White Working-Class Evangelicals: Christian Values Are Under Attack

WASHINGTON (CNN) — Most white working-class voters who are evangelical Christians — like most white evangelicals — would consider voting for Donald Trump.

But it’s not because they believe he shares their conservative Christian values. Rather, they agree with him that America is not as great as it once was, according to a new CNN/Kaiser Family Foundation poll.

While black evangelicals are solidly against the GOP nominee, among white working-class evangelicals, about three in four — 76% — say they’d consider voting for Trump.

Partisanship likely plays a big part in this, as half of white working-class evangelical Christians identify as Republicans.

The majority — 6 in 10 — of voters in this group believe the US’ better days are in the past and most are concerned that the country is becoming less Christian. Nearly 90% of working class whites who are evangelical Christians believe Christian values are under attack in America today.

While most Christian groups — 73% of mainline Protestants and 61% of Catholics — share this view, only 41% of those with no religious preference believe these values are under attack.

Trump often says he wants to “make America great again,” and working-class whites are a core of his support, but that doesn’t mean they don’t question the faith of a man who once said he never asks God for forgiveness.

“When listening to him, he’s not a Christian. He does not have any of the values that we have,” said Buddy Mitchell, a 47-year-old from Arvada, Colorado, and owner of a flooring company.

“I don’t know of any redeeming quality of Donald Trump other than both Democrats and Republicans hate him,” said Mitchell, who did not participate in the survey. “That’s the only reason I like him: that the establishment doesn’t like him.”

Christian values seen as under attack

That dislike for the establishment is a strong point for Trump with this demographic. For many white working-class evangelicals, it’s clear who is at fault for many of the country’s issues: the federal government. White working-class evangelicals are also more likely than others to blame the federal government for the economic problems facing the working class.

“I don’t think that either candidate is taking Christian values into consideration,” said Sandra Long, an 80-year-old lifelong Democrat. “Neither one of them is acting very Christian-like. Just a lot of things are said and done. It scares me.”

Long, a Mahanoy City, Pennsylvania, resident, is scared that society is becoming more secular and will be a less accepting place for people with more conservative Christian values.

“I feel the country was founded on Christian principles. They came here to get away form being persecuted for their beliefs,” she said. “And now, if our ministers don’t marry a gay couple or refuse to marry a gay couple, they can be arrested and taken to jail.”

While same-sex marriage is legal, religious leaders are not required to marry gay couples.

Darrell Pool, a 60-year-old from Lamar, Colorado, said he doesn’t see his traditional Christian values honored by the leading candidates.

“I don’t see my values shaping the election. There’s just a lot of mayhem,” he said. “I think the values that were in the country’s founding are leaving. The moral values are leaving daily.”

Many white working-class evangelicals have no confidence that either of the presidential candidates has the ability to return the country to their perception of its former glory.

“I don’t know where I am,” said Long. “I’m so confused at this point and time. I don’t believe either one of them should be in office. I don’t believe either one should be running.”

Some have entertained third-party candidates.

“I’m sick to my stomach. I cannot stand Hillary (Clinton) and I can’t stand Trump, so for the first time in my life, I’m thinking of voting Libertarian or not voting,” Mitchell said.

For these voters, the lack of confidence in government is exemplified in the candidacy of Clinton, who has been in government for more than 20 years.

“If you or I would have done what she did with those emails, we’d be in jail,” Mitchell said. “But because she’s the Democratic nominee, they don’t hold politicians to the same standards that they hold the people.”

Many of the standards these voters want to see candidates follow are rooted in the Christian faith.

Security also a concern

But values aren’t the only concerns of these voters. National security is also a major issue to many of these voters, many of whom have personal connections to the military.

“All these refugees they want to bring in, that’s really got me going,” said Pool, who participated in the survey. “They have no idea who they’re bringing in and we just keep having more attacks here.”

“I just think it’s ludicrous and all it’s for is so one party can have more voters,” he said.

The relationship between evangelicals and the refugee issue is a complicated one. Some of the biggest critics of Trump’s proposed Muslim ban have been evangelicals. Christian organizations have been among the most active in helping resettle refugees, but that doesn’t mean some among their flock aren’t anxious.

The majority — 75% — of white working-class evangelicals believe that recent immigrants from predominantly Muslim countries increase the risk of terrorist attacks in the US, a higher percentage than other working-class whites.

“I say let’s quit bringing these people in, period,” Pool said. “I realize America is a melting pot and that’s how America started in the first place, but we have a process here. Nobody says you can’t come to this country. Come on in. Let’s do it the right way.”