Donald Trump and his evangelical followers are back for more: I know how to beat them

As your evangelical insider, here's my wisdom: The threat is real — but here's how to defeat it once and for all

By Nathaniel Manderson

Contributing writer

Published June 4, 2023 12:00PM (EDT)

US President Donald Trump holds up a Bible outside of St John's Episcopal church across Lafayette Park in Washington, DC on June 1, 2020. (BRENDAN SMIALOWSKI/AFP via Getty Images)
US President Donald Trump holds up a Bible outside of St John's Episcopal church across Lafayette Park in Washington, DC on June 1, 2020. (BRENDAN SMIALOWSKI/AFP via Getty Images)

As I predicted in a previous article for Salon, Donald Trump and his evangelical following are back with a vengeance. Unfortunately, with recent polling showing declining confidence in Joe Biden and surprisingly strong numbers for Robert F. Kennedy Jr. — Biden's only significant Democratic opponent — the political algorithm points, for the moment, toward a possible Trump victory. For this reason alone, it is clear enough that those Republicans who stand against Trump now, and the evangelical leaders who have been silent about Trump to this point, will ultimately rally to his side. Victory and political power are more important to them than preserving American democracy and following the genuine doctrines of Christianity.  

So what can be done?

As your semi-official evangelical insider — and current pastor to anyone outside the church who is tired of organized religion and willing to accept an authentic, flawed and failed sinner as minister — I have a few thoughts on what to do about these God-believing voters.  

The first thing is to expose the so-called shepherds as the anti-Christians and anti-American hypocrites that they are. The issues they choose are supposed to leave them looking spotless of sin as they convince their sheep to hate all the wrong people.  

It is not supposed to be the church's job to force particular lifestyle choices individuals. First of all, the theology that has arisen claiming that Jesus would be opposed to the LGBTQ community is incredibly flawed. Even if it weren't, the church has no right to declare how a family should be formed. It is a waste of time and resources, not to mention against the most basic principles of both Christian faith itself and American individual freedom.  

There is nothing in the Bible that directly touches the issue of abortion, and it was not part of evangelical doctrine or evangelical politics until relatively recently, yet billions of dollars have been spent to promote this as a core item of the evangelical agenda. Selective passages from scripture have been used in an effort to control women in American homes, in the American workplace and in American society overall.

Evangelical leaders have even constructed theological excuses for tax breaks to corporations and billionaires. That seems politically unnecessary and profoundly un-Christian, considering what the Bible actually says about wealthy people.

Stranger still, these false leaders have even constructed theological excuses for providing tax breaks to big corporations, billionaires and millionaires. This seems unnecessary, not to mention profoundly un-Christian. The Bible is abundantly clear that the wealthy are not God's favorite people, yet evangelical leaders are going out of their way to help them. I recognize that extracting tithing from a millionaire is more materially fruitful than getting it from a poor person. Did that mean that evangelicals really needed to sell their soul to get in bed with the wealthiest in this country?

In the bigger picture, these core evangelical issues ignores the needs of most of the American public, working people and seemingly everyone in need of help. They are attacks on virtually all people outside the church and are especially harsh on the poor, the sick, the foreigner and the disenfranchised — effectively on everyone Jesus Christ commanded his followers to serve.  

The second thing that can be done is that Democratic leaders, liberal activists and media talking heads should focus on what most people need in life. We want to be seen and heard, and considered good. In the brilliant Netflix show "Beef," this idea is strongly conveyed. Hardworking and self-sacrificing people all too often live and die by a code of service, love, forgiveness and self-improvement, all while feeling internally angry, depressed and resentful about the things we have never achieved and about our sense that the good karma we have put out into the world has never been returned.    

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Politicians are so caught up in talking points, raising money and winning elections that most have forgotten the reason they exist: to be of service. I believe that my own story is a fair representation of far too many other stories in this country, and can be seen as an example of sorts that our leadership needs to address.

I can barely remember a time in my life when I did not have two jobs. I am 46 years old and have poured my heart and soul into every job I worked, even when I was delivering newspapers a couple of years back. Like many people of my generation, I believed that if I pursued an education, worked hard and believed in myself, I could share in the American dream. That dream has not been realized, and I know that is true for millions of others, many of whom have worked harder jobs and faced more difficult challenges than I have. 

As members of Generation X, we were the first in this country's history to take a significant step backward in economic terms. We own less wealth, owe more debt and work more hours than our parents' generation did, generally speaking. In all probability, our overall life expectancy will be lower. Our families are more fractured, our kids are more depressed and our hearts — in many cases, and I am sorry to say this — feel empty of hope. (People don't call me the minister of depression for nothing!)

If millions of working-class and middle-class people continue to be devastated by personal failures — whether we believe that is their "own fault" or not — then this country cannot thrive economically, spiritually, politically or in any other way. This perspective is too often ignored by Democratic leaders and members of the media elite. 

All the Republicans can come up with in educational policy is "school choice," an illusory freedom falsely branded as liberation that changes nothing about the system.

Most of the working class feels trapped in a sort of economic and social algorithm. I have worked in education for 20-plus years, working primarily with first-generation and low-income students, and our deeply troubled educational system is a perfect example of the failure of political leadership. All the Republicans can come up with in terms of educational policy is "school choice," an essentially consumerist concept that changes nothing about the system itself. It is an illusory freedom falsely branded as liberation, which in fact could summarize nearly all Republican policy ideas. Too many Democrats, on the other hand, simply refuse to admit there is anything wrong with the public school system that budgets cannot solve.

In fact, in every measurable way, our educational system has failed over the last 50 years. It has failed at teaching basic skills of reading, writing and arithmetic, and it has spectacularly failed at reducing inequality. This failure includes a dramatic class discrepancy, visible to all. If you attend a "good" school in a wealthy neighborhood, you are overwhelmingly likely to go on to a "good" college and have a rich future. If you go to a "bad" school in a poor district — whether that's in a big city or the rural heartland — your future is likely to involve working at the local grocery store or a call center, if you're lucky.

It's time to start listening to the working class, and I don't just mean the semi-mythical "white working class" who voted for Trump. It is time to listen to those who lose more than they win. It is time to listen to the people who build your homes, fix your cars, cut your lawns, remove your trash, clean your floors and deliver your packages.  

In my ministry, I have the mission of pushing two messages forward, guided by my Christian faith. The first of these is to expose religious hypocrisy, which I try to do in writing articles like this one. The second is to lift up the voices of the poor, the working class and the blue-collar people of this beautiful country. The secret to a successful and bright future for America is found in remembering and understanding that people need to be seen and heard — and most important of all, to be valued. If the Democratic Party can figure this out, then Donald Trump will finally be history, and our country can finally turn the page on this dark chapter.

By Nathaniel Manderson

Nathaniel Manderson was educated at a conservative seminary, trained as a minister, ordained through the American Baptist Churches USA and guided by liberal ideals. Throughout his career he has been a pastor, a career counselor, an academic adviser, a high school teacher and an advocate for first-generation and low-income students, along with a paper delivery man, a construction worker, a FedEx package handler and whatever else he could do to take care of his family. Contact him at

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Christianity Commentary Donald Trump Elections Evangelicals Religion Working Class