I’m struggling to hold fast to my Christianity— because of Donald Trump. Not exactly Trump himself, though, but the undying support of the self-professed Christian pro-life movement that he enjoyed. My faith is in tatters because of that alliance. And I am constantly wondering if I am indirectly complicit because I dedicated my life to the same Jesus the insurrectionists prayed to in the Capitol building after ransacking it and promising to kill those who didn’t do their bidding.
If Christianity can convince so many to follow a man like Trump almost worshipfully—or couldn’t at least help millions discern the unique threat Trump represented—what good is it really?
I say this as someone who has been Christian all my life, who spent two decades praying in a white evangelical church. How could our faith have allowed this, encouraged it, enabled so much violence, so much death?
Of course, they have their excuses. Rev. Franklin Graham of North Carolina, who swiftly dumped his Clinton-era rhetoric about the importance of morality and character in our leaders to embrace Trump, lashed out at the 10 Republicans who voted to impeach Trump after a Trump-inspired insurrection and lavished Trump with praise. “We have never had a president like him in my lifetime,” he wrote on Facebook. “He gave us lower taxes, a strong economy, and low unemployment. He made NATO take notice and pay their own way. He had the guts to take on North Korea and meet with their leader personally. He didn’t let China walk all over us. Just his Mideast peace initiatives in the last couple of months deserve a Nobel Peace Prize. He has defended religious liberty like no president before him, and that matters to all people of faith. He has worked to bring prison reform and secured our southern border. He defeated the ISIS caliphate in Syria, and he strengthened our military.” And then, the kicker: “He was also the most pro-life president we have ever had.”
Really? Pro-life? Trump oversaw a 200% increase in civilian deaths in Iraq and Syria during his first year in office. He presided over more than 460,000 COVID-19 deaths, far outpacing any other industrialized country. He repeatedly demonized a group of men, women and children seeking refuge in this country from the violence and uncertainty they faced in their own. A man picked up an AR-15-style assault rifle and committed a massacre in the Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh after becoming convinced Jews were responsible for the despised caravan of vulnerable brown people. He murdered 11 people; how could Christians have supported the man whose conspiracy theory he quoted?
The body count didn’t end there, though. Trump incited an insurrection that resulted in at least five deaths, dozens of injuries and a stain on America’s reputation so severe it will be harder to get other countries to take us seriously when we demand that they honor life and not commit human rights abuses. Aided by “pro-life” Supreme Court justices, Trump was able to fast-track 13 federal executions during the final months of his presidency, the most by any president in more than a century. Even the abortion rate slightly increased in the middle of Trump’s term, a reversal from major declines during Barack Obama’s two terms in office.
How could 60% of white Catholic voters and 8 and 10 white evangelicals back this man? How could anyone in good faith call him “pro-life”?
What they mean by pro-life is that Trump was anti-abortion. And yet, there is no evidence—none—that putting a pro-life president in the White House drastically affects the abortion rate, which has been falling steadily for most of my life but faster during Democratic administrations. Policies favored by pro-choice candidates—things like a focus on comprehensive health care and contraception coverage—have affected the rate the most by preventing unintended pregnancies. Iowa recently ran a real-life experiment on the issue when it pulled out of a federally-financed family planning program. The abortion rate in that red state promptly jumped by 25%. Internationally, the evidence runs in the same direction. “Unintended pregnancy rates are highest in countries that restrict abortion access and lowest in countries where abortion is broadly legal,” according to the Guttmacher Institute.
Many pro-life Christians have never accepted that complex reality, which made them susceptible to a man like Trump. That’s why the death and destruction left in Trump’s wake didn’t horrify them the way it has the rest of us: They could always claim they were saving babies from evil Democrats, even though they weren’t.
You know who understands that complex reality? Christian people of color. The embrace of Trump was largely a white Christian phenomenon. Because we don’t have the luxury of seeing things in black and white.
When my wife was pregnant with our first child, the doctor asked if we wanted tests to detect potential abnormalities in the womb.
“No,” we quickly said, almost in unison.
We knew we’d love whatever child we were blessed with. And when we lost another child to a miscarriage, we mourned. It pained us more because we didn’t have a body to bury; it happened so early in the pregnancy. We still named that child: Fabrice McKenzie Bailey. We’ve never forgotten her and never will.
I’d never call myself pro-life, though. I want abortions to be rare but believe the best way to get there is to support women and distressed families in a comprehensive way that will reduce unintended and high-risk pregnancies. We do not get there by turning over a pregnant woman’s body to the state.
This is my Christianity, the Christian faith that sustained my family through the Jim Crow South, poverty and too many bouts with the criminal justice system.
But I’m struggling. I don’t want to be a part of any organization that would support those at the highest levels who demonize and belittle the vulnerable, that would look the other way in order to hold onto power.
The body count left in Trump’s wake is immense. Add to the list my faith in the white church.
Issac Bailey is professor of public policy at Davidson College, a 2014 Nieman fellow at Harvard University and author of Why Didn’t We Riot? A Black Man in Trumpland. Twitter: @ijbailey.
The views expressed in this article are the writer’s own.