/Politics and evangelicals

Politics and evangelicals

From Shaman’s Rock

By Jim Poling Sr.

What used to be a source of pride for me has become a source of shame.

My father’s family had evangelical roots since coming to North America almost 400 years ago. They were deep into mainline Protestant denominations, with many over the passing decades joining the growing, and more distinct, evangelical movement.

The first Poling arrived in 1643 from Sussex, England during that country’s religious persecutions.  It was a time when thousands sailed for New England because they refused to conform to brutal English religious laws.

He and others became followers of Lady Deborah Moody, a widowed aristocrat and one of those thousands of religious immigrants to America. She was an Anabaptist – a person opposed to infant baptism.

Lady Moody’s religious beliefs didn’t fit well in New England. She couldn’t get along with the Pilgrims, Quakers and other sects and accepted an offer of religious freedom from the Dutch, who owned New York at the time. They offered her a large chunk of land in what is now Brooklynn and she founded a community named Gravesend.

The Polings followed her to Gravesend, starting family branches that produced many dozens of Protestant ministers across the United States. One branch produced seven unbroken generations of Protestant ministers.

My dad’s distant cousin, Dr. Daniel A. Poling, was an evangelical minister who became an advisor to U.S. President Harry Truman. Daniel’s son, Clark, was a Reformed Church of America pastor and one of the four Army chaplains who drowned in the Atlantic when the troop ship Dorchester bringing troops to the war in Europe was torpedoed by a German submarine.

Clark Poling and three other chaplains gave their lifejackets to soldiers about to drown, then linked arms and sang a hymn while the Dorchester sank.

My branch of the family was quite different. It had zero religious connections until my grandfather met my grandmother. However, it was always nice to know that other Polings in the evangelical movement were doing good work to help others.

Today’s evangelicals in the U.S. now have me ashamed. Polls show that more than one-half of white evangelicals support Donald Trump’s bid to become president again. Eight of 10 supported him when he was elected president in 2016.

Here’s a man who doesn’t go to church, brags about grabbing women’s genitals, frequents prostitutes and is facing 91 state and federal criminal charges. Yet he is seen by many evangelicals as some kind of messiah.

Many evangelicals favor Trump because he promotes himself as someone who has their back in a cultural war they say is ruining the U.S. They are seeing Christianity decline in the U.S. and with it the conservative beliefs and policies they say strengthen the country and prevent moral decay.

Trump himself is a non-believer and immoral but he supports evangelicals in their fight to conserve the America they want.

His appointment of right-wing Supreme Court justices who overturned constitutional protections for abortion is an example. The evangelicals also like his views of lowering taxes, deregulating government and keeping undocumented immigrants out.

He woes them and supports them because he needs their votes. Evangelicals helped him win the presidency in 2016, voted heavily for him in his 2020 defeat and are expected to be an important factor in this year’s presidential election.

Trump regularly praises conservative Christians in public but aides have said he makes fun of them in private.

Michael Cohen, the former lawyer once known as Trump’s fixer, wrote in the tell-all book Disloyal: A Memoir that his boss said after a meeting with evangelical leaders:

 “Can you believe people believe that bullshit?”

“The cosmic joke was that Trump convinced a vast swathe of working-class white folks in the Midwest that he cared about their well-being,” Cohen wrote. “The truth was that he couldn’t care less.”

The 2020 memoir characterizes Trump as “a cheat, a mobster, a liar, a fraud, a bully, a racist, a predator, a con man.” Yet a lot of evangelicals still love him and see him as their saviour. Which has me feeling ashamed, and I assume, many of my long-gone distant relatives rolling in their graves.