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Evangelicals who voted for Trump in 2016 refuse to do it again: 'Character, integrity come before policy'

In the past year or so, certain pockets of American evangelicalism have been reconsidering their loyalty to the Republican party in light of their growing feelings of discontent about Trump.

Evangelicals who voted for Trump in 2016 refuse to do it again: 'Character, integrity come before policy'
Cover Image Source: Donald Trump speaks during a 'Evangelicals for Trump' campaign event held at the King Jesus International Ministry on January 03, 2020, in Miami, Florida. (Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images)

White evangelicals have long been a reliable base for the Republican Party. However, in the past year or so, certain pockets of American evangelicalism have been reconsidering their loyalty to the GOP in light of their growing feelings of discontent about Trump. Their vexation might now spell trouble for the President, whose hope of reelection heavily relies on their crucial vote — which accounted for over a quarter of voters during the last presidential election. A number of evangelicals who cast their ballots for Trump in 2016 have decided not to do so again this year and are now opening up about the emotional heavy lifting behind their decision.

 



 

"It was this very deep programming," Becky Madigan, an evangelical Christian who for most of her life believed her religious beliefs meant she had to be a Republican, told HuffPost. "It wasn't even necessarily a conscious thought. I can remember as a very young woman thinking that you can't be a Christian and a Democrat." Although this thought process led the 54-year-old from Virginia to vote for Trump last time, having observed his character and the way he treats people over the past four years, she doesn't think she can tolerate four more.

 



 

On October 23, Madigan walked into the voting booth at Loudoun County's General Registrar's office to vote for Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden. "It just feels like a big moment in our history, but not only collectively as a nation, but it just really felt like a big moment for me because I did it differently this time. I didn't toe the party line or do what I was supposed to do," she said. "Here I am, at 54, and for the first time, I feel like I've really voted and studied and made my own decision, fear or no fear."

 



 

According to John Fea, a history professor at Messiah College and the author of Believe Me: The Evangelical Road to Donald Trump, moving away from the Republican party is no easy feat for white evangelical voters. Even harder, he said, is voting for a Democrat instead of a third-party candidate as the Christian right has convinced believers that abortion and religious liberty are the two most important issues facing them now. This form of fear-based pro-Trump campaigning has been evident on social media in the days leading up to the election with many claiming that anyone who votes for Biden is not a real Christian or will be held responsible for the killing of millions of babies in the womb.

 



 

"Such a move is not for the faint of heart. It requires courage," Fea said. "The fact that Trump has fulfilled his promise by appointing three conservative Supreme Court justices might make a vote for Biden a bit easier. Whatever the case, some conservative evangelicals are looking for reasons ― any ― to feel better about voting for Biden." One such conservative evangelical — 46-year-old veteran, Bill Werts, from Pennsylvania — explained that while not supporting the Republican Party in a presidential election for the first time breaks his heart, ultimately, Trump did not pass his litmus test for character and integrity.

 



 

"Christ said by their fruits you will know them, and that a good tree can't bear bad fruit," said Werts. "I was looking for those fruits of the spirit and Trump had none. Zero. Character and integrity come before policy. If I agree with everything you agree with, but you have no character and integrity, I'm not voting for you." Many others cited Trump's character as a key reason behind their loss of faith in him. Sandy Orth, a 77-year-old from Iowa who has been a registered Republican her entire adult life, said that although she had reservations about Trump in 2016, she'd hoped the presidency would humble him. However, she was proved wrong.

 



 

"What good are these Christian judges when we live in a country where we hate each other so much?" she asked. "I have always felt that the person at the head of a family, team, or company sets the tone that trickles down. And I feel very strongly about the fact that having Donald Trump as our president is setting the tone that we see in our country today ― divisiveness, hatred, lying. People are not truthful about things, they don’t show concern for their fellow human beings. I think we need a president who is truthful and transparent and who can bring peace to our country and bring people back together again. I think somebody of better character can do that job a lot better than our current president."

 



 

Joy Kinser — a 31-year-old from Oklahoma City — revealed that while she has been passionate about the "pro-life" movement for years, she started questioning how she defined that term under the Trump presidency. Being "pro-life" should mean protecting every life, including those of immigrants and minorities, from "womb to tomb," she said. She's been quite disturbed by how white supremacists seem to have been empowered under the Trump presidency and the subsequent lack of safety felt by minorities. When the Trump administration forcefully dispersed a crowd of Black Lives Matter protesters to arrange a photo op for the President in front of a church near the White House, Kinser remembers thinking: "This is not how I want my Christianity to be manifested in politics."

 



 

"I feel like it's a really ugly false dichotomy we've been given where we have to support everything Trump stands for, which includes harm to minorities and harm to immigrants and support the unborn, or we have to support Biden and support minorities and be a baby killer," she said. "If I have one, myopic view of abortion that allows me to support harm in countless other ways, that is really damaging."

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