Navigating Evangelical Political Identity in the Era of Donald Trump

Anthony Comer 1 * , Laura Jacobi 1

AM J QUALITATIVE RES, Volume 5, Issue 1, pp. 163-184

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Evangelical Christians have always had a complex relationship with political issues in the United States, especially with the rise of the Christian right in the 1980s. Since 2017 the Trump presidency has amplified that complexity, presenting a new set of issues for consideration. With Festinger’s (1957) Cognitive Dissonance theory and Tajfel’s (1981) Social Identity theory as the foundation, this study examines how evangelical Christian pastors conceptualize their religious and political identities, and how they communicate with their congregants about political issues. Pastors act as crucial gatekeepers within their faith communities so they provide crucial insight into the evangelical community. Six pastors from a mid-sized, Midwestern university town were interviewed using a semi-structured format. Findings indicate pastors hold non-negotiable beliefs, distance themselves from political connotations of evangelicalism, and explain political values with religious values. When communicating with congregants, they reconcile competing values and respect differences but indicate their desire to follow God’s convictions.

Keywords: Social identity theory, cognitive dissonance theory, evangelical Christians, Donald Trump