On Saturday, I was speaking at the Society of the Scientific Study of Religion. I was there to present data on Evangelicals and their voting patterns, explaining the new LifeWay Research / National Association of Evangelicals tool that helps classify Americans by Evangelical belief.
One of the questions dealt with how Evangelicals can support Donald Trump (considering the obvious concerns). I explained it is, in part, because they feel they have nowhere else to go.
They so deeply dislike Hillary Clinton, many feel forced to support Donald Trump.
The obvious question is, “Why?”
First of all, not all Evangelicals feel this way, nor do I speak for all of them. But, in a recent interview with CNN, I explained why Evangelicals have such a visceral reaction to Clinton. Part of that answer ended up in this article, but I wanted to take the opportunity to explain more thoroughly. Let me put this dislike in six categories.
Clash of the Cores
Over the past 20 years, there has been an increasing emphasis on abortion as a core issue of the Democratic Party. At the 1996 Democratic National Convention, Bill Clinton made these remarks: "Abortion should not only be safe and legal, it should be rare. That's why I helped to establish and support a national effort to reduce out-of-wedlock teen pregnancy. And that is why we must promote adoption." (Address by the President to the Democratic National Convention; President Bill Clinton Acceptance Speech)
The changing tone in 1996 reflected the Democrat's desire to appeal to pro-life Democrats in light of his vetoing of the Partial Birth Abortion Ban Act.
However, as Bob Dylan once said, "The Times They Are A' Changin,'” and we have certainly seen abortion aggressively become a core issue for the Democratic party.
This DNC saw abortion downplayed during primetime television coverage of their convention, but at the last DNC in 2012, its euphemistic reference was cheered over 20 times, leading NPR’s Cokie Roberts to opine, "I think this Democratic Convention was really over-the-top in terms of abortion. Every single speaker talked about abortion." (Democrats and Abortion: Why the DNC "Cheering" Disturbs Me So Much)
Hillary Clinton has notably changed the Democrat conversation on abortion by removing the word “rare.”
As stated in the official Democratic Party Platform: "We believe unequivocally, like the majority of Americans, that every woman should have access to quality reproductive health care services, including safe and legal abortion—regardless of where she lives, how much money she makes, or how she is insured” (2016 Democratic Party Platform [PDF], pg. 37, Securing Reproductive Health, Rights, and Justice).
This evolution from "safe, legal, RARE" to "safe and legal" represents just the beginning of a much more aggressive approach towards abortion. This change in terminology is coupled with the 2016 DNC platform calling to repeal the Hyde Amendment*, which is legislation that prohibits a majority of tax dollars from being spent on abortions except in rare cases.
Furthermore, Planned Parenthood changed its approach, tying closely to Clinton from the beginning, after never before endorsing a candidate in the primary season.
Most recently, the social media world saw a series of tweets on the 100th anniversary of Planned Parenthood, which happened to fall on a Sunday. Clinton’s Twitter account sent/retweeted five out of seven tweets that day that were addressed specifically at Planned Parenthood, with millions of her followers reading them as they left Sunday church services.
Planned Parenthood is simply plutonium to religious conservatives, and the close connection between the Democratic nominee and this shift in language and approach has dramatic effects in repelling a constituency of Americans who believe abortion is fundamentally wrong and against the essential values of life itself.
We’ve never had a candidate so connected to Planned Parenthood and a party so connected to abortion.
As this becomes a core belief and an aggressive stance for the Democratic party, it conflicts with a core value of Evangelicals. Simply put, Evangelicals see Clinton as the abortion candidate, and many would vote for a candidate that they don’t like over one this connected to abortion.
This is a clash of the core—the core values of Clinton and the core values of Evangelicals.
Personification of Progressive Secularism
In the CNN article published yesterday, Daniel Burke quoted me as saying:
"Evangelicals see her as the personification of secular, progressive values, and that overshadows any of her self-identified religious practices."
And here is a key part. In an age where most Americans (and the vast majority of Evangelicals and pastors) think religious liberty is on decline, Clinton can’t seem to mention the issue (much).
As such, Evangelicals see her as secular, even when she speaks at times of her Methodist faith. And, when she does speak, she does not speak on issues of concern to Evangelicals (whereas Donald Trump does, albeit inarticulately).
Recently, at the Al Smith charity dinner, Clinton said these words: "I'm not Catholic. I'm a Methodist, but one of the things that we share is the belief that in order to achieve salvation we need both faith and good works" (Transcript of Hillary Clinton’s Speech at the Al Smith Dinner).
However erroneous the theology, it seems to be much of the point of what Clinton has devoted her life to. She has said on numerous occasions that she has dedicated her life to the betterment of others, and that fits very strongly with John Wesley's theme of social holiness, just without his evangelical views. For example, Clinton explains, “Do all the good you can. By all the means you can. In all the ways you can. In all the places you can. At all the times you can. To all the people you can. As long as ever you can.” And, that’s what Clinton has run her campaign on—that she is doing all she can.
However, Evangelicals see her doing that in secular ways, with secular ends, and her message that this springs from Methodism is falling on deaf Evangelical ears.
Evangelicals simply don’t want the secular progressivism of Clinton’s village to raise their children.
Dismissal of Religious Liberty
Unlike President Obama, who famously broke his promise to change the rules and force traditional religious organizations to hire according to more progressive values, Clinton can’t seem to mention religious liberty.
In one of the more ironic illustrations of such, she launched her campaign at Four Freedoms Park, which celebrates Franklin D. Roosevelt's famous State of the Union speech in January of 1941. FDR explained:
In the future days, which we seek to make secure, we look forward to a world founded upon four essential human freedoms. The first is freedom of speech and expression — everywhere in the world. The second is freedom of every person to worship God in his own way — everywhere in the world. The third is freedom from want — which, translated into world terms, means economic understandings which will secure to every nation a healthy peacetime life for its inhabitants - everywhere in the world. The fourth is freedom from fear — which, translated into world terms, means a world-wide reduction of armaments to such a point and in such a thorough fashion that no nation will be in a position to commit an act of physical aggression against any neighbor — anywhere in the world.
However, in what can only be described as a stunning irony, she did not mention religion—and, remember, the majority of Americans (all Americans, not just evangelicals) think religious liberty is in decline. Clinton could not mention religious freedom at a park named after religious freedom.
Simply put, Evangelicals don't feel represented by Clinton in religious liberty and freedom, in matters of policy, or in public discussion. It is worth noting, there has been no substantial effort from the Clinton campaign to reach out and engage Evangelicals or people of faith in general. The names Michael Wear and Joshua Dubois are familiar to Evangelicals because they were self-identified Evangelical Christians who worked for the Obama campaign to help recruit religious voters.
There is a person in the Clinton campaign, hired late and not well-known, but their faith outreach is nothing like the first Obama campaign. The Clinton campaign, which is awash in donations, simply did not prioritize Evangelicals (or religious people in general) as a demographic to reach, a radical departure from the Obama outreach strategy, at least for his first election.
Religious Conservative Angst
Of course, there are other reasons. Some religious conservatives are opposed to women in leadership, even political leadership. Other still despise President Bill Clinton. Gay marriage is now the law of the land, but Hillary Clinton has spoken little about how she will address those who dissent from that view. And other issues arise as well.
But especially in this volatile political season, it seems as if a disconnected candidate simply has said "let them eat cake" and moved on without directly appealing or addressing the substantial issues that matter to Evangelicals, or even addressing religion or faith much at all. Religious conservatives notice this and are deeply troubled by it.
President Obama, like him or not, has a clearly articulated conversion experience, and that public expression of faith is far less common in Hillary Clinton. This might have to do with her derision in the press back in 1993. In close proximity to her father coming off life support, she presented a very honest and forthcoming perspective on religion and faith, and it was destroyed in the media.
Since then, she has not spoken overtly about her faith in a substantial way. This is a red flag for some Evangelicals and people of faith, who want to feel represented by their Commander in Chief. Combined with her social and political policy stances that stand in contrast to Evangelical values, this disregard for religious conservatives as a part of the broader conversation is doubly concerning for many people.
Perception of Hypocrisy and Distrust
The problem is not simply what Clinton has done, but how she is perceived. Statistically speaking, Clinton has an entrenched perception as being hypocritical and untrustworthy—and this is for ALL Americans, not just Evangelicals.
This is nothing new, nor is that statistic confined to Evangelicals. However, the core belief difference and the lack of advocacy feeds a very present narrative that she'll do anything to get elected. This puts her in a philosophical cul-de-sac. If she is silent on faith, and won’t speak well of people of faith, Evangelicals will continue to feel under-represented and under-valued. If she were to speak out tomorrow with core Christian values at the helm, it would be seen as a political tactic.
Again, in regards to the distrust, most Americans think this way about Clinton, but Evangelicals think it with a religious fervor. If you perceive that a person's core values are contrary enough to religious core values that they can't possibly be genuinely religious, and this person has a reputation for not being trustworthy, then one will assume any religious conversation is pandering for election votes.
To be fair, Clinton wouldn't be the first person who people assumed was trying to be religious in order to get elected; there is already both a strong perception and a historic precedent that politicians play up their religion to be elected. But she has lived on a national stage for 24 years now—America has a long history with her, and that only serves to strengthen these already entrenched opinions.
Clinton appears to be the perfect storm of divergent values, dismissive advocacy, and distrusted personality that causes religious people to be repelled. That, combined with a deep-rooted distrust that Americans feel towards politicians in general, cause many Evangelicals to question her as a person of faith and ability to represent them as a politician and President.
It may seem strange to some Americans that Christians would have such a strong reaction to one particular individual, perhaps like none we have ever seen. But after almost a quarter century, the wounds are deep, and the bridges have been smoldering for a long time.
The dislike is visceral, and if Secretary Clinton becomes President Clinton, as is likely, she will have to decide if she wants to engage a group of people who think she is deplorable, or if she will just toss them in a basket she can continue to ignore.
* "We will continue to oppose—and seek to overturn—federal and state laws and policies that impede a woman’s access to abortion, including by repealing the Hyde Amendment” (2016 Democratic Party Platform [PDF], pg. 37, Securing Reproductive Health, Rights, and Justice).