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Political Confessional: The Evangelical Who Doesn’t Support Trump

Welcome to Political Confessional, a column about the views that Americans are scared to share with their friends and neighbors. In an increasingly polarized political climate, adherence to party or ideological orthodoxy seems de rigueur. Social media serves only to amplify that perception at times.

But Americans’ political views are often idiosyncratic and sometimes offensive, and they rarely adhere neatly to any particular party line. In this column, we want to dig into Americans’ messy opinions on politics, morality and social mores. We hope that this exercise gives readers a glimpse into the minds of those with whom they might disagree — or agree! If you have a political belief that you’re willing to share with us, fill out this form — we might get in touch.

This week we talked with Jennifer, a 38 year old white woman from North Carolina who wrote in to say, “I am an evangelical Christian but I think Trumpism is actually, truly a religious cult.” She feels “horrified to watch most of my friends and family believe Trump is God’s chosen one … I feel like I’m living inside of the story “The Emperor Has No Clothes.” Am I the crazy one?! Why can no one in church see he’s naked!!!!!”

This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.

Clare Malone: When did you come to this opinion and how?

Jennifer: It was leading up to the 2016 election. And it really was hearing the sound bites of the actual words coming out of Donald Trump. Now, it wasn’t certain talking heads or certain news programs. It was literally the quotes or the video clips of him speaking that were so offensive to me. I couldn’t imagine voting for him even though I’ve always been a Republican.

I would probably consider myself a little bit of a centrist at this point. I mean, I’m pro-life — like, babies being born but also refugee children being cared for. I think it’s hypocritical to be here for one and not the other. And I care about women in crisis too, I just don’t think that these issues need to be so dehumanizing for certain people to win power.

CM: Take me back to 2016. When did you start to hear people start to make justifications for Trump?

Jennifer: My friends were conflicted when he made the remark about grabbing a woman. But once he ended up winning, then I felt like people really started to justify voting for him.

It’s just weird in this polarized environment because I can’t call myself a member of the GOP anymore. I am not super liberal, but I definitely can’t go along with the leadership of the country right now.

CM: Why do you think they have started justifying his actions? Is it the news they watch? Is there biblical justification to say, “Sure, God has picked an imperfect vessel.”

Jennifer: I think part of it is people feel the need to be consistent. If you went ahead and voted for the person, you don’t want to feel bad about yourself, you want to come up with reasons to feel good about the fact that you voted for them. If you agree with the president, you’re going to say we should pray for him. The Bible tells us to pray for our leaders. But if there is a person in power who is not of your political party, do you show them the same grace? Do you pray for them as well? I feel like it’s this double standard which I don’t think is biblical. I think that’s just our human nature.

CM: How do you feel about that personally? How do you feel about Trump and forgiveness?

Jennifer: Well, if you want to talk about the Bible, I think the Bible requires repentance for God to grant forgiveness to people. And so I think I haven’t seen any true repentance in any of his actions. I would use scripture that talks more about how a wise man deals with a fool — there’s a verse that says if a wise man tries to reason with a fool the fool only rages and laughs.

CM: Would you say that the attitude of people in your community about Trump has changed the way that you feel about your church?

Jennifer: I’m confronted with this reality of like four out of five evangelicals voting for this man. And it’s like, are we seeing the same reality? It’s made me want to be careful what church I attend, and what programs I’m involved with, because I think this is going to have really long term, deeply negative effects on the American culture’s view of Christians. The challenge for me is to think about how this one person, Donald Trump, doesn’t dictate who Jesus Christ is. The challenge is to focus on Jesus himself.

CM: You said earlier that you’re pro-life in the sense of wanting babies to be born but you also care about refugee children. How have the kids-in-cages news stories been received in your community given that the Trump administration has been defending that policy?

Jennifer: I do have some friends who are troubled by that. But I also have friends popping up in my Facebook newsfeed defending those policies. I think that we have to almost dehumanize people in our view of them in order to justify. So, if you talk to someone who’s very liberal and talk about the issue of abortion, they’re going to say that’s not a baby. That’s not a person. And if you talk to conservatives about a child of an immigrant in a cage, they’re going to say, they’re not Americans. They don’t belong here. Their parents broke the law. They deserve this. They’re distancing themselves from that humanity, leading to them to look at those children differently than they would look at an American child.

CM: Are you thinking of yourself as a Democrat right now?

Jennifer: I’ve switched my registration to independent. I have been GOP my whole life. At this point, I really want to see how the polling is and throw my support to whoever seems most likely to beat Donald Trump.

CM: Have you brought up your controversial opinion to family members or people in the community who support Trump?

Jennifer: I find it really hard to break through. I have some friends that are more extreme than others, like a couple friends who are really talking almost like he’s almost a messiah of sorts.

CM: How have you dealt with it on an interpersonal level? Do you switch the conversation topic at a certain point?

Jennifer: My husband and I don’t agree about it. We’ve only been married a couple years. If things get too heated we table the discussion. I think sometimes it helps if I can share personal stories or ways that seem to affect me personally; like, if I can talk about how upsetting it is being a woman to hear the derogatory comments. It’s frustrating. You care about someone and you’re on different pages.

The funny thing is, I felt like I wasn’t that political of a person before 2016. But then I just felt so deeply offended by the attitudes towards women, towards minorities, the horrible things happening at the border. And I mean, to be honest, I just expect more of Christians. Because I am a Christian.

For me, the challenge is, how do I keep from villainizing or dehumanizing those that I disagree with? And I feel like that has to start with me.

Clare Malone is a former senior political writer for FiveThirtyEight.