I’ll confess it. When I learned of Angela Denker’s book Red State Christians: Understanding the Voters Who Elected Donald Trump (Fortress Press, 2019), I felt the tension between interest in a colleague’s work, a commitment to amplifying the voices of other clergywomen, and exhaustion with profiles intended to provoke my compassion for people who, I assume, don’t have much sympathy for LGBTQ+ people like me. Denker is both a pastor ordained in the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America and a journalist who has written for Sports Illustrated, the Washington Post, and Sojourners, and as I hoped, she brings both her theological insights and her journalistic gifts to this wonderful book, which I highly recommend.
Denker traveled the country to interview Christians in communities that we might assume are full of Trump voters, and that was the case in almost all of them. Regional histories and economies play as much a part in their varied motivations as do theological and social commitments. She takes the reader to metroplexes, affluent suburbs, and declining small towns. Denker offers a fair representation of the people she meets, yet throughout, she offers the reader both her counter-arguments to and in some cases her areas of agreement with the points-of-view of conservative Republicans who represent that majority of self-identified evangelical Christians who voted for Trump. Their motivations include Christian Nationalism, attachment to guns, opposition to abortion, and a love for a particular ideal of America. The foundation of racism and White Supremacy is apparent in many of the ideas shared by the people Denker interviews.
Her visit to El Paso is particularly poignant in the wake of the recent Wal-Mart shooting. There the churches are living in the midst of what is sensationalized by the President in speeches and on social media; people cross the border to work and to shop and to visit with family and friends. When we are up close to other human beings, how can we dehumanize them and still call ourselves followers of Jesus Christ? Yet even some of the Hispanic families in El Paso support Trump, and Denker unpacks levels of privilege and internalized racism that illustrate how difficult it will be to reach common ground even on topics that seem obvious (to me) on Christian principles.
I live in a Red community in a Purple state, not too far from one of the communities profiled. The book reminded me that while I sometimes despair that conservative and progressive Christians will ever find common cause in a broad sense, I actually live among and worship with Trump voters, and we do manage to find ways to communicate with one another, because we are already in relationship. It’s not always comfortable, and there are some compromises I can’t make. Denker’s engaging journey around the country encourages me to keep being in relationship and hoping that others will see in me the humanity Denker so aptly portrays in Red State Christians.
I received a complimentary copy from the publisher as part of the launch team. I also recommend the discussion guide available from the publisher, which would be a great resource for congregational read-alongs.