Election reveals deep political divisions among people of faith

illustration of a closed blue bible with an American flag print over the pages. A ballot goes into the black cross on the cover of the bible, mimicking a ballot box.
Illustration by Alex Barr

The current political divide in the United States has exhibited the widening gap between religious turnout for Republicans and Democrats. Many religious groups reacted differently to Donald Trump’s announcement of his run for the presidency.Throughout his campaign and presidency, he has attacked various groups. Nevertheless, he has always maintained a strong allegiance to white evangelicals. 

Trump has taken on the traditional Christian ideals that attracts evangelicals to the Republican Party, such as his stance on abortion and policies on LGBTQ+ rights. In 2016, Trump had 81% of white evangelical support as reported by the Pew Research Center. This support may rise to 85% in 2020, according to the Public Research Institute. 

However, many Christians were disturbed with Trump violently clearing peaceful demonstrators from Lafayette Square in Washington, D.C. so he could take a photo in front of St. John’s Episcopal Church with a Bible in hand. The church’s Right Rev. Marian Budde frustratingly called out Trump for using the Bible as a prop, saying “I am outraged that he felt he had the license to do that, and that he would abuse our sacred symbols and our sacred space.”

Despite Trump’s overwhelming support from evangelicals, an August survey from Fox News found President-elect Joe Biden having 28% support from white evangelicals, a jump from Hillary Clinton’s 16% white evangelical support. Biden has also received record endorsements from religious leaders for a Democratic candidate, including Rev. Al Sharpton and the granddaughter of televangelist Billy Graham, Jerushah Armfield.  

Evangelicals for Social Action, a group supporting Biden, is redefining the “pro-life” title. The group’s President Emeritus Ronald Snider insists that “poverty, racism, lack of healthcare and climate change are all pro-life issues.” 

I have had my own experience with Christianity’s progressive shift as a former Lutheran. Lutheranism has a grim past, most infamously exhibited by Martin Luther’s blatant anti-Semitism. The Evangelical Lutheran Church in America is progressing from a dark history by taking on more liberal stances such as blessing same-sex marriage in the church and ordaining women and non-binary pastors. 

As our nation remains divided under Trump, so will evangelicals. If there is anything that Trump’s presidency has done for churches, it has exemplified a great split between two types of Christians: traditional Christians and progressive Christians. 

Other religious groups have had a great disdain for Trump, such as Jewish Americans. According to the Jewish Democratic Council of America, 77% of Jewish Americans supported Biden during the 2020 general election. Pew Research found that 71% of Jewish voters supported Clinton in 2016, though her Jewish support fell short of what Al Gore, John Kerry and Barack Obama received. 

Most Jewish Americans remain unnerved by the increase in anti-Semitic acts since Trump took office. The Anti-Defamation League reported that violent acts targeting Jews and Jewish institutions increased by 34% in 2016. In the first quarter of 2017, anti-Semitic acts rose by 86%. 

The most infamous event of anti-Semitism and blatant racism during Trump’s first year in office was the Unite the Right rally in Charlottesville, Virginia. Neo-Nazis and white nationalists swarmed around a confederate statue, holding tiki torches while chanting “Jews will not replace us.” Trump’s response that there “were very fine people on both sides” disturbed Jews and non-Jews alike. 

The Unite the Right rally and Trump’s response, in part, motivated Biden’s run for president to combat hate speech and revive the country’s soul.   

“With those words, the president of the United States assigned a moral equivalence between those spreading hate and those with the courage to stand against it,” Biden said in a campaign announcement video. “In that moment, I knew the threat to this nation was unlike any I’d ever seen in my lifetime.”

Trump has stained the country with xenophobia and hate that the Biden administration must clean up. While Trump endlessly ignored the growing threat of white domestic terrorism, Biden has a solid plan to reestablish funds that Trump cut to address domestic terrorism, which will help rebuild trust in the system for all people of different faiths. 

Another religious group that showed strong support for Trump in 2016 was Hindu Americans. In the 2020 election, however, the group continuously withdrew support from the Trump campaign, widely supporting the Biden-Harris ticket. The Indian American Attitudes Survey estimated that 72% of registered Indian American voters cast their ballot for Biden while only 22% voted for Trump. 

Hindu Americans now feel ignored by Trump and see the campaign’s outreach to the community as a performative act for the 2016 race. Vice President-elect Kamala Harris is also of Indian and Jamaican descent, which is a source of pride for many Indian Americans and influenced their vote. 

Muslim support is where Trump is lacking the most. An Institute for Social Policy and Understanding (ISPU) poll reported that 30% of Muslims support Trump in 2020, double of what ISPU reported last year.

Trump has verbally attacked and created policies against the Muslim community. In February 2017, Trump signed Executive Order 13769, colloquially called the “Muslim ban,” to forbid travel from seven Muslim-majority countries.

Many Muslims took offense to Trump’s tweets towards U.S. Rep. Ilhan Omar and three other congresswomen that they should “go back to where they came from.” Omar and her family fled Somalia, escaped war and secured asylum in the United States. Omar has also been the victim of other hate speech and conspiracy theories. Contradictory to Trump, Biden promised to have an administration that “will look like America, with Muslim Americans serving at every level.”

In conclusion, religion has increasingly influenced people’s political opinions. Trump’s one term presidency exemplified it in the most brutal ways. We have seen insidious acts committed by hate groups fueled by Trump’s rhetoric, from the Tree of Life synagogue shooting in 2018 to the 2017 Portland train attack. Biden, a devout Catholic, has never gone to the extreme of having his religious beliefs dangerously affecting his policies.

This article presents opinions held by the author, not those of The Pioneer Log and its editorial board.

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