Those of us who grew up Evangelical hold an unusual place among our liberal peers. We’re often able to peer around, over, and under that wall that has been built between those who want a faith-based nation and those who want a free one. Angela Denker is a fellow traveler on this road, and her book Red State Christians: Understanding the Voters Who Elected Donald Trump is a useful roadmap. Some of us fall further from the tree than others, but one of Evangelicalism’s more endearing traits, when taken seriously, is the love of those who are different from you. That love is often forgotten in the political rhetoric daily whipped into a froth by an unstable president being used by his party to install agendas that hardly fit the moniker “Christian.” That’s why books like this are so important.
I confess that reading studies such as this make me uncomfortable. Uncomfortable because my Evangelical past haunts me worse than any ghost, but also because Denker is clearly right that basic humanity is being left in the garbage as battle lines are drawn up in what could be a great, diverse nation if a leader were determined to work for unity. I recently wrote about lunar landings. Kennedy was a Catholic who had to work to bring a nation together around a common goal. Instead of tearing the country apart for his personal aggrandizement, he pointed to the moon. Sure, there was a xenophobia concerning the Soviet Union, but at least in this pocket of the world there was a sense that we should work together. When religion entered politics with Richard Nixon and his followers, a deep rift opened up. The two topics you were never to discuss—religion and politics—were now in the same bed.
Red State Christians is an extended road trip on which Denker interviews people who largely fall under the Evangelical umbrella. Some of them are Catholic. Some of them are Hispanic. Some of them are less concerned with social issues, but are hard-working laborers often overlooked by the Democratic Party. The resulting pastiche is one in which Americans are cast not in sharp relief, but rather with the hazy edges that are a far more accurate way of understanding human beings. Many, it becomes clear, elected Trump out of fear, or out of fear of his opponent. These aren’t bad people, but they are people afraid. This wasn’t an easy book to read, but it is an important one. And those who want to work for a future that might include realms beyond the moon might find this work a small step in the right direction.