John Fea’s new book sets out to explain why 81% of white American evangelicals voted for Donald Trump in 2016

Historians in the News
tags: religion, John Fea, evangelicals, Trump

I recently had the privilege to interview John Fea. He is a renowned historian, active Evangelical, and the author of a new book that merges politics, religion, and history, “Believe Me: The Evangelical Road to Donald Trump” (available June 28).

Kurt Manwaring: Welcome! Before we begin, could you tell us a little bit about yourself and your new book?

John Fea; Sure!  I have taught American history for sixteen years at Messiah College in Mechanicsburg, Pennsylvania and served as chair of the History Department for half of that time.  I have been married for twenty-four years and have two daughters and a dog named Jersey.

Believe Me: The Evangelical Road to Donald Trump will be published in June with Eerdmans Publishing.  I am not sure how to characterize the book’s genre.  It is mostly historical reflection, but it includes a bit of social commentary and even some moral exhortation.  The book explores why 81% of white American evangelicals voted for Donald Trump in 2016 and challenges my fellow evangelicals to think differently about political engagement.

Kurt Manwaring: What was the process of bringing this book to life? How did you come up with the idea, how did conversations get started with the publisher, what was your original word count (and final tally), how long did it take from outline to final submission, etc.?

John Fea: I had been writing about Trump and evangelicals at my blog(www.thewayofimprovement.com) and other venues from the moment he declared his candidacy and my fellow Christians began flocking to him. Believe Me draws heavily on this early writing.

After I concluded that I wanted to write a book for evangelical Christians, I cut-off conversations with literary agents and trade presses and turned to Eerdmans, a publisher of thoughtful Christian books who I was confident would get the piece into the right hands.

I think I made a great decision.  I approached Eerdmans with a book proposal in August 2017 and handed in the final draft of the book on January 1, 2018.   If I remember correctly, the book is roughly 60,000 words long.

Kurt Manwaring: Have any schisms developed between prominent Evangelicals because of the current political environment? Have you experienced any strained friendships as a result of differing feelings about the president?

John Fea: Great questions.  Support for Trump among average white evangelicals remains very high.  Those who did not vote for him and continue to oppose him make-up a significant minority.

So-called evangelical leaders are also divided.  The most significant split is between the leaders who regularly visit the White House and advise the president (Jerry Falwell Jr., Robert Jeffress, Johnnie Moore, Paula White, Franklin Graham) and those who organized the April 2018 gathering of leaders at Wheaton College to address the ways the Trump presidency has corrupted evangelical Christianity.  This group includes Richard Mouw, Mark Labberton, Mark Noll, Harold Smith, Jenny Yang, Tim Keller, Doug Birdsall, Jim Wallis, and Gabriel Salguero.  I would also put evangelical pundits such as Michael Gerson, David French, and Peter Wehner in this latter group.

I have not experienced any strained friendships.  In January 2018, I taught a Sunday-morning class on Christianity and politics at my evangelical church and got some push-back, but not too much.  I come from a boisterous Italian-American family who likes to yell at each other and debate politics over long dinners.  Most of my extended family voted for Trump and many of them continue to support him, so that has made for some very intense “conversations.” ...

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