Neil Gorsuch Shows How Donald Trump Loses (Some) White Evangelical Christians

Trump-appointed Supreme Court Justice Neil Gorsuch, who wrote the opinion. Image: McConnell Center/Flickr (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)
When it comes to the president’s support among white evangelical Christians, my first instinct is skepticism. Always. These people are not subject to political factors normal people are subject to, such as a pandemic that has killed more than 118,000 people. There’s precious little Donald Trump can do to alienate them, because the point in supporting him isn’t protecting “religious freedom” or outlawing abortion. The point is seeing people punished who deserve to be punished—and enjoying it.
This is why recent discussion over the alleged loss of support among white evangelical Christians is pretty meaningless. True, Trump had sky-high approval in March, and true, that approval dropped around 10 points a month later. But that didn’t indicate a serious shift. His approval was sky-high across all demographics due to the “rally around the flag” effect. That was gone by April, and Trump’s approval went back to normal. The president still has white evangelical Christians in his back pocket.

Still, it’s worth asking what would alienate them. There are probably a few who disapprove of the way he staged a “Bible photo op” in Lafayette Square in front of a Episcopalian Church near the White House. There are probably a few who disagree with the president’s decision to gas peaceful protesters out of the way in order to stage it. And, as I said Monday, there are probably a few who dislike Trump’s little wink to the Washington press corps, saying “it’s Bible,” God forbid not my Bible, the result being a heightened and painful awareness of his pandering displays of empty piety.

However, white evangelical Christians disgusted by this behavior have probably been disgusted for some time. The photo op didn’t drive them away. It was just one more reason for leaving. White evangelicals taking the teachings of Jesus to heart are not who we should be talking about when asking what Trump could possibly do to alienate white evangelical Christians. The vast majority of that cohort is willing to eat virtually any insult as long as Trump sees to it that the right people are punished and, more importantly, that they can do the punishing. This is why Monday’s ruling by the US Supreme Court, which expanded anti-discrimination workplace protections to LGBTQ people, is a bigger setback than white evangelical leaders are willing to let on.

You have to understand something about ultra-orthodox, twice-born Christianity when its comes to sex and gender in public and private life. You’re either a man or you’re a woman; male or female; masculine or feminine. Men marry women. Women marry men. There is no in-between. There is no gray area. There is no plus/and. You are not born LGBTQ, because birth is the most natural thing of all. Being LGBTQ, however, is unnatural. It’s a choice, a sinful “lifestyle” choice. You didn’t choose anything, of course, but that might not have stopped you from feeling you were born a crime.

This is not just a matter of culture or tradition. This is a matter of the natural order—God’s law—and things outside the natural order are a perversion of God’s law, an abomination that can’t be left alone, because leaving it alone would mean complicity in the perpetration of sin against God. To be LGBTQ is to be a “crime,” which requires punishment. Only through punishment can the human soul be redeemed. Yet the Supreme Court now says such punishment is illegal. The high court has given white evangelical business owners a kind of “Sophie’s Choice”: disobey the state and obey God, or obey the state and disobey God. There is no area of gray. This is either/or.

So it’s strange, to say the least, to see white evangelical Christian leaders like Ralph Reed searching for areas of gray. This isn’t a big deal, Reed told the Post. What matters most is religious freedom and abortion.

“They rise far higher in the hierarchy of concerns of faith-based voters. Ultimately seeing a reckoning on Roe vs. Wade looms so much larger in the psyche of the right that I don’t know that this is a de-motivator.”

Projection is the coin of the white evangelical realm, so it’s safe to say that Reed means the opposite of what he’s saying. Senate Republicans nullified Barack Obama’s right to nominate a Supreme Court justice with the full backing of white evangelicals appalled by the court’s extension of marriage rights to same-sex couples. They voted for Donald Trump in order to get an Antonin Scalia lookalike. They thought they got one with Judge Neil Gorsuch. Yet here’s Associate Justice Neil Gorsuch, writing the high court’s majority opinion, saying that white evangelical business owners can obey the law or obey God but not both. If that’s not a “de-motivator,” as Reed calls it, nothing is.

Ralph Reed is a political animal, as many white evangelicals are. They are not Trump’s biggest problem, though. His biggest problem is the truly orthodox, people identifying as Christian first, American second. The ruling is for them a major setback. Many may even feel betrayed by the denial of their “right” to punish those deserving punishment; by having gone all-in for Trump and gotten in return a slap in the face. They are not going to vote for Joe Biden, let’s be real, but they don’t have to vote for the incumbent. They don’t have to vote at all if they feel “de-motivated.” The president has his work cut out for him. To win reelection, Trump can’t lose a single white evangelical vote.