How would Je­sus vote?

The Saline Courier - - OPINION - Steven Roberts teaches pol­i­tics and jour­nal­ism at Ge­orge Wash­ing­ton Univer­sity. He can be con­tacted by email at steve­[email protected] gmail.com.

Con­ser­va­tive Chris­tians are fond of the adage WWJD -- What Would Je­sus Do? A good ques­tion dur­ing the Christ­mas sea­son is HWJV -- How Would Je­sus Vote?

Democrats have strug­gled for years with the la­bel that they are the sec­u­lar party, while Repub­li­cans rep­re­sent vot­ers of faith. In 2016, at­ten­dance at re­li­gious ser­vices was a re­li­able pre­dic­tor of vot­ing be­hav­ior. Folks who wor­shipped at least once a week -- 1 in 3 Amer­i­cans -- voted for Don­ald Trump over Hil­lary Clin­ton by 55% to 41%. Vot­ers who shunned or­ga­nized re­li­gion -- a bit more than 1 in 5 Amer­i­cans -- fa­vored Clin­ton 62% to 30%. Among white evan­gel­i­cal Chris­tians -- about one-quar­ter of the elec­torate -- 80% backed Trump.

But now Democrats have been handed a road map for ap­peal­ing to vot­ers of faith -- es­pe­cially evan­gel­i­cals. It comes from Mark Galli, the edi­tor of the evan­gel­i­cal magazine Chris­tian­ity To­day. In a stun­ning editorial, Galli called for Trump’s re­moval from of­fice -- ei­ther through im­peach­ment or elec­tion -- and based his ar­gu­ment on re­li­gious prin­ci­ples.

Yes, he con­ceded, Trump has done many good things for re­li­gious vot­ers, es­pe­cially ap­point­ing con­ser­va­tive judges to the fed­eral courts. How­ever, Galli wrote, “None of the pres­i­dent’s pos­i­tives can balance the moral and po­lit­i­cal dan­ger we face un­der a leader of such grossly im­moral char­ac­ter.

“His Twit­ter feed alone -- with its ha­bit­ual string of mis­char­ac­ter­i­za­tions, lies and slan­ders -- is a near per­fect ex­am­ple of a hu­man be­ing who is morally lost and con­fused,” wrote Galli. And he doesn’t even men­tion Trump’s three mar­riages, his pro­mis­cu­ous sex life, his pro­lific use of pro­fan­ity and his bla­tant re­jec­tion of ba­sic Chris­tian val­ues like car­ing for the poor and wel­com­ing strangers.

And while Galli does not say so di­rectly, his ques­tion is clear: Would Je­sus vote for such a “morally lost” soul?

The Democrats, how­ever, have ma­jor prob­lems con­vinc­ing vot­ers that the an­swer is no. And the main rea­son is summed up in two words: Supreme Court.

For the last half-cen­tury, vir­tu­ally all the is­sues re­li­gious con­ser­va­tives care most about -- abor­tion rights and gun rights, prayer in pub­lic schools and re­li­gion in pub­lic spa­ces, same-sex mar­riage and gen­der iden­tity -- have all been ad­ju­di­cated by the courts, not Congress. Trump him­self said re­cently that the “sin­gle most im­por­tant thing you can do” as pres­i­dent is ap­point fed­eral judges, and while he has not kept many of his cam­paign prom­ises, he’s clearly made good on his vow to stack the courts with highly con­ser­va­tive ju­rists.

The com­po­si­tion of the courts is only part of a much larger bat­tle for re­li­gious con­ser­va­tives. As Matt Moore, a Repub­li­can leader in South Carolina, told The Wash­ing­ton Post, “A lot of evan­gel­i­cals be­lieve the cur­rent cul­ture war is a zero-sum game and their side has to win. They see Trump as sort of a Moses fig­ure who is lead­ing them out of the wilder­ness.”

In­deed, that sort of apoc­a­lyp­tic lan­guage is in­creas­ingly com­mon among Trump and his sup­port­ers. Robert Jef­fress, a prom­i­nent Bap­tist pas­tor, en­dorsed Trump in 2016 by say­ing the elec­tion “is a bat­tle be­tween good and evil, light and dark­ness, right­eous­ness and un­righ­teous­ness.” The pres­i­dent him­self said re­cently, “I am the cho­sen one.”

So how do the Democrats counter those ar­gu­ments? For one thing, they have to be far bet­ter at treat­ing be­liev­ers with re­spect. The party is rooted to­day in lib­eral coastal en­claves -- uni­ver­si­ties and tech­nol­ogy com­pa­nies, think tanks and re­search in­sti­tutes -- that tend to em­brace a sec­u­lar cul­ture and seem hos­tile to peo­ple of faith.

Barack Obama’s in­fa­mous com­ment about con­ser­va­tives who “cling to guns or re­li­gion,” or Hil­lary Clin­ton’s dis­as­trous de­nun­ci­a­tion of Trump sup­port­ers as “the bas­ket of de­plorables,” re­flect an in­tel­lec­tual snob­bism that makes it much harder for Democrats to ap­peal to vot­ers of faith. It’s no ac­ci­dent that the only Democrats to win the pres­i­dency since 1976 -- Jimmy Carter, Bill Clin­ton and Obama -- were all flu­ent in quot­ing scrip­ture and in­vok­ing re­li­gious val­ues.

Ap­peals to moral­ity will not shake Trump’s core base of sup­port, the True Be­liev­ers who think of him as “a Moses fig­ure.” But in 2016, more than 60% of all vot­ers said Trump was not hon­est and trust­wor­thy and did not have the tem­per­a­ment to be pres­i­dent. Yet 1 in 5 of those doubters voted for him any­way.

That’s the group that’s still winnable for the Democrats. That’s the group that might still be con­vinced that Je­sus would not vote for a man who is “morally lost.” But they can only be per­suaded by a can­di­date who un­der­stands and em­bod­ies re­li­gious val­ues.

STEVE ROBERTS

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