Trump’s Christian backers say he shares their faith, values

As Donald Trump increasingly infuses his campaign with Christian trappings while coasting to a third Republican presidential nomination, his support is as strong as ever among evangelicals and other conservative Christians.

“Trump supports Jesus, and without Jesus, America will fall,” said Kimberly Vaughn of Florence, Kentucky, as she joined other supporters of the former president entering a campaign rally near Dayton, Ohio.

Many of the T-shirts and hats worn and sold at the rally in March proclaimed religious slogans such as “Jesus is my savior, Trump is my president” and “God, Guns & Trump.” One man’s shirt declared, “Make America Godly Again,” with the image of a luminous Jesus putting his hands on Trump’s shoulders.

Many attendees said in interviews they believed Trump shared their Christian faith and values. Several cited their opposition to abortion and LGBTQ+ rights, particularly to transgender expressions.

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Nobody voiced concern about Trump’s past conduct or his present indictments on criminal charges. Supporters saw Trump as representing a religion of second chances.

For many, he’s also a champion of Christianity and patriotism.

Trump Conservative Christians

Sherrie Cotterman stands for a portrait March 16 while in line at a campaign rally for former president Donald Trump in Vandalia, Ohio.

“I believe he believes in God and our military men and women, in our country, in America,” said Tammy Houston of New Lexington, Ohio.

“I put my family first, and on a larger scale, it’s America first,” said Sherrie Cotterman of Sidney, Ohio. “And I would any day of the week, take a president that openly knows he needs the strength from God over his own.”

About 8 in 10 white evangelical Christians supported Trump in 2020, according to AP VoteCast. Pew Research Center’s validated voter survey found that a similar share supported him in 2016.

But this is a new campaign, and that support remains durable — even though Republican voters in the early primaries had several conservative Christian candidates to choose from, none of whom faced legal troubles and misconduct allegations like Trump does.

In the Iowa, New Hampshire and South Carolina Republican primaries, Trump won between 55% and 69% of white evangelical voters, according to AP VoteCast.

Trump even criticized one competitor, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, for signing strict abortion curbs into law.

Trump was the only Republican candidate facing scores of criminal charges, ranging from allegations that he conspired to overturn his 2020 election defeat to allegations he falsified business records in seeking illegally to sway the 2016 election with hush money to porn actor Stormy Daniels.

Trump was also the only GOP candidate with a history of casino ventures and two divorces, as well as allegations of sexual misconduct — one affirmed by a civil court verdict.

Republican primary voters still overwhelmingly chose Trump.

Trump Conservative Christians

Thomas Isbell sells Donald Trump merchandise March 16 at a campaign rally for the former president in Vandalia, Ohio.

This frustrated a minority of conservative evangelicals who see Trump as an unrepentant poser, using the Bible and prayer sessions for photo props. They see him as lacking real faith and facing credible, serious misconduct allegations while campaigning with incendiary rhetoric and authoritarian ambitions.

Karen Swallow Prior, a Christian author and literary scholar, who criticized fellow evangelicals’ embrace of Trump. In the past, she said Trump supporters hoped but weren’t certain he shared their Christian faith.

“Now his supporters believe themselves,” she said. “Despite the fact that Trump clearly wavers on abortion and he wavers on LGBTQ issues, those things are just ignored, they’re just erased out of the narrative.”

At the Ohio rally, several attendees cited their belief that Trump followed the Christian path of repenting.

“We’ve all come from sinning. Jesus sat with sinners, so he’s going to sit with Trump,” Vaughn said.

“One of the biggest myths about white evangelical support for Trump is this idea that it’s really about abortion and they’re holding their nose and voting for Trump,” said Robert Jones, president of the Public Religion Research Institute and an author of books on white supremacy in American Christianity.

He said in a 2023 PRRI poll, less than half of white evangelicals said abortion was a critical issue to them personally. More than half said five others were a critical issue, including human trafficking, public schools, rising prices, immigration and crime.

Jones added that Trump’s rhetoric about immigrants “invading the country and changing our cultural heritage” resonates with his audience.

Trump Conservative Christians

Hats, reading “God, Guns and Trump” and “Jesus is my savior, Trump is my president,” are displayed for sale March 16 at a campaign rally for former president Donald Trump in Vandalia, Ohio.

The slogan “Make America Great Again” echoes an “ethno-religious vision of a white Christian America, just barely underneath the surface,” Jones said.

He acknowledged the racial lines aren’t absolute, with Trump attracting Black supporters such as South Carolina Sen. Tim Scott.

The Ohio rally included a vast majority of white attendees but with some Black and other ethnic groups represented.

Trump’s rallies take on the symbols, rhetoric and agenda of Christian nationalism, which typically includes a belief that America was founded to be a Christian nation and seeks to privilege Christianity in public life.

Trump endorsed a Bible edition that includes U.S. founding documents and the lyrics to Lee Greenwood’s “God Bless the USA.”

“This is a Bible specifically for a kind of white evangelical audience that sees themselves as the rightful inheritors of the country,” Jones said, citing a 2023 PRRI poll in which about half of white evangelicals agreed that God intended America as a promised land for European Christians.

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