Whither Evangelicals? The Deafening Silence of Whiteness

I was home in Sioux Falls when news of Trump's travel ban broke. I'd driven down to pick up my car from the shop. For the past six months, I'd borrowed my dad's car as I scraped together the funds to repair my Toyota that had been sitting in storage for a year and a half while I jetted off to England. So come that Friday night in late January, when the news broke and chaos ensued at airports across the nation, I was snug in my brother's living room, playing with my nieces and eating Friday Night Pizza.

The news shook all of us. My brother, who now works as a chaplain, used to pastor a church that's populated by refugees from the conflict in Myanmar. The Karen (pronounced Kah-rin, not Kare-in) people have left their homes behind in order to start a new, safer life in the middle of nowhere, South Dakota. They are precisely the refugees Trump's law moves to protect and give priority to: minority religious folks fleeing religious persecution.

But the Karen have had a rocky landing in South Dakota, surrounded by white evangelicals who look askance on these strangers with brown skin and their different cultural signifiers. Police have been called on Karen families for everything from barbecues to fireworks to family gatherings. Their conflicts with the white population in their new city added to the stress of their transition.

That was under Obama. I can't imagine what they feel like now.

The day before the election, I called my dad from my campaign office in Knoxville, IA, where the county democratic party leader and I were spending a late night getting things ready for the big day. Dad, somewhat cheerfully, informed me he'd gone into the courthouse and voted a day early.

"And?" I asked hesitantly, knowing that he'd struggled for a long time with making a decision.

"I voted for him. I got into the booth and I just couldn't not vote."

Dad wouldn't even say the man's name. The regret was apparent in his voice, and became clearer when he heard my hesitancy in reaction. "It wasn't a great decision, but I thought about that open Supreme Court seat and I just couldn't stomach seeing Hillary put a liberal on the court."

Dad and I have stopped talking about politics for the most part. I treasure my relationship with him a lot and while we've been really good about not getting into fights since my mom passed nearly three years ago, our political discussions have improved so we can disagree calmly and civilly. But his vote for Trump and his silence following it as Trump has taken office has made it too painful for me to return to civility—not yet, at least.

It's harder, still, for me to look at the church—the church that had been my home for so many years—only to find either silence or contemptuous support for policies that make so many lives harder around the world. To their credit, some evangelical organizations have criticized the travel ban, and a couple have been outspoken about Trump's racism. This is good.

But 81% of evangelicals still voted for the man. And those evangelicals seem awfully quiet now. Some are speaking up on his refugee ban, yes. Some have been calling out his racism from the start—and I applaud them for it. But many more remain silent on the racist policies Trump has already implemented: the ICE raids, the anti-Muslim travel ban, the detention of brown folks at the airport regardless of resident status.

Is it because you got your nominee?

Was it worth it?

Dianna Anderson