The work of André Gagné, professor in Concordia’s Department of Theological Studies, focuses on how the ideas and biblical interpretations of ultraconservative Christian groups determine their political beliefs and engagement.
His new book, Ces évangéliques derrière Trump, was published in French this month by Labor et Fides. It details the theological worldview that undergirds much of the Christian right’s support for United States President Donald Trump.
Trump’s neo-charismatic, Pentecostal evangelical support
“Roughly 81 per cent of white, ‘born-again,’ evangelical Christians supported Donald Trump in the 2016 election. Given that the November 2020 election will be decisive for the U.S., my book explores how some evangelical groups and their ideas have shaped politics under the Trump administration,” says Gagné.
“In order to understand why these groups support Trump, it’s important to better understand their vision of the world. Evangelical beliefs are often misrepresented in popular media and in political discussions. These misunderstandings make it difficult to assess and respond to the political situation.”
As Gagné explains, evangelicals are a diverse group. “They hold a range of political and theological beliefs. It’s important to note that not all evangelicals identify with the most radical form of these views.”
Gagné’s research focuses especially on the neo-charismatic, Pentecostal evangelicals close to political power in the U.S., and three ideas that influence their political theology: hegemony, demonology and the end of the world.
Trump’s extreme-right, Christian supporters see the U.S. as a nation built on Christian beliefs and values. Accordingly, they see the political system as a tool to be used for the promotion of a specifically Christian worldview.
They thus see it as their moral obligation to assert Christian dominance in the U.S. and in the world at large.
“The question, then, is how to bring about this hegemony,” Gagné says. “They believe the way to do this is through the mobilization of Christians in various spheres of culture. They want influencers who can shape politics, business and media according to Christian values.”
Gagné notes that many of them see Trump as an opportunity for this.
“They think that he will help bring about the dominance of Christianity in the U.S.”
“The neo-charismatic evangelicals believe that life is characterized by ‘spiritual warfare,’ a conflict between good and evil. Some of them come to see politics as the playing out of a war waged against what they call ‘principalities and powers.’ Political adversaries – progressives, democrats or secular groups – come to be viewed as the avatars of demonic, evil forces,” he explains.
“In nourishing this kind of discourse, they create a trenchant and hostile opposition between themselves and anyone who opposes them.”
The end of the world
These two factors emerge from a third one: the hope and belief that the Second Coming of Jesus Christ is at hand.
“For some of these groups, the establishment of the Kingdom of God is effectuated through social transformation, in preparation for Christ’s imminent return on earth,” Gagné says.
“Trump’s nominal support of Israel, his move of the embassy to Jerusalem, his attempt to broker peace talks between Israel and its Arab neighbours, the drone strike against Iranian General Qassim Soleimani – all of these events are taken as confirmation of their eschatological narrative. They see in these events confirmation that Trump is the harbinger of the Second Coming.”
‘There has to be a way to have a dialogue’
Gagné emphasizes that prevalent caricatures of the beliefs and practices of evangelicals who support Trump make it difficult to establish any kind of productive dialogue.
“By misrepresenting their views and dismissing them as ‘crazy,’ we contribute to these groups’ feelings of being persecuted. We make them feel more justified in their polarized views. Castigating them and excluding them from discussion serves no productive end,” he argues.
Gagné concludes by asking, “Can we function together in a society that recognizes that not everyone shares the same ideas? Can we compromise to build a better world together in a respectful way? There has to be a way for us to have a dialogue.”
And while Gagné maintains he’s not suggesting everyone become a progressive, his own position seems clear. “Those who have a more pluralistic and progressive vision of politics should make sure to vote.”