Believe Me: The Evangelical Road to Donald Trump

By: John Fea
Narrated by: Trevor Thompson
Length: 6 hrs and 38 mins
Categories: History, Religious
4.5 out of 5 stars (109 ratings)

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Publisher's Summary

A historian’s acute take on current American politics  

“Believe me” may be the most commonly used phrase in Donald Trump’s lexicon. Whether about building a wall or protecting the Christian heritage, the refrain is constant. And to the surprise of many, about 80 percent of white evangelicals have believed Trump - at least enough to help propel him into the White House.  

Historian John Fea is not surprised - and in Believe Me he explains how we have arrived at this unprecedented moment in American politics. An evangelical Christian himself, Fea argues that the embrace of Donald Trump is the logical outcome of a long-standing evangelical approach to public life defined by the politics of fear, the pursuit of worldly power, and a nostalgic longing for an American past. In the process, Fea challenges his fellow believers to replace fear with hope, the pursuit of power with humility, and nostalgia with history. 

©2018 John Fea (P)2018 Wm. B. Eerdmans Co.
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Wonderful, challenging work

A masterfully written treatment that challenges readers and listens to live in hope because of the Gospel rather than fear -regardless of who you voted for.

8 people found this helpful

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The Surprising History of American Christianity.

Since 2016, it's been in a confusing cyclone of grief & horror: evangelicals elected Trump and shoved a blade through the heart of Christian charity. I haven't gone to church after Trump altered statutes stopping pastors endorsing candidates from the pulpit. Thank you John Fea for grabbing the confusion from my head, research it then expressing my turmoil in a calm, cogent way. Whew. Now I knew other Christians feel the disparity between Christian teachings & current Christian behaviors like...well...rabid anger? The author displays the larger picture yet details American Christian history, explaining America's wild ride with religion.

7 people found this helpful

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A Historian's Perception

Believe Me: The Evangelical Road to Donald Trump by John Fea (audio book)

The author, a historian (at Messiah College) and self-identified evangelical has written an interesting, fact-based narrative showing how Trump’s statements in support of the religious right’s historical beliefs and positions garnered him over 80% of evangelical voters in his 2016 election. He also looks at other 2016 Republican candidates who had been favored, at one point or another, by Evangelicals, and how they flamed out: Ted Cruz, Ben Carson, and Mike Huckabee. The author clearly was dismayed by not only Trump’s election but the full-throated approval of Trump’s Presidency by that same electorate. I listened to this book with ear for anti-Trump bias, as opposed to a factual narrative befitting a historian. I think he managed that task quite well, though I suspect pro-Trump readers will dispute that.

The book’s premise is that a key component of the Evangelical political framework is fear, certainly in recent decades but also going back to the early days of the Republic. He supports this contention by noting a string of fear campaigns in America, some broader-based than others: against witches, Jefferson’s interpretation of the Bible, Catholics, slaves (and later just Blacks), non-white immigrants, the societal effect of the civil rights movement, atheism, Islam, abortion-rights, the decay of ‘traditional family values’, and more. He makes a compelling argument that the modern Republican party has mirrored many of those same fears into a political strategy that has attracted Evangelicals, among others. What Fea finds dismaying, is how Trump, the epitome of non-Evangelical behavior and thought, a demonstratively non-religion person embodying personal characteristics antithetical to Evangelical’s brand of Christianity, attracted and retains overwhelming Evangelical support.

Very pointedly, he addresses the Evangelical (and Republican party’s) nostalgia for times past when, ostensibly, America was closer to perfection, when it better mirrored Evangelical values. He bravely takes tackles this issue by exploring America’s history of oppression, inequality, and blatant discrimination. He does NOT argue that America isn’t great because of its many faults, but contends the nation’s greatness has been its ideals more than its behaviors. This assertion will be troubling to a lot of America in part because Americans (writ large) do not know, let alone appreciate, the nation’s history. They have been taught a sanitized version that largely ignores the grim realities of individual, collective, and institutional behaviors, and often distorts even that which it purportedly teaches. (If a reader disputes the widespread bias of American education, they’ll neither understand or accept much of what the author asserts.)

It is hard not to listen to a listing of Trump’s arguably outrageous statements, behaviors, policies, prejudices, equivocations, and litany of lies and not see an anti-Trump bias. But does a factual listing of observable faults (my word) amount to bias? I think not. He partially balances his observations of Trump with criticism of Democratic politicians, including Obama, Bill Clinton, and Hillary Clinton, though probably not to the satisfaction of far-right leaning readers.

As an historian, the author reveals much that is worth exploring. Readers can take him to task for his conclusions, or the importance of what he highlights, and possibly his interpretation of Evangelical beliefs, but it takes almost conscious denial or obtuseness to suggest he is altogether wrong.

Fea wisely does not offer solutions. Rather, he implicitly asks Evangelicals (and others) to better understand not only themselves, but the historical and societal contexts of Religious Right and Republican political thought. More importantly, he makes what appears to be a theological argument for Evangelicals to distance themselves from political power. He clearly believes many high-profile Evangelical leaders have been seduced by and corrupted by proximity to power, and then leading their flocks astray. He contends Evangelicals should reject the politics of fear, and return to Biblical premises of Christian hope, operating/living with humility, and being mindful of factual history rather than false nostalgia. How one balances those with living in diverse communities is left unstated.

An altogether, thought-provoking look at Evangelical support for Trump. It will be interesting to see how that support changes in the 2020 election cycle, if it in fact does.

NOTE: I was given a free review copy audiobook at my request and have voluntarily left this review.

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A very worthwhile social criticism

This book is a worthwhile work of social criticism by historian John Fea, a self-described Evangelical. He presents the “Evangelical road to Donald Trump” as one paved with fear, the pursuit of power and an unsubstantiated nostalgia. Instead, he urges voters, especially Christians, to make social and political choices based on hope instead of fear, on humility instead of the pursuit of power, and to a responsible use of American history. As a non-Evangelical Christian who voted for Trump, and while I would vote for Trump again if the other choice is a politician with the views consistent with the views expressed by Sanders, Clinton, and Obama, I recommend this book because of how Fea made me examine how my political choices may be inconsistent with the Christian call to faith, hope and love.

I am very grateful that I was given this free review copy audiobook at my request ; I have voluntarily left this review.

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Listen or Read this Book!

Book: I am constantly confused about the state of America. I don't know how we got here. People hate each other; the way we talk to each other seems like schoolyard banter. I keep asking everyone I know, "How did we get here?" I think I understand now. Thank you, John Fea. We have some work to do as a people and a nation. We are better than this.

Audio: Beautiful narration. What a voice! Clear, articulate and wonderfully paced.

Buy this audiobook!

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Eerily Accurate

This book was a surprise to me. I was blown away by how eerily accurate it was at describing the current political climate. It described things only I thought I was going through, and helped bring historical context to the events leading up to the 2016 election.

Thank you for this.

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A message to confused Christians

If you have trouble understanding how so many professed Christians have traded the life of Christ for trust in political power at all costs, this book will give you the perspective you need.

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More about Evangelicals than about Trump

The main explanation of the Believe Me is that Evangelicals voted for Trump out of fear, a desire for a Christian nation and the power to construct it that way, and nostalgia. I think that Fea is best when he is attempting to be generous in understanding the reluctant Trump voter and his historical explanations. Fea’s other books include books about whether the United States was founded as a Christian nation, why we should study history and a history of the American Bible Society, all of which make their ways into the book at one point or another.

Fea places all three factors, fear, nostalgia, and power (Christian nationalism) in historical context, asserting that it is not just in this one instance that these three factors have come into play, but that there is a history of Evangelicals choosing these over their Christian ideals. There are places where I think that Believe Me may have been rush to print just a bit too quickly. He explains the DACA program incorrectly. He could be clearer about what the 81% number really was. The definition of what an Evangelical is I think should have been developed more clearly from a historical perspective. In many ways Evangelical, which means something pretty specific in the second half of the 20th century, is mixed up with conservative Protestantism or Fundamentalism or any Protestantism of earlier generations. I think that weakens his historical argument in a few places because some of the historical parallels he is drawing may not be quit as clear for some that want to haggle about what Evangelicalism has meant historically or today.

Fea coined the term Court Evangelicals, which is being used fairly widely to describe the Evangelical Court to Presidential power of people like Jerry Falwell and Paula White and Robert Jefferies. I have not thought clearly about it previously, but it is interesting that there are three rough groups that are strong public Trump supporters and from whom the Court Evangelicals are largely from: the Religious Right, the Independent Network Charismatics (INC) and the Prosperity Gospel advocates. Part of what seems a weakness to this explanation is that many Evangelicals would not consider the INC or Prosperity Gospel groups to be Evangelical. I am more taken with Fea’s description of the concept of Christian Nationalism or Dominionism as a binding factor than Evangelical theological allegiance directly. Christian Century has an article that suggests that the binding factor is Whitness more than Evangelical theology, which I think also makes some sense.

The descriptions of how Evangelicals have chosen fear over opportunities to actually be evangelistic is very well done. This is Fea’s strength as a historian walking through examples from before the founding of the nation until recently of how fear has overcome the theological inclination toward openness that was also present. I could not help but think of the section in The Half That Has Never Been Told, about slavery as the economic engine of the American Economy, which directly argues that the northern legislators and business people that were against slavery ideologically, were unable to actually vote against it, either through the economy or through their direct legislative votes, because they benefited from it directly or indirectly. In a similar way, Fea charts how Evangelicals have been a mainstay in fear based politics against immigration or ‘the other’ throughout American history.

The sections about nostalgia in Believe Me, investigating the ‘Again’ part of ‘Make America Great Again’ seem to me the most damning. Evangelicals have quite often been nostalgic for an earlier age, but one that was not accurately remembered. It is here that Fea brings up the White Evangelical part of Evangelical most clearly. And I think it is here that the current discussion about the actual meaning of Evangelical matters. If you only use Bebbington’s quadrangle as the definition, then most non-white protestants are actually theologically Evangelical. They may not be the largest share of the group, but as a percentage of their portion of Protestantism (for instance the percent of Black protestants that are theologically Evangelical is a higher percentage of than the portion of White Protestants that are Evangelical) minorities are more likely to be Evangelical by a theological definition. The problems is that minorities that are theologically Evangelical are not very likely to call themselves Evangelical because of the social connotations of the term. The book Still Evangelical discussed this well. Fea rightly notes that minorities in the US tend to not be nostalgic for the past in the same way that Whites are. That lack of understanding of the central message of how the campaign rubbed many minorities wrong is a good sign of the racial isolation of many White Evangelicals (see Divided by Faith.)

The end of Believe Me is a bit unusual in a history book. Fea notes some of his discomfort with giving prescriptions for ‘what now’. But as he tested the material with students or church groups or lectures, he kept getting a variation of ‘so what does history tell us we should do’ or ‘so now what’. It may not be super specific, but this Fea presents the exact lesson that I critiqued the Benedict Option for missing. Last summer, Fea and took his family on a group historical tour of the civil rights era. This tour went to many of the sites and talked to a number of people that participated in the civil rights movement. Many of them have already passed away, but the tour awoke in Fea an understanding of the church as a resistant body. Not as one that was fighting a political culture war, but as one standing up for their own and others humanity.

In many ways I am more sympathetic to the reluctant Trump voter than I was before I read Believe Me. While I do not agree with voting for Trump, I do understand better the cultural forces that would move someone toward that choice. That does not make me much more sympathetic toward those that are still active Trump supporters (although I understand why people double down on decisions both emotionally and rationally.)

Even though it does have some problems, Believe Me is worth reading whether you are part of the 19 or 81 percent. It is probably an easier read for the 19 percent. But it is challenging to both sides of this divide because neither side is pure in its allegiance to Christ.

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Please read

Anyone interested in American politics should read this book. I learned a lot of things I didn’t know. Thanks John Fea for writing it!

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Excellent Explanation and Analyses

Narration: Clear and nice, deep resonance, but pace is slow, ponderous.

Content: Superbly clear, thorough, informative explanations and analyses of evangelical support for Trump.

Highly recommended.

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  • Delectable
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Superb Book For Every American

This is a must listen / read for every American or anyone wanting to understand how we got here!