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  • Do We Change Our Minds in Public Life?On Christianity and the Possibility of Political Conversion
  • Nichole M. Flores1 (bio)

Since 2016, donald trump and his allies have used their power to stoke White supremacist, anti-Black, and anti-immigrant hostility. They have abused the public trust in financial and legal manners while also placing domestic, national, and economic interests under threat. They have undermined democratic norms and devastated a political culture that was already on the brink of implosion. As the COVID-19 death toll continues to mount, their denial of the severity of the virus has exposed those who are most vulnerable in our society to its harshest medical and economic effects, those whom Christians have an explicit call to protect: the hungry, the thirsty, the stranger, the naked, the sick, and the imprisoned (Matthew 25).

Perhaps most disturbing is that this unrelenting assault on the vulnerable of US and global society has been executed under the aegis of Christianity. Trump crassly abuses the delicate ethical, legal, political, and cultural tensions surrounding the issue of abortion to give cover to human rights abuses both staggering in their scope and shocking in their cruelty. Christian support for Trump appears impervious to even the most cruel attacks on the lives of the vulnerable so long as the administration continues to voice its paeans to the idols of national pro-life [End Page 21] politics.2 Using the pro-life movement as a political shield has worked for Trump and his administration; even in defeat in the 2020 election, he still won the votes of the majority of evangelical Christians and about half of US Catholics.3 How does this man maintain an iron grip on Christian support? Theologians, religion scholars, and religion journalists provided incisive commentary about the theological reasons for this enduring favor among his Christian supporters. A common theme among these commentaries is the recognition of the seeming impossibility that any new information—not the Muslim Ban, not caged children, not impeachment—can change his supporter's minds.4

Despite seemingly bleak prospects of changing the minds of their fellow Christians, many ventured to make cases for voting against Trump with hope of preserving Christian witness in US public life. Joshua Dickson, former National Faith Engagement Director for Biden for America who now serves as the Deputy Director of the White House Office of Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships, authored an essay in Christianity Today before the election appealing to his fellow evangelical Christians to vote for Biden over Trump. He urged his fellow Christians to vote for "a leader who shares our values in both word and deed."5 Similarly, John Carr appealed to his fellow Catholics who intended to vote for Trump, outlining his reasons for supporting Biden's candidacy despite obvious discrepancies between the president-elect's public position on abortion and the official position of the Catholic magisterium. "When neither party's platform reflects the full framework of Catholic teaching," said Carr, "I will follow my conscience. I will exercise my prudential judgement to vote for the candidate who has the character, integrity, and competence to serve; who will seek the common good and protect our democratic institutions."6 Boston College theologians [End Page 22] Thomas Groome and Richard Gaillardetz took Carr's case for conscience a step farther in their op-ed in the Philadelphia Inquirer: "May pro-life Catholics vote for former Vice President Joe Biden?" they asked. "Not only may we vote for Biden-Harris, but believe we must do so. To do otherwise would be contrary to our consciences."7 Articulating their own biblical and theological cases against Trump, each author aimed to create a permissions structure, or a bridge that allowed for Trump's Christian supporters to imagine other political possibilities grounded in their faith.

But are these labors to persuade their fellow Christians in vain? The situation raises critical questions for Christian ethics: Do our political arguments made to fellow Christians actually change anyone's mind? Even as permission structures build bridges to imagining other political possibilities, is anyone willing to cross them? Is political conversion possible in our current political moment?

Since at least the...