Republican nominee Donald J. Trump and running mate Mike Pence spent a weekend this past September in Washington for the Values Voters Summit, a large assembly of social conservatives whose self-proclaimed motto concerns the preservation of ‘traditional marriage, religious liberty, the sanctity of life and the limited government that makes our nation strong.’ At that time, emphasis was put on evangelical voters who, despite backing Trump in large numbers during the Republican primaries, were becoming a more flexible interest group, as Trump has appeared uneven on issues such as same-sex marriage.
A month has passed since the summit, and it appears as if evangelical voters have become a significantly more fractured group than in previous elections. Having voted 79 percent in favor of George Bush in 2004 and again for Mitt Romney in 2012, the freshly formed rift in evangelicals is a recent subject of scrutiny.
It’s suspected that evangelical voters are inevitably subsumed in a “culture-war” where candidate responses to issues such as abortion, same-sex marriage, and family values are considered of the utmost importance. These traditional values hold strong with the old guard of evangelical voters, those who attended the Values Voters Summit, but a new group of Christian leaders have formed up in opposition, guided by racial and ethnic minorities and women.
This shift prompts deeper analysis of Christian voters as individuals, as the fracturing of the evangelical bloc forces a less partisan agenda, focusing on a broader set of issues than the unfaltering topics of gay marriage and abortion. The splitting of evangelicals is brought to light more clearly in a recent petition released by various young evangelical leaders who stated that, “a significant mistake in American politics is the media’s continued identification of ‘evangelical’ with mostly white, politically conservative, older men.”
Indeed, Christian interests as a whole have become much broader than those of the primarily white, conservative evangelical figures that attend Trump rallies. As Jim Wallis states in his article for the Huffington Post, “Mr. Trump, our churches are becoming more diverse, as our country is, and we regard that as a blessing and a gift from God, not as the threat you and many of your followers seem to think it is. You have to answer our questions about racial bigotry.”
America celebrates its diversity particularly in communities of faith, and the idea of a culture-war that supersedes moral voting considerations is a hindrance to undecided religious conservative voters. Realistically, each Christian voter is now faced with a remarkably hard-hitting dilemma: whether to compromise their religious beliefs of the sacred nature of life with regards to abortion in order to prevent Trump from promoting hateful speech and action in the White House. If Trump were elected, and an ultra-conservative Supreme Court Justice were to be appointed, traditional conservatives would have a shot at stopping abortion and safeguarding religious conservatives who object to same-sex marriage. In essence, a Trump victory brings with it the promise of landmark conservative victories.
With this in mind, although to some it may seem to some an impossibility to remain undecided between two extremely polarizing candidates, the undecided Christian voter must face sacrificing the goal of finally enacting their long-held religious beliefs into policy in order to prevent a hateful man from assuming office.
On a more localized scale, the failure of many to realize and appreciate the existence of this conundrum for Christians has led to a culture of self-doubt among religious conservatives who are considering not voting Republican this election. For example, I recently heard the following frustration from a well-educated, Catholic Duke student who is still considering voting for Donald Trump: “I never ever talk politics with my friends. That’s a line I’m just not willing to cross anymore. I know my views are going to be attacked relentlessly.”
Conservative students often feel personally attacked when they admit to being undecided in which candidate to support. It seems that, specifically on Duke’s campus, a culture has emerged that systematically shames vocal conservatives, specifically religious voters, for having views that differ. Students are quick to undermine potential Trump supporters by pointing out Trump’s bigotry and misogyny, implying that all his supporters share those traits, and that by even considering him as a candidate you are implicated in promoting hate. This begs the question: if a bigot is someone who is intolerant of other people’s views, then is it not unfair to shame undecided voters without recognizing the tough choice they face, specifically if they are Christian or evangelical?
It seems as though conservative Christians on liberal campuses such as Duke’s don’t always feel secure discussing their views; they are pinned against their will into the presumptive role of representing Donald Trump, even if their voting considerations are inherently much deeper than they are given credit for.
My question is: who does this benefit? If conservative students are no longer comfortable engaging in campus dialogue, if they are only comfortable talking politics with their families or at their church, then their views only become more entrenched. If students continue to build a shame culture around expressed views that aren’t liberal, then the dialogue becomes homogenous and self-serving, and the goal of political culture on campus is lost. The college conservative shame culture has created a double-edged sword of entrenchment along partisan lines and college students have managed to impale themselves on both edges.
It’s indisputable that Trump fails to fulfill basic moral concerns that people of all faiths continue to pose. How can he advocate religious liberty and simultaneously spew hateful comments and pose immigration barriers against Muslims? How can he be a moral Christian man and also advocate looser regulation on advanced interrogation techniques and torture? How can he promote peace while regularly threatening to bomb the Middle East? But the decision to vote Democrat is not one that young, religious conservatives take lightly, it requires thought, it requires a deeper understanding of faith, and it requires a respectful dialogue.
We cannot take the hateful attacks that Donald Trump has made as a license to actively humiliate those who fight to maintain their political or faith-based conservatism in the face of longstanding Republican tradition. Instead, the most constructive way to advance political dialogue with undecided voters on campuses and in this nation is by allowing every person to express how he or she feels freely and openly, independent of classification, and with an understanding that the polarization of this election has bound the Christian voter in an impossible scenario. Maybe the reason some Duke conservatives support Trump is because he can express a few of the opinions that have been silenced in them, and by ending the culture of shame and opening a more unbiased, straightforward dialogue, we may make their voting process a bit easier.