Sarah Palin, Donald Trump & the War for the Evangelical Soul

Well, well, well. It should surprise no astute observer of the political scene that Sarah Palin, former Vice Presidential candidate and erstwhile Tea Party gadfly, has endorsed Donald Trump for the Republican Nomination. What continues to baffle is the flirtation of far too many Evangelicals with either Trump or Palin. While Palin certainly knows more about Evangelicals than Trump (and that sets the bar so low as to be non-existent), her support of Trump’s candidacy should in no way sway otherwise uncommitted Evangelical voters (particularly in Iowa) to back the current GOP front-runner.

However, if Ralph Reed’s analysis is correct (and, for the good of Evangelical Christianity, I hope that it is not), then Sarah Palin’s brand of Christianity apparently plays well with a large segment of those who are self-professed Evangelicals. According to Reed, the Chairman of the Faith and Freedom Coalition, “Palin’s brand among evangelicals is as gold as the faucets in Trump Tower.”

So, what exactly is Sarah Palin’s brand of Christianity that resonates with Evangelicals? A cultural Christianity which marries religion (in this case, Christianity) with politics. It is a brand which appeals to fear, not hope and hate, not love. It is a brand which is lite on the Gospel and heavy on taking back the country from Obama and godless Democrats. It is a brand of Christianity with which Donald Trump can identify.

Of course, Palin’s brand of Christianity did not begin with her. In a very real sense, it could be argued that this cultural Christianity, which married religion with politics, began in 1979 with Jerry Falwell, Sr. and the rise of the “Moral Majority” and the “Christian Right.” Although the brand has gone through many permutations over the last 3 1/2 decades, there can be no doubt that the brand, as originally envisioned by Rev. Falwell, is alive and well within greater Evangelical Christianity and the Republican Party. That’s why Jerry Falwell, Jr. could give such a hagiographic introduction of Donald Trump at Liberty University on Martin Luther King Day. And, it’s why Mr. Trump could feel right at home among the Evangelical brethren at LU. 

Ralph Reed believes that Sarah Palin’s “embrace of Trump may turn the fight over the evangelical vote into a war for the soul the party.” He may well be right about the Republican Party. But, if Sarah Palin and Donald Trump’s brand of Christianity wins the day (and the Presidency), the soul of Evangelicals will be lost. That’s not a trade-off that followers of Christ should be willing to see come to pass, regardless of who winds up in the White House.

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