Christians: Trump pushed some young Christians away from churches

  • President Donald Trump has been closely associated with Christians throughout his presidency, earning a majority of votes from Catholics, Protestants, and evangelicals in 2016.
  • But for some Christians, Trump has shaken their relationship to their religion so much so that they have broken ties with family, friends, and even their churches.
  • “You’re either a Christian who’s conservative and supportive of Trump or a Christian that’s really confused and hates the situation you’re in,” Maria Felix told Business Insider.
  • Felix is still looking for a church that she feels shares her values, but she has a lot of friends who have given up looking.
  • Visit Business Insider’s homepage for more stories.

Maria Felix was on a mission trip, working alongside other Christians, when she first heard Donald Trump’s name. It was 2015, and she said the group of teens was joking about him, baffled at the idea that he was casting himself as a Christian in his campaign for the US presidency.

Five years later, Felix, 23, said Trump’s presidency — and the way he’d been embraced by so many churches, religious leaders, and Christians — had greatly shaken her faith.

“I have really struggled with continuing to even call myself a Christian, because I feel like I cannot continue to call myself a Christian if Trump is what Christians want to be like,” she told Business Insider.

In many ways, Trump has successfully wooed Christians across the US, earning a majority of votes from Catholics and Protestants, and especially evangelicals, in 2016, according to a Pew Research Center analysis of exit-poll data.

But for others, like Felix, Trump has so strained their relationship to their religion that they have broken ties with family, friends, and even their churches. Some of the Christians told Business Insider their faith had been affected to such a degree by Trump’s presidency that they didn’t know whether many young people would ever find their way back to a church.

Michael Wear, who served as a faith advisor to President Barack Obama, told Business Insider he had talked to Christians on college campuses across the US who were dismayed by Trump’s impact on their relationship to religion.

He said Christians of all ages told him they could no longer enjoy some of the most basic aspects of their religious communities, like coffee after church and small-group discussions, because of the new divisions.

An evangelical Christian himself, Wear is part of Not Our Faith, a new bipartisan political action committee of Christians who oppose Trump’s reelection. He said the goal of the PAC was to “be a voice for the majority of Christians who do, and will, oppose Trump’s reelection.”

Wear describes himself as theologically conservative, with relationships across the political spectrum. But he said he was one of many Christians whose “conservative theology leads them to oppose a man who frankly has shown a deficiency of character and a deficiency of morality and a deficiency in his policies.”

evangelical priest prays for trump
Pastor Joshua Nink with Trump after a Sunday service at First Christian Church in Council Bluffs, Iowa, in 2016.
Jae C. HongAssociated Press

But for young Christians in particular, watching some of their leaders support Trump has been especially hard. For many, Wear said it started with the “Access Hollywood” tape, an audio clip from 2005 of Trump making lewd comments about women.

“Having been young during Clinton and seen the way evangelical leaders responded to him, and then to see these same leaders make excuses for Trump,” he told Business Insider. “It just led them to think, some of these voices aren’t trustworthy.”

He also predicted Trump’s impact could last long after his presidency, as many Christians who dislike the president will not forget the way so many churches embraced him.

This point echoed the sentiments of the Christians Business Insider spoke with, including Felix.

“I have not found great luck in finding a church where I can worship and not feel like it’s hypocritical,” she said.

Felix, whose father is Puerto Rican, left her church in Lancaster, Pennsylvania, this summer after she felt her Christian values did not align with those in her church, where she said almost everyone supported Trump.

“I just can’t be OK with the misogynistic, homophobic, racist, xenophobic, et cetera, things that spew from Trump’s mouth,” she said. “Or the people that follow him that also call themselves Christians.”

She said if she continued to go to church right now, she would get more and more bitter against church in general and in turn against God. For people like her, it has been a bewildering time.

“You’re either a Christian who’s conservative and supportive of Trump or a Christian that’s really confused and hates the situation you’re in,” she said.

Felix is still looking for a church that she feels shares her values, but she has a lot of friends who have given up looking. She said they no longer felt as if they could count on their churches to support them, so they leave and find other communities that work better for them.

trump rally evangelical christians protest sign
A man with a sign that read “Trump is anything but Christian, Shame on complicit and complacent pastors” outside a church in Miami where Trump was holding a rally for evangelical supporters on January 3.
Lynne Sladky/Associated Press

Jesa Joy, a 33-year-old from Michigan who now lives in Los Angeles, has had similar experiences.

Joy, who worked at a Christian church for seven years and said she was raised to be a fiscal Republican, said she understood why people would vote for Trump in some cases, such as if they support his tax plan or other policies. But she has been incensed by the way some religious leaders in her life praise Trump for his faith.

“It’s so crazy to me that someone who taught me what a good example of a Christian is, is now choosing to label Trump as a good example of a Christian,” she told Business Insider.

To her, she said Trump was a glaring example of a tension that already existed among Christians in America. She said more traditional Christians with a “fire and brimstone” mentality to their faith were already deterring some younger Christians, who she describes as having a more accepting and loving attitude.

She said Trump — and the way she feels he has been celebrated by the more traditional Christians — has brought that tension to a boiling point.

“I think you have this missing generation of us in our 20s and 30s that are exhausted,” she said. “And who will never really figure out a way to return back to a physical church building. I think there’s a lot of hurt there.”

But Wear, who believes most Christians will not support Trump this election as they did in 2016, said he viewed this as an opportunity for young Christians to recognize the differences between faith and politics.

“A lot of young people are coming to understand that their faith wasn’t just about Jesus,” he said. “Things that they thought were their faith, was actually somebody’s political opinion.”

Rather than push young people away, Wear said he hoped that distinction would help them approach their faith with more clarity.

“The predominant thing here is not a whole bunch of people losing confidence in Jesus,” he said. “What’s happening is they’re losing trust and confidence in some of these folks who have claimed to speak for Christianity.”

Despite the divisions that exist right now, Wear said he’s hopeful that Christian communities would eventually move beyond Trump, and that he’d be a lot more hopeful for that if the country moved beyond Trump on Election Day.

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