In Alabama, piety and pragmatism draw Christians to Trump

Sébastien DUVAL
·4 min read

Her eyes blazing with determination, Tawnya Parker -- who endured a traumatic abortion as a teenager -- attempts to explain why she and so many other evangelical Christians in the US's southern Bible Belt see President Donald Trump as their spiritual and ethical champion.

Parker may have issues with Trump's tweeting and crude rhetoric, but she and the president share an opposition to abortion, which could be a deciding factor for many voters in the November 3 election.

The 49-year-old human resources specialist and her husband Brian, a military veteran who works for the Lockheed Martin defense company, worship at the Solid Rock Church in Haleyville, Alabama, every Sunday.

Living in one of the most pro-Trump parts of the country, Parker says religion "strongly influences our life" -- and their choice of president.

"I was forced to have an abortion when I was 15. It did a tremendous amount of psychological and emotional damage to me. I do not believe that abortion on demand is right," she told AFP.

While Trump's public stance against abortion resonates with her, she says "somebody needs to get him off Twitter." 

"Yes, he could learn to speak a little more eloquently. But the values that he represents, represent this county and our values a lot better than the candidate that is running against him," she said.

Deep in the conservative Christian region known as the Bible Belt, Haleyville is in Winston county, which voted almost 90 percent for Trump in 2016.

Provocative and rude, the thrice-married New York businessman, accused of adultery and sexual abuse, may appear to have little in common with Winston locals.

But he has courted evangelicals assiduously in his race against Democrat Joe Biden, and many see Trump as fighting for their cause, particularly on abortion.

- 'God's man of the moment'? -

Alabama passed the country's most restrictive abortion law in May 2019.

It is being challenged in the courts, but Trump's recent nomination of conservative judge Amy Coney Barrett to the Supreme Court could lead to nationwide tightening of access to abortion -- to the delight of many evangelicals.

Barrett's nomination is "very important, maybe as important as the presidential election," said Jerry Mobley, a Republican Party official in Winston county.

Alongside the principles, a degree of pragmatism is often mixed in with loyalty to Trump.

Republican party member Charity Freeman, in neighboring Cullman county, said the president's private life was of little concern.

"If we voted on presidents on their personal history, we probably would never have elected any of our presidents," she said.

"We vote on their policies and on their stance for the United States and how they are going to help us as American citizens."

William Craig Mann, a journalist of the Cullman Tribune, summed up the contradiction pithily.

"Trump will never be an example of the kind of person you can bring home to your mother. But he's God's man of the moment," he said.

Cullman is different from many Bible Belt communities in one aspect -- it is a Catholic enclave in a predominantly Protestant region.

And it is home to the Ave Maria Grotto, a visitor attraction which has miniature reproductions of about 100 religious buildings from around the world assembled over 50 years by a monk.

"A lot of people say Alabama is the buckle of the Bible Belt," said grotto director Roger Steele standing in the middle of models of St. Peter's Square in Rome and the Lourdes shrine in France.

- Young voices -

But the "Deep South" could be changing. "You don't see as much as hardcore conservatism or racism that you might have seen in the 60s and 70s," Steele said.

Sign of that change could be emerging among the youth of Alabama.

Tawnya Parker says her five children are Democratic supporters, while even young Trump voters are staking out their own convictions.

Christian Marbutt, 20, waits in the parking lot of a Haleyville grill restaurant behind the wheel of his sun-worn Chevrolet

With his cap back-to-front, a thick red beard, and crucifix around his neck, he has the word "family" tattooed on his forearm and will vote for Trump on November 3, but he says he supports abortion rights.

"I believe in pro-choice. It's the woman's body," he said.

"Our generation is not technically pushing away from the religion, but we're not focusing on it as much as older generations."