For many white evangelicals, the Supreme Court makeup solidifies their support for President Trump
One of the most influential and sought-after election blocs in the country have been white Evangelical Christians, who have traditionally thrown their weight behind Republican candidates.
In Donald Trump, this group of Christians has found a new, albeit unlikely, figure - a New York real estate tycoon who did not make religion the focus of his life and was involved in numerous scandals. Trump gutted his Republican rivals, including a number of Conservative Christians, in the 2016 primary and forged a loyal bond with his grassroots, including many of those voters.
Polls by a non-partisan think tank, the Public Religion Research Institute (PRRI), showed that support for the president was strong among white Evangelical Christians during his first term, averaging 71% in September. However, presidential approval among white evangelicals declined steadily from March onwards in the PRRI, reaching a low of almost 55% in August.
Things changed after the death of Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Trump's nomination of his third choice to the Supreme Court - Amy Coney Barrett, a 48-year-old Conservative Catholic who could spend decades as Justice and also get a solid 6-3 majority in a heavily divided bank.
One of the reasons the white evangelical Christian support for Trump was so strong, experts said, was his commitment to conservative issues and the appointment of conservative judges as well as Supreme Court justices.
But Trump's support, even with this group, among his most loyal followers, has eased slightly, according to Pew, as has his support among white Protestants who are not evangelical and white Catholics. Other religious voters, especially black Protestants (with 90%), are more likely to support former Vice President Joe Biden, according to Pew, indicating deep divisions within the Christian community.
ABC News explores the debate among Christian voters through its "My America" video series, which highlights issues critical to the electorate in the run-up to the 2020 election and spoke to voters and experts about the issue.
Trump was "consistent and loyal"
Laszlo Pasztor, a retired white military officer and Evangelical Protestant who works with the Republican Evangelical Coalition in Cumberland County, Pennsylvania, told ABC News that he believed his community was out of Trump's conservative policies such as combating abortion and protecting their "right to exercise." attracted our faith. "
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"He's been consistent and loyal. And Christians value his loyalty," Pasztor told ABC News.
PHOTO: In this September 1, 2017 file photo, religious leaders pray with President Donald Trump after he signs a proclamation for a national day of prayer in the Oval Office of the White House in Washington. (Evan Vucci / AP, FILE)
Historians and religious scholars note that the white evangelical bloc has received a great deal of attention in the political arena, despite the fact that it represents only 15% of the total religious population in America, according to Robert P. Jones, CEO of PRRI.
Rev. Traci Blackmon, a black minister who serves as deputy general, attorney general and local church service for the United Church of Christ, told ABC News that not all Christians share the same support for the president or other politicians.
"There are many voices out here, evangelical and progressive ... who understand that there is a moral obligation to vote for people who see everyone who believes in a loved one in this country," she told ABC News.
PHOTO: In this June 5, 2020 file photo, DC religious leaders raise their fists outside Saint John Church after volunteers, with the permission of the city, paint "Black Lives Matter" on 16th St. opposite the White House in Washington DC. (Jim Lo Scalzo / EPA via Shutterstock, FILE)
During the 2016 presidential election, voters were split 45-48% between Trump and Hillary Clinton, according to a 2018 poll by the Pew Research Center.
Voter preferences varied widely between religion and race, the poll found. While 77% of white evangelicals supported Trump, only 3% of black Protestants voted for him, according to Pew. Trump was able to get 46% of the vote from minority Protestants who do not identify as black.
John Fea, historian and professor at Messiah College, told ABC News that the playbook for important Christian political figures like the late Rev. Jerry Falwell was to alert evangelicals to candidates who will move the Supreme Court to comply with laws that Christians support proper laws and guidelines.
"You are voting for presidential candidates who appoint Conservative Supreme Court justices who will one day overthrow Roe against Wade and protect religious freedoms," he said.
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How Trump won the evangelical vote
During his 2016 campaign, Trump, who had not made organized religion a centerpiece of his life, addressed Christian schools and groups to announce his dedication to their causes and to gather support from prominent figures including Jerry Falwell Jr.
Pasztor said evangelicals came to Trump because of his early and enduring messages and signs that he would ultimately appoint to the Supreme Court, such as Neil Gorsuch and Brett Kavanaugh. After Judge Ruth Bader Ginsberg's death in September, Trump nominated Amy Coney Barrett, a Catholic Conservative, in court and supported evangelical support ranging from 50% to 71%, according to PRRI.
PHOTO: Supreme Court Candidate Amy Coney Barrett listens during her hearing before the Senate Judiciary Committee on Capitol Hill in Washington, DC on October 13, 2020. (Anna Moneymaker / AFP via Getty Images)
"That is still the reason, a major reason why evangelicals are still with him," said Pasztor, referring to the decisions of the Supreme Court.
Pasztor acknowledged that his community takes notice when Trump acts unethically or speaks with divisive and sometimes vulgar rhetoric. The 2005 "Access Hollywood" tape, in which Trump described sexual assault on a hot microphone, Trump's unwillingness to condemn white hate groups and humiliate his opponents, has been under attack by religious groups and ethics watchdogs for years.
"Sometimes we are concerned about some of his tweets, some of his aggressive statements ... we have not ignored that," said Pasztor. "But then again, we have to look at the good he did."
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Critics say evangelicals are too focused on white churchgoers
However, some non-white Christians say that the evangelical movement is too focused on its white base and not paying attention to the actual teachings of the Bible.
"My faith forces me to vote for candidates who see the poor, see the marginalized, see the marginalized, and the outcast who welcome the stranger," Blackmon said.
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She added that she hadn't heard many white evangelical leaders speak about the 200,000+ COVID-19 deaths, the rise in poverty caused by the pandemic, or the government's crackdown on immigration.
"What troubles me is not the loud rhetoric of Donald Trump, what troubles me is the silence of the white church," said Blackmon.
PHOTO: The Rev. Rahsaan Hall answers questions as a group of twelve ministers from African Methodist episcopal churches across the state gathers outside the State House in Boston to urge the house to pass a police reform bill on July 20, 2020. (Pat Greenhouse / The Boston Globe via Getty Images, FILE)
While Trump's abortion policies are in line with their views, not all evangelicals have thrown their weight behind the president. In early October, a collection of evangelical leaders formed the Pro-Life Evangelicals for Biden group, which accepted over 5,000 online petitions in support of the Democratic candidate.
Prominent supporters of the group include Jerushah Duford, granddaughter of Rev. Billy Graham, and David Black, president emeritus of Christian College Eastern University.
"We believe that Joe Biden's policies are generally more in line with the biblical ethic of life than Donald Trump's. We therefore call on evangelicals to elect Joe Biden as president, even if we continue to call for different abortion policies." The petition read.
Focus on nostalgia in the evangelical community
Jones said there has been a shift in the preferences of some evangelical voters from "value voters" to what he called "nostalgia voters" in recent years.
"The only thing that Trump actually did was, you know, even his campaign slogan, 'Make America Great Again', that that last word was really a look back at an earlier time," he said.
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Jones found that in 2008, 54% of the country was identified as white and Christian. According to PRRI, that number is now 44%.
"I think one of the biggest dividing lines in the American religious landscape is, 'Who and what is America?'" He said.
PHOTO: Rev. Arturo Corral speaks during baptism ceremonies at the historic Church of Our Lady Queen of Angels this September 26, 2020 amid the COVID-19 pandemic in Los Angeles. (Mario Tama / Getty Images, FILE)
Pastzor strongly opposes the idea that white evangelicals remain silent on issues of justice, saying that Christian conservatives are among the most benevolent and service-giving of all religious groups.
"When the economy blesses the entire population to include the highest employment rate of blacks, Hispanics [and] women, that is justice. That is social justice," he said.
Pasztor admitted the country is changing but reiterated that his community wants their voices to be heard in the government.
"Christians don't want to be closed and closed," he said. "We are burdened that there should be equality by the law and that we should not be racially divided. Christians believe that there are only two races, only two sinners and believers. That is it, and we hope and pray that the policies we promote will bless us all. "
For many white evangelicals, the composition of the Supreme Court solidifies their support for President Trump, originally posted on abcnews.go.com
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