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Trump infuses his campaign with Christian imagery and rhetoric

Trump infuses his campaign with Christian imagery and rhetoric
Trump infuses his campaign with Christian imagery and rhetoric

 


As Donald Trump increasingly imbues his campaign with Christian trappings while heading toward a third Republican presidential nomination, his support is stronger than ever among evangelicals and other conservative Christians.

Trump supports Jesus, and without Jesus, America will fall, said Kimberly Vaughn of Florence, Kentucky, as she joined other supporters of the former president attending a campaign rally near Dayton, Ohio.

Many T-shirts and hats worn and sold at the March rally proclaimed religious slogans such as Jesus is my savior, Trump is my president and God, guns and Trump. One man's shirt declared “Make America Godly Again,” with an image of a glowing Jesus placing his supportive hands on Trump's shoulders.

Many participants said in interviews that they believed Trump shared their faith and Christian values. Several cited their opposition to abortion and LGBTQ+ rights, including transgender expressions.

No one has expressed concern about Trump's past conduct or his current criminal charges, including allegations that he tried to hide money payments to a porn actor during his 2016 campaign. Supporters viewed Trump as representing a religion of second chances.

And for many, Trump is a champion of Christianity and patriotism.

I believe he believes in God and in our military, in our country, in America, said Tammy Houston of New Lexington, Ohio.

“I put my family first, and on a bigger scale, it’s America first,” said Sherrie Cotterman of Sidney, Ohio. And I would take a president any day of the week who openly knows he needs God's strength over his own.

In many ways, it's a familiar story.

About 8 in 10 white evangelical Christians supported Trump in 2020, according to AP VoteCast, and a validated Pew Research Center survey of voters found that a similar share supported him in 2016.

But this is a new campaign, and that support has remained enduring even though Republican voters in early primaries had their choice of several openly conservative Christian candidates, none of whom faced the legal problems and allegations of poor conduct than Trump. In Republican primaries in Iowa, New Hampshire and South Carolina earlier this year, Trump won between 55% and 69% of white evangelical voters, according to AP VoteCast.

Trump even criticized a competitor, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, for enacting strict restrictions on abortion. In recent years, some Trump surrogates have described Trump as friendly toward the LGBTQ+ community.

Trump was the only Republican candidate to face numerous criminal charges, ranging from allegations that he conspired to overturn his 2020 election defeat to his current trial over allegations that he falsified business records by illegally seeking to influence the 2016 elections with secret money, through porn actor Stormy Daniels. .

Trump was also the only Republican candidate with a history of casino affairs and two divorces, as well as allegations of sexual misconduct, one of which was upheld by a civil court verdict.

Republican primary voters again overwhelmingly chose Trump.

This has frustrated a minority of conservative evangelicals who see Trump as an unrepentant poseur, using the Bible and prayer sessions as photo props. They see him as lacking real faith and facing credible and serious allegations of misconduct as he campaigns with inflammatory rhetoric and authoritarian ambitions.

Karen Swallow Prior, a Christian author and literary scholar who has spoken out against her fellow evangelicals' embrace of Trump, said this support in 2024 is familiar but intensified.

In the past, she has said Trump supporters were hopeful but unsure that Trump shared their Christian faith.

Now her supporters believe in themselves, she said. Despite the fact that Trump is clearly hesitant on abortion and he's hesitant on LGBTQ issues, those things are just ignored, they're just erased from the narrative.

At the rally in Ohio, several attendees expressed their belief that Trump had followed the Christian path of repentance and starting a new life.

We all come from sin. Jesus sat with sinners, so he's going to sit with Trump, Vaughn said. It's not about where Trump is coming from, it's about where he's going and where he's trying to take us.

The Ohio rally, like other Trump events, included a recording of the national anthem sung by some of those convicted of crimes related to the Jan. 6, 2021, attack on the Capitol, which Trump called patriots.

At the entrance to the rally, a group handed out pamphlets urging attendees to trust Jesus Christ for their salvation and support the J6 patriots.

Caleb Cinnamon, 37, of Dayton, identified as Christian and said opposing abortion was a top priority. He cited Trump's three Supreme Court nominations, which proved decisive in the 2022 decision overturning Roe v. Wade who legalized abortion across the country.

Donald Trump is truly the first president to not only express an anti-abortion position, but also take action to support it, he said. Since the 1990s, Republicans have been saying they were going to do this about abortion, but they haven't done it.

Jody Picagli, of Englewood, Ohio, said her Catholic faith and her views on abortion were essential.

I am a great defender of the right to life, she declared. This is huge for me. And just the moral. I think the moral compass is so out of whack right now. And we need religion and the church here.

She acknowledged that because the Supreme Court leaves the issue of abortion up to the states, future President Trump may not have an impact on abortion law.

But I know I will never go to an abortion clinic and visit it, like our vice president did, she said, referring to Kamala Harris' visit to a Planned clinic. Parenthood in Minnesota in March.

Trump's Christian supporters also cited non-religious issues ranging from foreign policy and immigration to gas prices and inflation.

Robert Jones, president of the Public Religion Research Institute and author of books on white supremacy in American Christianity, said the strong evangelical support for Trump was not surprising. But he said that in a 2023 PRRI poll, fewer than half of white evangelicals said abortion was a crucial issue to them personally. More than half said five other issues were a critical problem, including human trafficking, public schools, rising prices, immigration and crime.

One of the biggest myths about white evangelicals' support for Trump is this idea that it's actually about abortion and that they hold their noses and vote for Trump, Jones said.

He added that Trump's rhetoric about immigrants invading the country and changing our cultural heritage resonates with his audience.

The Make America Great Again slogan echoes the ethno-religious vision of a white Christian America just beneath the surface, Jones said.

He acknowledged that racial lines are not absolute, with Trump attracting black supporters such as South Carolina Sen. Tim Scott.

The Ohio rally included a large majority of white participants, but with blacks and other ethnic groups represented.

Earlier this year, Trump repeatedly applauded while speaking to a conservative audience at the National Religious Broadcasters convention.

We will protect Christians in our schools, in our military and in our government, Trump said. We will protect God in our public square. I will protect pro-God content.

Trump has promised to create a federal task force to combat the persecution of Christians in America and the toxic poison of gender ideology, saying God created two genders, male and female.

Trump's rallies attack the symbols, rhetoric and agenda of Christian nationalism, which generally includes the belief that America was founded to be a Christian nation and seeks to privilege Christianity in public life.

Trump approved a Bible edition that includes the founding documents of the United States and lyrics from Lee Greenwood's God Bless the USA.

This is a Bible specifically aimed at a white evangelical audience who see themselves as the rightful heirs of the country, Jones said, citing a 2023 PRRI poll in which about half of white evangelicals agreed that God wanted the America be a promised land for European Christians. .

Trump campaign events resemble a worship service. The former president shared a God Made Trump video depicting him in messianic terms. Jones said Trump draws on the messianic theme with statements such as: “They're not after me, they're after you.” I'm just getting in the way.

But Mark DeVine, a Southern Baptist pastor and seminary professor in Birmingham, Alabama, wrote in the online journal American Reformer that conservative Christians support Trump because elected Democrats and unelected bureaucrats serving Democrats have an agenda. diabolical on issues ranging from abortion to gender to abortion. the border with the pandemic lockdowns that kept churches closed.

The Trumps want to protect themselves, their children, their communities and the nation they love from the totalitarian, woke assault currently being unleashed on them where they live, work, study, play and practice their cult, he wrote.

At the rally in Ohio, some said they believed the nation or its founding documents, such as the Bill of Rights, had Christian origins, although historians dispute those claims.

Some Trump supporters have expressed hope for a more Christian America.

Thomas Isbell of Greensboro, North Carolina, who has set up sales booths for years at Trump rallies across the country, said his God, Guns & Trump shirts are among the best sellers.

It is a Christian country, he said, adding that if he were president, he would only allow public worship for Christians.

We are not going to erect a temple to any other god in our country, he said.

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AP visual reporter Jessie Wardarski contributed.

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Associated Press religion coverage receives support from the AP's collaboration with The Conversation US, with funding from Lilly Endowment Inc. The AP is solely responsible for this content.

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