When trying to understand why 81% of white evangelicals voted for Trump, one thing you must keep in mind is conservative Christians hate Hillary Clinton. A lot. The Religious Right has spent the past 25+ years systematically tearing down Hillary Clinton, and not even someone like Donald Trump could inspire them to entertain the idea of voting for her. People who didn’t outright hate her still maintained a distaste for her and voted for her as the “lesser of two evils”. You’d be hard pressed to find an outspoken Hillary supporter in the evangelical church; those of us who honestly liked and supported her were shamed into silence. When I went on Facebook and said I was voting for Hillary, a friend (well, former friend now) of mine called me a murderer, a liar, and unChristian. This isn’t just a simple grudge, a lot of Christians view Hillary Clinton, along with the Democratic party, as the embodiment of everything wrong with this country. In true conservative Christian fashion, evil has the face of a woman.
I was born in 1985, so my childhood and teen years were defined by 90s evangelical Christian culture. We had our own books, music, conferences, and music festivals. “In the world, not of it.” was the motto, and we demonstrated that by taking worldly things and making our own sanctified versions. Even now you can walk into a Christian bookstore and see cheesy Christian rip-offs of popular slogans and sayings. This was the age of True Love Waits, DC Talk, and WWJD bracelets. Rachel Scott, one of the students who died in the Columbine shooting, was our modern day martyr and patron saint of standing up for your faith.. We were a pro-life army of God ready to take America back for Christ, and that meant always voting Republican. After all, they were the party of family values, the only party that aligned with our Biblical values. Supporting the GOP was, and still is, deeply intertwined with Christian identity. To vote Democrat was to betray Christ himself. If you loved Jesus you’d vote Republican, no questions asked.
This flavor of Christianity is also very patriarchal. Women are expected to be submissive, demure and not seek out positions of power. They teach that a woman’s highest calling is to be a wife and a mother, and any deviation from those roles is considered rebellious or sinful. Many denominations do not allow women to be pastors or leaders, and even the ones that do have very low numbers of women in leadership roles. If you walk into a church on a Sunday morning and you want to find the women, look in the nursery or the children’s classes, not the pulpit. Despite an abundance of Biblical evidence to the contrary, they believe men are always leaders and women are always followers. Hillary Clinton openly defied this gender hierarchy during her husband’s presidency, and evangelicals have hated her for it ever since.
Hillary Clinton was not afraid to share her knowledge and strong opinions. She wanted to be treated as an equal. She was pro-choice. She refused to take the blame for her husband’s infidelity. She declared “women’s rights are human rights.”. She kept and used her maiden name. She sought out positions of power and used her influence to discuss causes and ideas that were important to her. She represented a female autonomy that shocked and scandalized conservative Christians. She didn’t fit into their narrow box of femininity, so they used what I call “sanctified misogyny” to tear her down and use her as an example of what a woman shouldn’t do. In her book Searching For Sunday, Rachel Held Evans shares an anecdote where a Christian man justifies calling Hillary a bitch, saying she’s the one exception to the rule against calling women names. She was a Jezebel, a witch, and the whore of Babylon all wrapped up in a smart pantsuit. She was a baby killer, a woman who didn’t know her place. Her intelligence and ambition threatened them, so they set about hating her in the name of Jesus and maintaining the patriarchy. Hillary Clinton and women like her had to be opposed at all costs, even if it meant throwing the nation into the hands of an incompetent fascist and his white supremacist friends.
But fire cannot kill a dragon, and Hillary Clinton is a dragon. Even after decades of unchecked vitriol and sexism, she ran for president twice, the second time winning the popular vote by 3 million votes. When you know the history of everything she’s dealt with, it’s easy to see why she was able to hold her own against the likes of Donald Trump and the GOP; she’s been dealing with them for decades. The dance of misogyny and dehumanization is a familiar one and she knows all the steps.
Although the goal of Christian misogynists was to discredit Hillary and prevent women from looking up to her, their treatment of her had the opposite effect on me. When I became a feminist and my political views shifted from Republican to Democrat, I read Hillary’s first autobiography, Living History, and got to know her on her own terms. I found her incredibly relatable, which is why I took the sexism aimed at her during the last election cycle so personally. I too am a strong, opinionated woman who doesn’t fit into Christianity’s femininity box. A lot of the things people said about her have been said about me. So for all their hard work and frothing at the mouth, my Christian friends and mentors couldn’t stop me from finding a role model in Hillary Clinton.
Barring a radical shift in teachings surrounding politics and gender, I doubt Christians will ever stop hating Hillary Clinton. It’s much easier to take a person who threatens you and turn them into a mascot of everything you hate instead of doing some self reflection and sorting out your shitty ideas. We’re two weeks into the Trump presidency and it’s already been a human rights disaster; I worry about what other threats to civil rights and human decency we’ll have to suffer all because one of the country’s major voting blocs really, really hate a woman.