For all the talk of “cultural transformation” and “redeeming the culture” and “taking back America” what Dias found is a cultural and religious minority practicing nothing less than Realpolitik, which the Oxford Dictionary of English defines as “a system of politics or principles based on practical rather than moral or ideological considerations.” This means that for all the transformationalist rhetoric, the Dutch men and women of NW Iowa have become Americans and practical citizens of God’s twofold kingdom in America with all the ambiguities that entails. They know that Trump is no Christian nor even a political or cultural conservative but he is, in their eyes, better than the alternative, a candidate they found positively hostile to their political, cultural, economic, and religious well being.
I guess that Dutch Calvinists in Orange City and Sioux Center, IA do not often feature prominently in the New York Times but they did in an August 9, 2020 story by Elizabeth Dias. The dateline is Sioux Center, IA, one of the more significant Dutch Reformed towns in Northwest Iowa and the home of Dordt University, an independent university mostly identified with the Christian Reformed Church. The other college town mentioned, Orange City, IA is the home of Northwestern College, a denominational school of the Reformed Church in America.
The organizing question behind the story concerned the support of theologically and culturally Dutch Reformed Christians for a notorious playboy for the presidency in 2016. Dias reminds us that it was at Dordt University that then candidate Trump boasted that he could shoot someone on 5th Ave., in New York City and get away with it. Why did these members of a close-knit, conservative, religious and cultural minority vote for someone whose own ethics and theology were so distant from their own? According to Dias it is because they felt threatened by the social changes introduced by the two Obama administrations. In a story of just under 5,000 words Dias used “white evangelicals” or similar phrases no fewer than 14 times to help explain Trump’s appeal. The message was clear: these people are racists. She makes a point of observing the growing Hispanic population in NW Iowa and some of the accompanying tensions but there was some evidence in the article itself that her subjects are a little more culturally aware than her narrative sometimes indicated:
Mr. Schouten’s wife, Caryn, had walked over with the other wives. After the election of President Barack Obama, the country seemed to undergo a cultural shift, she said. “It was dangerous to voice your Christianity,” she said. “Because we were viewed as bigots, as racists — we were labeled as the haters and the ones who are causing all the derision and all of the problems in America. Blame it on the white believers.”
Dias reported that religious conservatives in NW Iowa feel under siege but she did not seem to understand why.
“The religious part is huge for us, as we see religious freedoms being taken away,” Ms. Driesen said. “If you don’t believe in homosexuality or something, you lose your business because of it. And that’s a core part of your faith. Whereas I see Trump as defending that. He’s actually made that executive order to put the Bibles back in the public schools. That is something very worrisome and dear to us, our religious freedom.”
She made not a single reference to the bakeries in Washington State and Colorado that have been sued and fined since the Obergefell decision nor did acknowledge the Supreme Court’s post-Obergefell decisions, which have recognized not only the potential but the reality of genuine hostility to Christians trying to live according to their religious beliefs.
The principal thesis of the article is that these Christians see Trump as a vehicle to regain the cultural and political power they lost during the two Obama administrations.
Evangelicals did not support Mr. Trump in spite of who he is. They supported him because of who he is, and because of who they are. He is their protector, the bully who is on their side, the one who offered safety amid their fears that their country as they know it, and their place in it, is changing, and changing quickly. White straight married couples with children who go to church regularly are no longer the American mainstream. An entire way of life, one in which their values were dominant, could be headed for extinction. And Mr. Trump offered to restore them to power, as though they have not been in power all along.
Perhaps the most important lines in the article, however, are these, which Dias did not highlight:
“Is he a man of integrity? Absolutely not,” he went on. “Does he stand up for some of our moral Christian values? Yes.”
The guys agreed. “I’m not going to say he’s a Christian, but he just doesn’t attack us,” his friend Jason Mulder said.
Apparently the Calvinists of NW Iowa are more sophisticated than the reporter sometimes seemed to suggest.