Guilty Verdict Shakes Trump Supporters’ Faith—in the Justice System (2024)

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Donald Trump’s historic felony conviction in New York on Thursday hasn’t deterred his evangelical supporters. Instead, along with fellow Trump loyalists, they have directed their ire at the justice system that issued a guilty verdict against him.

“People think this is kind of the end of America,” Chad Connelly, CEO of Faith Wins, a conservative Christian organization, told CT. “I don’t talk to anybody that thinks this is anything other than a sham case.”

A jury of 12 New Yorkers found Trump guilty on all 34 counts brought by Manhattan district attorney Alvin Bragg, concluding that Trump falsified business records as part of an effort to keep a sex scandal from influencing the 2016 US presidential election.

“This was a rigged trial by a conflicted judge who was corrupt,” Trump told reporters in a brief statement after leaving the courtroom.

“The real verdict is going to be November 5 by the people,” Trump added. “We didn’t do a thing wrong. I’m a very innocent man. … Our whole country is being rigged right now.”

Connelly, who previously served as the Republican National Committee’s national director of faith engagement, said that he believes the verdict will only “strengthen people’s resolve” to vote for Trump come November.

More than 9 in 10 white evangelical voters said a guilty verdict in the hush money trial would make no difference in their vote or would make them more likely to back Trump, according to an NPR/PBS NewsHour/Marist poll conducted last week. Only 7 percent of white evangelicals said a conviction would make them less likely to vote for him for president.

Overall, two-thirds of registered voters said a conviction makes no difference to how they will vote; 17 percent said they would be less likely to vote for Trump after a conviction, 15 percent said more likely.

As he extended prayers for the former president on Thursday, Georgia megachurch pastor Jentezen Franklin said that he “can’t wait to vote for him,” and encouraged followers to register to cast their ballots in November.

Politicians, pundits, and evangelical leaders who served as faith advisers to the former president quickly responded to the verdict, declaring that the decision was an indictment of the justice system rather than of Trump himself. They saw the trial as an effort to unfairly go after Trump for partisan reasons during his election year.

“Without question, the biggest loser yesterday was trust in America’s institutions,” Andrew Walker, associate dean in The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary’s School of Theology, told CT. He said the decision to prosecute was “plagued with questions and concerns from the start,” while also adding that Trump’s actions leading to the case “were wrong and inexcusable.”

“If the text messages I received last evening are any indication of responses to the convictions and their potential fallout in November, it seems the convictions have raised alarms and may drive people to the polls with greater fervor,” Walker added.

Southern Baptist pastor and televangelist Robert Jeffress, also a Trump evangelical advisor, said the conviction was less about evidence and more about Trump’s rising poll numbers.

Ben and Candy Carson stated that “the judicial system has been weaponized.” Rep. Jim Jordan, an Ohio Republican and staunch Trump ally, called the verdict “a travesty of justice,” and dubbed the state court a “kangaroo court.”

“This is a dark day,” Eric tee*tsel, vice president of government relations at the Heritage Foundation, a conservative think tank, posted on the social platform X.

Heritage president Kevin Roberts called the verdict “a travesty to our republic” and blamed the Biden administration.

“What we’re seeing now is what we traditionally see in so-called Banana Republics,” Drew McKissick, South Carolina GOP chairman and former RNC cochair, said in a statement. “Every American who believes that justice should be applied equally and fairly should be appalled by what we’ve seen over the last year.”

The morning of the verdict, McKissick posted Proverbs 29:23 on X: “A man’s pride shall bring him low: but honour shall uphold the humble in spirit.”

The felony conviction, a first for any US president, also plays into one of the themes of Trump’s campaign: that he is persecuted by political opponents.

The theme may resonate with Christian supporters in particular, according to political scientist Ryan Burge, since they may superimpose themes of Christian persecution into the arena of politics (sometimes literally: Eric Trump shared an illustration of his father in court with Jesus’ hands on his shoulders.)

“He’s a martyr for the cause,” Burge said in an email. “Trump almost paints himself in a messianic light. And all messiahs face persecution.”

The verdict may have the impact of strengthening Trump’s support in some quarters: Just minutes after the verdict’s announcement, WinRed, the Republican donation platform, crashed after Trump and other GOP politicians directed supporters to the website to give financially.

“What took place today is nothing short of an abuse of power that will ultimately backfire against the left,” said Tony Suarez, vice president of the National Hispanic Christian Leadership Conference and Trump evangelical advisory board member.

Mark Burns, a televangelist who has campaigned for Trump, said the verdict showed “a two-tiered injustice system” and that the conviction would help Trump electorally: “Trust me, Donald Trump is about to jump up ten points.”

Conservative Christians in the “Never Trump” camp—a minority among white evangelicals—saw the verdict as further confirmation of concerns around Trump’s moral standards and fit for office.

Third-party voter Bob Stevenson, a pastor in Aurora, Illinois, said he’s frustrated with the pro-Trump crowd’s “willingness to cast entire institutions as suspect so long as they get the W” (a slang expression for “the win”). “It’s like chopping off the branch you sit on,” he added.

Meanwhile, Trump’s evangelical supporters, including many members of Trump’s religious advisors, said they planned to take up the matter to a higher authority.

Evangelist Franklin Graham asked for prayer in the days leading up to the trial, asking that “God’s will be done.” After the verdict, he called for prayer for the country, saying that many Americans were now questioning “whether our legal system can be trusted.”

Trump supporters including Harvest Christian Fellowship pastor Greg Laurie and Prestonwood Baptist Church pastor Jack Graham shared similar concerns and calls for prayer.

“I remember reading that Abraham Lincoln said many times he was driven to his knees [in prayer] because he had no place else to go,” Winsome Earle-Sears, lieutenant governor of Virginia, posted. “And so when a verdict like this comes down, then I pray. I pray to understand what God is trying to do.”

“Please, pray for America,” Laurie said. “Pray for America like you never have before.”

Meanwhile, the Biden campaign said in a statement that the verdict showed that “no one is above the law.”

“But today’s verdict does not change the fact that the American people face a simple reality. There is still only one way to keep Donald Trump out of the Oval Office: at the ballot box. Convicted felon or not, Trump will be the Republican nominee for president.”

Some evangelical Trump supporters sounded a note of caution with making sweeping conclusions from the trial.

“I hold America’s justice system in rather high regard,” Byron Foxx, an evangelist and the founder of Bible Truth Music, told CT in a phone interview. “Bad behavior brings bad consequences. You know, fornication, adultery, all these things, they have consequences.”

“Our country and our republic will be very damaged if we’re going to have selective prosecution and not be equitable across the board. That’s a great danger to our entire society. That being said, I was not in the courtroom,” he added. “Our system allows for an appeal process. And that, in all likelihood, will take place.”

Foxx said he hopes Christians in general will “slow down, take a good look at things. If wrongdoing has been done, then there are consequences to that. And there’'s no one perfect except Jesus.”

Trump supporters’ criticism of the court system follows their efforts to contest the results of the 2020 election and their ongoing distrust of the electoral system.

Trump’s sentencing is scheduled for July 11, less than a week before the Republican National Convention, where he will officially secure his party’s nomination for president.

Trump’s legal team is likely to appeal the verdict, a process that may take months to unfold. Trump still faces other legal battles, including a case over his handling of classified documents and another dealing with the attempts to overturn his 2020 election loss.

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