How Evangelical Women Found a False Savior in Trump

How Evangelical Women Found a False Savior in TrumpEXPAND
Claire Merchlinsky

Before she voted she was told to seek the will of God. At Sunday-morning church the pastor's sermon was about the possibility of our next president's selecting up to four Supreme Court justices, justices who could ultimately decide to overturn Roe v. Wade (because evangelicals will forever believe that the sanctity of life is always on the ballot). Pray with your husband, the leader of your home, the pastor said, and see where the spirit leads. Most likely on some evening in mid-October at the kitchen table and over an open Bible, she and her husband decided how "they" would vote, that they would not allow "media hype" to distract them from the long-term possibility of saving millions of innocent lives.

She is privileged, and blind to that privilege. Her financial struggles are most likely minor, but she has no reference point, so she does not realize this. Her days are sheltered, insular, and replicated within each household in her suburban circle. Like all her friends, she struggles to stretch her household income to include the growing needs of her family. She is generous in her own way. She pays it forward at Starbucks. She sponsors a local needy family each Christmas. But you will also hear her criticize women she knows of who do not pay their bills on time, who are not good guardians of God's gifts.

She does not believe that there are families without financial safety nets or access to the same resources she has. She is taught that every gift, including financial solvency, comes from God, and that God is merciful and just. Proverbs 31 reminds her to "look well to the ways of her household," and she does. Therefore, any real financial struggles must come down to an individual's lack of responsibility, accountability, and resourcefulness. She, like all her friends, worships at the altar of good housewifery and frugal stewardship.

Even if she wanted to, she has little freedom to move beyond the confines of her prescribed life. She's been raised in the prescription, steeped in it. If she becomes discontented with housework and raising wholesome children, she is reminded of the scripture that urges, "Take delight in the Lord and He will give you the desires of your heart," which can be translated, "If you're unhappy, it's because you're not focused enough on God."

If she is unsatisfied with her marriage, she is warned against allowing any messages from Hollywood (Fifty Shades of Grey, Magic Mike, the Twilight series, even Pride and Prejudice) to affect her opinion of what her husband should be, and she is told repeatedly to pray for him and be satisfied with him. Her husband is a decent man, a good man. She has said these words frequently, to herself and in confidence to her friends, throughout her marriage, especially when she's frustrated by his distance, his lack of demonstrated feeling toward her. She occasionally attends women's Bible studies where everyone has the same story, where each woman is frustrated by her decent, distant husband, by his belief that his role is solely to provide, that she should need little beyond that.

She wants greater intimacy, but she knows God didn't make men that way, and that He made her this way so that she would seek greater intimacy with Jesus, rely on Him for her emotional needs. She tries not to need more from her husband, but ultimately, it is the topic of nearly every argument they have, and she rarely wins, so those arguments have decreased in frequency over the years. Sermons of submission from American pulpits have been replaced with one-liners: "Let your husband lead your family." "Wait on God and trust His timing." "Be a warrior, not a worrier." She is angry with women who abandon their post, because she cannot.

Proverbs admonishes that "favor is deceitful, and beauty is vain." She knows this is true, but only in heaven. She compares herself constantly to the women around her. This is reinforced by the misogyny of American culture. On Earth she'll never meet the standard. But, unlike unsaved women, she has been given the answer, the medicine, for her gaping self-loathing wound: Jesus. Hillary Clinton's pride in her own accomplishments, her self-confidence, makes her unrelatable to the white evangelical woman.

She expects to be persecuted by the unbelieving world. When Christians are ridiculed by Saturday Night Live or John Oliver, it's part of God's plan. If her children come home from school crying, teased because they don't swear and are not sexually active, it's part of God's plan. When she's unfriended on Facebook for sharing the gospel, it's part of God's plan. She relates what she perceives as her outsider, born-again status to the persecution of Christians in the early church:

"Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness' sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven."

"Indeed, all who desire to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted..."

"If the world hates you, know that it has hated me before it hated you."

"Beloved, do not be surprised at the fiery trial when it comes upon you to test you..."

"Do not be surprised, brothers, that the world hates you."

Therefore, she is fireproof. Anything you might say to test the boundaries of her faith will be discarded as persecution. She is impenetrable in this way. And she always relates best to the most broken person in the room. She sees the most potential for a true conversion experience there. The juicier the testimony, the smuttier the story of a sullied past transformed through redemption, the more people it will draw to Christ. Donald Trump has a hell of a testimony. Only men, she thinks, understand other men, and her husband and all the men in their congregation have grown more comfortable with Trump throughout the election season, which must mean that nothing he has done is that shocking — not to other men, anyway. Besides, no one can know another person's heart.

She can forgive a man anything, as long as he is saved, as long as he identifies as a Christian, as long as he agrees to protect the unborn and push the message that Jesus is the only hope for our messed-up world. In terms of voting, she believes the only mistake she could make would be to choose a candidate who does not carry this burden of the modern church. He must be a zealot, a man on fire for God, not a lukewarm moderate. Donald Trump's conversion may or may not be authentic, and there is much discussion among evangelical Christians about that. But he has Mike Pence to vouch for him — a man who has identified as a Christian for the entirety of his public life and has endured much ridicule for it. It is Pence she relates to, not Trump. Trump, she is hopeful for. Pence, she loves.

I want to tell her that I see her, that she is not invisible, and that even though she believes her time here is merely preparation for something else, something better, she has a right to fulfillment. She is my neighbor in Indiana, she was my childhood friend growing up in Kentucky. But I have done so before, so I know what the outcome will be. She will be ashamed that I'm even asking, embarrassed that she has revealed her discontent, embarrassed by her desires, by how small she thinks they are. When I ask her what she wants, she will be at a loss.

She does not fear the end of the world. This is not to say that she wants to see her husband and children, her neighbors, her agnostic brother-in-law swept up in a fiery rapture, but the Second Coming would settle all questions. Christ's return will mean that her sacrifices are justified, her devotion rewarded — that everyone will finally be forced to admit that she and everyone like her were right all along. On Election Day maybe she said, half-jokingly, that if we're lucky, Christ will come again even before we get the election results, and we'll never have to deal with the outcome. She has nothing to gain from saving the world, and no hope in trying. She knows nobody can.


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