“Is your book pro-Trump or anti-Trump?” is the question most frequently asked Angela Denker at readings from her recent book, “Red State Christians: Understanding the Voters Who Elected Donald Trump.” Denker replies that the book is not about the current occupant of the Oval Office, but rather about the 81 percent of evangelical Christians who voted for him in 2016. The president’s name is on the jacket, she explains, because her editor felt it would sell more copies.
Denker trained as a journalist and covered sports for publications such as “The Washington Post” and “Sports Illustrated” before she stepped away from journalism and entered seminary to study for the Lutheran ministry. In her pastoral career she has served parishes in scattered regions of the United States and understands that America is not a homogenous society, nor are the bloc of voters who helped decide the last presidential election.
Keeping that in mind she spent much of 2018 touring the country, interviewing evangelical Christians in places as scattered as Orange County, California, outstate Missouri, Appalachian Pennsylvania, and rural New England.
She discovered the people she interviewed were not the demographic monolith exit pollers would have us believe. She learned that their beliefs and motivations are as diverse as the places where they live, and that their reasons for voting as they did are equally varied.
Four themes run through Denker’s book; surprise, that the people she met did not fall neatly into preconceived categories of belief or behavior; warning, that the new, so-called “Gospel of Nationalism” has insinuated its nose (and, indeed, its head and neck) into the tent of evangelical Christianity; hope, that the less than stereotypic behavior of the people whose stories she tells can be a starting point for dialog, and finally; opportunity, for healing the seemingly gaping gulfs currently dividing the country, by honest listening to and respecting the opinions of those with whom we feel we cannot agree.
It is apparent that Denker sees the world through a moderately left of center lens. For the most part she does an admirable job of preventing her point of view from becoming judgmental, the exceptions coming when she feels a statement, policy, or conviction directly contradicts her understanding of the teachings of Jesus in the Gospels.
In her concluding chapter Denker writes, “Grace, for American Christians and for all of us, is a difficult thing. It means starting from a place where all of us have been wrong, and knowing that we all have something to learn from each other…I hope, whoever you are, that your beliefs prior to reading this book have been challenged and that you are open to further conversation.”
This book has the potential to sow the seeds for such conversation, and to provide resources to nourish needed discussion.