When President Trump won the White House with a surprise victory four years ago, Conservative Christians couldn’t believe their luck.
At any time in his presidency, he gave them whatever they wanted: two hundred federal judges, appointed for life. A message in Jerusalem. Anti-abortion policy. Two Supreme Court justices and then a third in the last few hours. He was their bulwark, their defender at a time when the land as they knew it and their place in it were changing. And he brought their movement to a climax of political maturity.
Now the election of Joseph R. Biden Jr. marks a new chapter for conservative Christian power that peaked under Mr. Trump. As Republican evangelicals across the country processed the week’s events, they reflected on how much they had gained over the past four years and their fears about what might happen under a Biden government. They also wondered when and how they would regain power.
In Sheldon, Iowa, where about eight out of ten voters supported Mr Trump, Leah Schoonhoven wrote three pages of her concerns about a Biden presidency. She feared the election results would be distorted and that Mr Biden would reverse Mr Trump’s priorities, from building the border wall to increasing conservative evangelical ideals for religious freedom.
“He doesn’t represent Christianity at all; maybe he’ll prove me wrong,” she said of Mr Biden, who is Catholic. He won’t do everything Trump did. “
“I don’t think our world will ever return when you have a country that is so divided,” she said.
Donna Rigney, a pastor whose church is located in the box of an R.V. Park in Salt Springs, Florida had supported the president since 2016 when she received a direct message from God supporting his candidacy.
After this election, she sent an email to the people in her prayer circles, telling them not to give up. “We must pull Donald Trump across the finish line with prayers of faith, worship, fast and abide to love and forgive our enemies,” she wrote.
But she said Friday that if this turned out to be the end of the Trump era, she would be grateful for what he had done for the country and comforted that he would suffer fewer attacks. “He’ll be fine, he’s got God’s hand on him,” she said. “He will be better off not being president and not being attacked on a daily basis. But I really believe this will be terrible for the nation.”
Mr Trump’s presidency repeatedly exposed the deep divide between white Conservative Christians and other people of faith or no faith at all. Mr Biden’s tight profit margins in several battlefield states showed that the cultural conflict between these groups is far from over. According to AP VoteCast, about eight out of ten white evangelical voters supported Mr. Trump in the 2020 election, just as they did in 2016. Mr. Biden’s coalition included many black Protestants, Hispanic Catholics, and religiously unaffiliated Americans.
However, overall, Mr Trump has received a greater share of support from Latino voters than it did four years ago. And for Rev. Samuel Rodriguez, a Sacramento pastor who prayed at Mr. Trump’s inauguration in 2017, the lesson from the 2020 election was that Latinos had become what he called “the epitome of swing voting.”
Mr. Rodriguez saw a legacy of the Trump era that redefined the earlier American evangelical approach to the question of the character of politicians. Their loyalty to Mr. Trump, which had made it necessary to overlook language and behavior that they found obnoxious, proved that personal character is not everything to them, considering how many specific goals have been achieved.
“The politics are absolutely remarkable,” he said.
The election of a person like Donald Trump would have been inconceivable for evangelicals 40 years ago when they emerged as the powerful faction behind Ronald Reagan’s victory, said R. Albert Mohler Jr., president of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville. Ky.
Today, “they feel the wind facing them,” he said, “with a clear sense that culture is being reorganized in a hostile and increasingly secular way. Evangelicals are voting on the same values but with different priorities.”
Mr. Mohler did not vote for Mr. Trump in 2016. However, that year he spoke publicly about his plans to vote for the president despite his persistent reservations. call the alternative to a Trump victory “increasingly unthinkable”.
Like the president, some evangelical leaders refused to accept an outcome in which Mr. Trump lost. Moments after most major news networks calculated that Mr. Biden had won the race, Franklin Graham, the evangelist, warned that the results were not “official.”
And Mr Graham warned that under a Biden administration, Christian companies would soon aim not to sell a cake for a gay wedding, as he said during Mr Obama’s presidency.
“America is in such a moral decline,” he said. “We are becoming a much more violent country. I am afraid for our country. “
In Texas, First Baptist Dallas pastor Robert Jeffress reserved billboards across the city to promote his upcoming sermon on how Christians should respond to a Biden presidency.
“There will be millions of Christians disappointed with these results,” he said.
“A Joe Biden win cannot erase all the positive achievements that can be attributed to President Trump,” he said. “I don’t think there’s any way to calculate all the good things he’s achieved.”
Some socially conservative political groups were already revolving around other political struggles, such as protecting Republican control over the Senate, which was decided by two runoff elections in Georgia in January. Republicans’ continued scrutiny of the Senate could buffer their achievements under Mr Trump and make it harder for Democrats to do things like funding planned parenthood or expanding the Supreme Court, several organizers said.
“In order to plan the Biden administration, we have to have a backstop. Otherwise, it is Armageddon that we feared at the beginning,” said Marjorie Dannenfelser, President of the Susan B. Anthony List. “That is why Georgia is so important. The other side knows that too. “
On Saturday, when the Biden campaign declared victory, the Faith and Freedom Coalition knocked on doors across the state preparing to distribute a million voter leaders to 4,000 churches.
Social Conservatives also celebrated the election to the house of at least 15 new women who spoke out against abortion rights, more than doubling their number in the previous Congress. About half of the 15 upturned seats were in democratic hands.
And social conservatives had another reason to stay positive: even though Mr Trump lost, they believed that the conservative control of the judiciary that it enabled would have a lasting impact.
“When Amy Coney Barrett writes the majority vote to protect Christian nursing and adoption agencies, I’ll be celebrating,” said Penny Nance, president of Concerned Women for America. “We put some points on the board.”