White Evangelical Obsession With End Times at Root of Trump Adoration?

Even evangelicals who reject the Bible prophecy movement are often shaped by its values and tensions.

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One great mystery of Donald Trump’s rise to power involves the overwhelming support he received from white evangelicals during the 2016 campaign ― support he still enjoys despite his constant and easily verified lying, his attacks on the courts and the free press, his close associations with open racists, his aggressive pursuit of undocumented persons, and his support for a wretched health care policy. Yes, white evangelicals tend to be conservative, but one would hope their gospel values would reject dishonesty, authoritarianism, and cruelty.

So powerful is the evangelical affinity for Trumpism that dissenters face punishment. Look what’s happened to Russell Moore, the Southern Baptist ethicist who called out Trump’s “serious moral problems” and un-Christian personal behavior. Under withering pressure from his own denomination, Moore offered a public apology for being “overly broad” and “unnecessarily harsh” in his criticisms of Trump supporters. That apology might have saved Moore’s job, but it reveals the fierce support Trump enjoys among evangelicals. How do we explain the evangelical affinity for a movement that so obviously conflicts with Christian values? Some propose that evangelicals have fallen in love with political power. They’ve sold out themselves and their values in order to support a conservative agenda ― and to find themselves seated at the table when key decisions are made. Perhaps their pro-life convictions outweigh all other considerations, or maybe they’ve just corrupted themselves. Surely this criticism bears a measure of truth.

With respect to contemporary religion, scholars use words like apocalypticism and millennialism somewhat loosely. But these terms describe a widespread fixation among evangelicals with the end times, particularly the belief that we are currently living in the last days. Visit a Christian bookstore and you will likely find shelves devoted to “Bible prophecy,” explication of Revelation and other parts of the Bible that, they say, outline history’s climactic events. Even evangelicals who reject the Bible prophecy movement are often shaped by its values and tensions. We don’t have time here for a critique of evangelical millennialism. I’ve done it here, here, and here, and I’ve written textbooks on biblical apocalypticism. My point here is more straightforward: in significant ways, apocalypticism strengthens the evangelical affinity for Trumpism.

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