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27 Nov 2020 12:36
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  •   Home > News > International

    The evangelical vote is more diverse than you think. Meet the evangelicals who aren't voting for Trump

    Not all evangelicals will be voting for US President Donald Trump on election day in America. Here's some of them.


    Jerushah Duford is the granddaughter of Billy Graham, a prominent evangelical icon who preached the gospel to millions of people in packed stadiums around the world — and a man whose name has become synonymous with conservative politics.

    But when Ms Duford recently hosted a family gathering, and guests broached the topic of the 2020 US election, she immediately shut it down saying: "No, this is my house and we are not doing this."

    The saying goes that you should never talk about religion or politics at the dinner table, but that takes on an additional dimension in Ms Duford's household where politics and faith have coalesced and strongly divided opinion in her family.

    Ms Duford recently published scathing op-ed calling evangelical support of Mr Trump an insult to her grandfather’s legacy. On the same day her cousin, Cissie Graham Lynch, addressed the Republican National Convention and called Mr Trump a “fierce advocate” for people of faith.

    If you’re an evangelical in the US, it does matter if you're black or white

    White evangelicals form a formidable voting bloc in the US, with a 2019 Pew Research report estimating they make up 16 per cent of the nation's adult population.

    Traditionally, evangelical was a religious descriptor for Protestant, born-again Christians. Now, evangelicals — specifically white evangelicals — are strongly aligned with conservative politics and have become a reliably pro-Republican voting bloc.

    They even have their own exit poll category, and in 2016 more than 80 per cent of white evangelicals who voted cast their ballot for Mr Trump.

    This is likely to happen again in 2020, but this group's support for the President has slipped slightly in the lead-up to the 2020 election.

    Democratic presidential candidate and former vice-president Joe Biden has the backing of other religious voting groups, including 90 per cent of black evangelical voters and a majority of Jewish and Hispanic Catholic voters.

    'I was told that I needed to become a Republican if I was going to be a Christian'

    Lisa Sharon Harper outed herself as a Democrat in her 2008 book, Evangelical Does Not Equal Republican … or Democrat, but she hasn't always been one.

    "The people who introduced me to God and Jesus and faith were white evangelicals," said the 51-year-old Christian author and speaker, and founder of a social justice organisation in the US.

    "Within a year, I was told that I needed to become a Republican if I was going to be a Christian."

    It was the early 80s, around the same time Moral Majority — a political organisation in the US with strong ties to the religious right and Republican Party — was gaining momentum.

    [Hearken Pic Teaser]

    The group opposed movements they believed undermined traditional Christian moral values, such as civil rights, women's liberty, same-sex marriage, and the teaching of evolution.

    Ms Harper was only 14 years old when she became a Christian, and not allowed to vote yet. But in 1984, she tried to convince her mum to vote for the Republican presidential candidate Ronald Reagan.

    "There was no way she was going to do that," Ms Harper said.

    "She was part of the civil rights movement, and she understood something I really did not understand then — the religious right actually came to be as a counter movement to the gains of people of colour."

    How would Jesus vote?

    Ms Harper is voting for Democrats up and down the ticket in the 2020 US election, starting with Biden-Harris.

    "I am a black evangelical, and that makes all the difference," she said.

    "The way that I vote is not ruled by white men; it's ruled by Jesus, who was a brown, colonised, Indigenous man."

    She believes Jesus's highest priority is caring for the "the poorest, the most thirsty, the most hungry, the least deserving immigrant, the least deserving prisoner, the sick".

    Taylor Swift isn't the only white, southern, Christian woman not voting for Trump

    Since the election of Donald Trump in 2016, several high-profile Christians and evangelical leaders have signalled a shift away from conservative political views.

    At the end of 2019, the outgoing editor-in-chief of a popular evangelical magazine published an editorial on why Mr Trump should be removed from office.

    It raised the ire of the President, who tweeted: "A far left magazine … would rather have a Radical Left nonbeliever, who wants to take your religion & your guns, than Donald Trump as your President."

    Megachurch pastors like Rick Warren and Judah Smith have supported the Black Lives Matter movement on social media, only to face backlash in the comments.

    Even America's most famous Christian woman from Tennessee, Taylor Swift, has opened up about her political views, and her latest baking foray suggests she's voting for Vice President Joe Biden.

    "I knew from a pretty young age that Christians were supposed to be Republicans," said Kaitlyn Schiess, a 26-year-old Masters student at Dallas Theological Seminary.

    Back in 2016, Ms Schiess was an undergraduate student at Liberty College, one of the most conservative Christian institutions in America.

    Mr Trump delivered the school's opening convocation that year to a crowd of more than 10,000 students, where he mispronounced a book of the Bible during his speech.

    Ms Schiess, whose book The Liturgy of Politics is about how young Christians can engage with politics, said evangelical support for Mr Trump was deeply concerning to her because much of his character seems to run counter to the Church's teachings.

    "In all sorts of ways — sexual morality, the amount of divorces he had, the way that he talked about other people, the concern he had for building a big, rich business — [he] did not uphold the things that I had been taught were important values in a leader," she said.

    Ms Schiess will not be voting for Mr Trump in 2020, and while her political views may differ from many Christians in America, she feels a responsibility to stay in the evangelical church.

    "I love these people and I have seen the way that some of their political involvement has been deeply destructive to not only their communities but to their souls and I want to see that change," she said.

    White, evangelical men are voting for Biden too

    Polling data suggests men like Jim Ball should be voting for Mr Trump in the 2020 US election.

    Mr Ball is about as evangelical as they come. He became a Christian at 13, graduated from Baylor, a nationally ranked Southern Baptist university in Texas, and went to a seminary in Louisville, Kentucky.

    But he "wasn't shaped by a strong push to be included in the Republican party", the 59-year-old said.

    "I was shaped more by the big concerns of peace and justice, nuclear weapons, hunger, and caring for the poor."

    Mr Ball left his 20-year career in a Christian environmental organisation in 2019 to start Evangelicals for Biden, which encourages American Christians to "make sure our words and actions match our core Christian values of love, service, justice and grace".

    To Mr Ball, that means voting for Mr Biden in the 2020 US presidential election.

    "Mr Biden is the man that we need right now," Mr Ball said.

    "He is the antidote to all the Trump mess, and he can help our country move in the right direction at the scale that we need to for issues like climate change, COVID and the economic recovery, justice, and health care."

    He knows not all evangelicals can be convinced to vote for Mr Biden, so he's focusing his efforts on crucial states and is aiming to swing 5 to 7 per cent of white evangelicals to vote Democrat.

    The Republican Party still has a carrot up its sleeve for evangelical voters — abortion

    Ms Duford said abortion is the key issue the evangelical vote hinges on and calls the Republican Party's support of the pro-life position a "carrot they dangle in front of the evangelical community, and they've done it for decades".

    She is pro-life, but it means more to her than being anti-abortion. She and her husband have fostered eight children in their home, and adopted one child through the foster system.

    "I wish the Democratic Party would value life inside the womb more than they do, but at the same time I wish the Republican Party would value life outside the womb more than they do," she said.

    "In order to be pro-life, you need to be pro-adoption, you need to be pro-foster care, you need to be anti-death penalty, you need to worry about feeding the homeless, you need to worry about poverty, you need to worry about healthcare, you need to worry about racism — all of these things point to the dignity of life."

    A die-hard Republican who didn't vote for Trump in 2016, but will in 2020 because he's pro-life

    Being pro-life is a priority for Ruth Malhotra, the daughter of Hindu, Indian immigrants who converted to Christianity after moving to the US.

    "That ties directly into my faith," the Southern Baptist from Georgia said

    "The Christian worldview of life beginning at conception, and life being precious, and every life being valuable, worthy of dignity and respect."

    Like Ms Duford, Ms Malhotra is not fixated on an anti-abortion message.

    "Pro-life also means how do we create and foster systems whereby as a society we can support the vulnerable women who make the brave decision to choose life for their child," she said.

    But abortion policy is where it all begins for the 36-year-old.

    Mr Trump has shown support of the pro-life movement with the confirmation of Amy Coney Barrett to the Supreme Court and his administration's support of the heartbeat bills passed in several states in 2019.

    So, while she has deep concerns about Mr Trump's character, she's still leaning towards voting for him in this election.

    A house divided, but still standing

    For many evangelicals in the US, this election has divided families and friends, churches and communities. But diversity in this voting bloc isn't necessarily a bad thing.

    "My grandmother always said that if two people agreed on everything, then one of them wasn't necessary," Ms Duford said.

    "So we're just all doing a good job of all being necessary."

    © 2020 ABC Australian Broadcasting Corporation. All rights reserved


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