pendleton_st._baptist_greenville_sc_jw0t

In a previous post, I explained what I believe to be the fundamental driving force behind the core supporters of Donald Trump. In another post I suggested a possible reason that some Christians may have found Trump’s style attractive.

Since then the conundrum of evangelicals supporting Trump has become even more perplexing. Exit polls from the South Carolina Republican primary tell us that Trump actually outpolled Ted Cruz among South Carolina evangelicals. Supposedly about 72% of voters in the South Carolina Republican primary described themselves as evangelicals, and of those 33% voted for Trump while only 27% percent voted for Cruz.

How can this be? Trump is shaky on many of the issues for which evangelicals have fought. He is at best a recent convert on any of them–that is, since about the time he decided to run for president. In his personal life he is twice divorced and thrice married and boasts of his many adulteries. He owns several casinos and had a strip club put into one of them. He is foul-mouthed and clearly shows little knowledge and less understanding of the Bible. Most significantly, he says he has never asked God’s forgiveness because he doesn’t need it.

Yet more than 140,000 South Carolina Republican voters last Saturday told exit pollers they were evangelical and had voted for Trump. To me this has been the most sobering and appalling development of this campaign. Apparently others were struck by it too. It brought a scathing and impassioned post from conservative blogger Matt Walsh. What, we all seem to be asking, are the pro-Trump evangelicals thinking?

The answer may be found in several articles (here, here, and here) published over the past few months revealing the results of statistical studies investigating who evangelicals are and whom they choose to support. Exit-pollers define an evangelical as anyone who says he is an evangelical. Careful study reveals there are two kinds of evangelicals–the kind who go to church regularly, and the kind who don’t. Fascinatingly, it turns out there’s a strong difference in presidential preference between the two groups. In broad terms, one backs Cruz, and the other backs Trump. Would you care to guess which is which? In fact, to the degree Trump gets support from any “evangelicals,” he does so primarily from those who don’t go to church.

Why does church attendance correlate with support for one candidate or the other?  Let me suggest an answer. Of the many things a Christian might do to please God, church attendance is probably the most widely recognized. Usually someone who has any notion of trying to please God will realize that going to church would be a good way to start. It certainly doesn’t make you a Christian, but nearly all Christians are aware of their need to attend. It’s probably safe to assume that nearly all Christians do attend church if they are able. Thus Trump owes his advantage among “evangelicals” to the support of “evangelicals” who aren’t.

But, someone might say, shouldn’t we accept them as evangelicals if they say they are? Jesus said, “Not every one that says unto me, Lord, Lord, shall enter into the kingdom of heaven; but he that does the will of my Father who is in heaven” (Matthew 7:21). He also said, “My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me” (John 10:27). So if we see a flock not following Him, we can assume they’re not His sheep. That doesn’t mean we’re supposed to mistreat them. In fact, we’re supposed to help the Shepherd bring them into the fold. But we should be under no illusions about what we’re dealing with.

To sum up then, though some real evangelicals probably do support Trump (perhaps out of ignorance or the reason I suggested in my previous post), Trump does not in fact outpoll Cruz among real evangelicals. To the extent people who call themselves evangelicals support Trump, most of them are professing Christians who talk the talk (a little) but don’t walk the walk.