these companies are able to apply existing ethical systems to their business, thereby monetizing prevailing ethical standards.

Evangelical Economic Analysis

But evangelical Christian support of Donald Trump, though diminished in view of his undeniable immorality, remains steadfast in such Christian industrialists as Jerry Fallwell Jr., James Dobson and Franklin Graham. Each of these evangelicals wield incredible influence over great swaths of American voters, and the obvious risk of damage which the president may do to their brand of Christianity does not deter them from embracing and supporting him. The evangelical economic analysis is quite different from that of their pure-business, tax-paying corporate counterparts. 

The evangelical economic analysis appears to be: Evangelical leaders define morality, and are uniquely positioned to dispense grace, forgiveness, excuse and justification for the president’s moral shortcomings as expressed in his personal life and his national agenda.  Accordingly, as long as believers remain true to their evangelical leaders, abiding their support of a baneful president, evangelical Christianity is not in danger of losing support among its followers. 

It is as though followers of Graham, Falwell and Dobson just haven’t noticed that supporting Trump is not commensurate with following the teachings of Christ.

This evangelical approach is (hopefully) flawed. There is a disconnect between the president, his agenda and Christ’s teachings, such as those set forth in Matthew 25 where Christians are called to feed the hungry, welcome strangers, clothe the needy, minister to the sick and visit those in prison.

The gap between the president’s values and those encouraged by Christ in Matthew 5, which says, among other things, “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called children of God,” seems obvious. It is as though followers of Graham, Falwell and Dobson just haven’t noticed that supporting Trump is not commensurate with following the teachings of Christ.

At some point evangelicals will know that they have been misled — that their support of the president is at odds with their values, which have been compromised in order to ensure Christian support of an anti-Christian agenda. This epiphany may require further manipulation of Christ’s teachings by evangelical leaders, to the point of further absurdity, such that whatever portion of Christ’s teachings may still be discernible will be clearly antithetical to those of the president’s evangelical sponsors.

But if nobody notices the divergence among the president and Christ, and there is no breaking from evangelicals who support the president, Christians will have missed an opportunity to be the salt of the earth and the light of the world by opposing evil.

Thoughts on this or any other story? Write a Letter to the Editor. Send to news@civilbeat.org and put Letter in the subject line. 200 words max. You need to use your name and city and include a contact phone for verification purposes. And you can still comment on stories on our Facebook page.

Community Voices aims to encourage broad discussion on many topics of community interest. It’s kind of a cross between Letters to the Editor and op-eds. This is your space to talk about important issues or interesting people who are making a difference in our world. Column lengths should be no more than 800 words and we need a current photo of the author and a bio. We welcome video commentary and other multimedia formats. Send to news@civilbeat.org. The opinions and information expressed in Community Voices are solely those of the authors and not Civil Beat.

About the Author