When President Trump won the White House four years ago in a surprise victory, conservative Christians could not believe their good fortune.
At every turn of his presidency, he gave them everything they wanted: two hundred federal judges appointed for life. An embassy in Jerusalem. Anti-abortion policies. Two Supreme Court justices, then in the last hours a third. He was their bulwark, their defender, at a time when the country as they knew it and their place in it was changing. And he brought their movement to a pinnacle of political maturity.
Now, the election of Joseph R. Biden Jr. marks a new chapter for conservative Christian power, which peaked under Mr. Trump. As Republican evangelicals across the country dealt with the events of the week, they reflected on how much they had won over the past four years and their fears about what might happen under a Biden administration. They also wondered when and how they would take power back.
In Sheldon, Iowa, where about eight in ten voters backed Mr. Trump, Leah Schoonhooven wrote down her concerns about a Biden presidency on three single-spaced pages. She feared that the election results had been corrupted and that Mr. Biden would reverse Mr. Trump’s priorities, from building the border wall to elevating conservative evangelical ideals on religious freedom.
“He doesn’t represent Christianity at all; maybe he will prove me wrong, ”she said of Mr. Biden, who is Catholic. “It scares me. He won’t do everything Trump did.
“I don’t think our world will ever come back, when you have such a divided country,” she said.
Donna Rigney, a pastor whose church meets in the lodge of an RV park in Salt Springs, Fla., Had supported the president since 2016, when she received what she saw as a direct message of God supporting his candidacy.
After that election, she emailed people in her prayer circles urging them not to give up. “We have to drag Donald Trump to the finish line with prayers of faith, worship, fasting and staying in the place of loving and forgiving our enemies,” she wrote.
But she said on Friday that if this turned out to be the end of the Trump era, she was grateful for what he had done for the country and comforted to find that it would come under fewer attacks. “He will be fine, he has God’s hand on him,” she said. “It will be better not to be president and not to be attacked daily. But I really think it will be terrible for the nation.
Mr. Trump’s presidency has repeatedly exposed the deep rift between conservative white Christians and others of faith, or no faith at all. Mr Biden’s narrow margin of victory in several battlefield states has revealed that the cultural clash between these groups is far from over. About eight in ten white evangelical voters supported Mr. Trump in the 2020 election, according to AP VoteCast, just as they did in 2016. Mr. Biden’s coalition included many black Protestants, Hispanic Catholics and Americans not religiously affiliated.
Mr Trump, however, has gained a greater share of support from Latino voters overall, compared to four years ago. And for Reverend Samuel Rodriguez, a pastor from Sacramento who prayed at Mr. Trump’s inauguration in 2017, the lesson from the 2020 election was that Latinos had become what he called “the swing vote by.” Excellency”.
Mr. Rodriguez saw a legacy of the Trump era redefine the old approach of American evangelicals on the question of the character of politicians. Their loyalty to Mr. Trump, which required disregarding language and behavior they found obnoxious, proved that their personal character was not everything to them, given the number of tangible goals achieved.
“The policies are absolutely remarkable,” he said.
Voting for someone like Donald Trump would have been unimaginable for evangelicals 40 years ago, when they emerged as a powerful faction behind Ronald Reagan’s victory, said R. Albert Mohler, Jr., president of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Ky.
Today, “they feel the wind facing them,” he said, “with a clear sense that the culture is reorganizing itself in a hostile and increasingly secular manner. Evangelicals vote with the same values, but with a different set of priorities.
Mr. Mohler did not vote for Mr. Trump in 2016. But this year he has spoken publicly about his intention to vote for the president despite his lingering reservations, calling the alternative to a Trump victory “increasingly more unthinkable ”.
Like the president, a number of evangelical leaders refused to accept an outcome in which Mr. Trump had lost. Moments after most of the major news networks calculated that Mr Biden had won the race, Franklin Graham, the evangelist, warned that the results were not “official.”
And Mr. Graham warned that under a Biden administration, Christian businesses would soon be targeted for things like not selling a cake for a gay wedding, as he said during Mr. Obama’s presidency.
“America is in such a moral decline,” he said. “We are becoming a much more violent country. I am afraid for our country. “
In Texas, Robert Jeffress, pastor of First Baptist Dallas, has set up billboards across town to announce his upcoming sermon on how Christians should respond to a Biden presidency.
“There will be millions of Christians who will be disappointed with these results,” he said.
“A Joe Biden victory cannot erase all the positive achievements that can be attributed to President Trump,” he said. “I don’t think there is a way to calculate all the good things he has accomplished.”
Some social-conservative political groups were already looking to other political battles, such as protecting Republican control of the Senate, which could be decided by two ballots in Georgia in January. The continued Republican scrutiny of the Senate could cushion their achievements under Mr. Trump and make it harder for Democrats to do things like fund family planning or increase the size of the Supreme Court, several organizers said.
“To plan for the Biden administration, we need to have a safety net; otherwise it is Armageddon that we feared in the beginning, ”said Marjorie Dannenfelser, president of the Susan B. Anthony List. “This is why Georgia is so vital. The other side knows it too.
As the Biden campaign declared victory on Saturday, the Faith and Freedom Coalition began knocking on doors statewide and prepared to distribute a million election guides to 4,000 churches.
Social conservatives also celebrated the election to the House of at least 15 new women who oppose abortion rights, which more than doubled their numbers in the previous Congress. About half of the 15 reverse seats that were in Democrats’ hands.
And social conservatives had another reason to stay positive: Even if Mr. Trump had lost, they believed the Conservative control of the judiciary he allowed would have a lasting impact.
“When Amy Coney Barrett writes the majority decision protecting Christian placement and adoption agencies, I’m going to celebrate,” said Penny Nance, president of Concerned Women for America. “We put a few dots on the board.”