While Donald Trump may not seem like a natural candidate to gain the support of the religious right, a sociologist who studies the intersection of religion and politics knows how it happened.

Many black religious leaders faced a similar dilemma in the 2012 election when they supported Barack Obama, even though they disagreed with his support of gay marriage, said Korie Edwards, associate professor of sociology at The Ohio State University.

In a new study published in the Journal for the Scientific Study of Religion, Edwards described how some black religious leaders in 2012 used “religious sequestration” to reconcile their support for Obama, despite his views on same-sex marriage.

“Black religious leaders decided that they would insulate religion from the civic and political sphere,” Edwards said.

“They wanted to use the power of the church to impact politics, but realized that they were giving up their prophetic voice. They allowed politics to influence religion, even though their religion couldn’t influence politics on this issue.”

This study was part of the Religious Leaders and Civic Activity in Ohio Project, which was run by Edwards. The project includes data from 54 in-depth interviews with black religious leaders and civic leaders in Ohio, observations of civic and political activities, and documents produced by or about religious and civic leaders.

While many black church leaders were not happy with Obama’s views on gay marriage, Edwards said they used religious sequestration to put that aside and find reasons to support Obama for the other good things they felt he could do.

“Now in this election, it is the religious leaders on the right who are using this strategy,” Edwards said. “They are trying to make sense of affirming a leader in Trump who in many ways goes against their faith.”

Trump has been married three times, bragged about his extramarital affairs and has at times held views that are antithetical to the Christian right.

“But they think it is important to support Trump for other reasons, such as naming Supreme Court justices who are more likely to rule in their favor on issues,” Edwards said.

Religious sequestration is the most common way, but not the only way that church leaders deal with supporting presidential candidates whose views don’t totally align with theirs.

In her study, Edwards found that some black church leaders simply minimized the importance of same-sex marriage relative to issues that are relevant to blacks.

A third mechanism that a small minority of church leaders used was selective denial – simply rejecting any suggestion that Obama’s position was not in alignment with their own belief systems.

But whatever mechanism they use, religious leaders both in 2012 and today have to find ways to bridge the gap between their religious views and their desire to influence politics, Edwards said.

“Religious leaders have always been engaged in the civic arena,” she said. “But to do that they have to reconcile that space between their beliefs and the realities of politics.”

#Contact: Korie Edwards, 614-247-8482; [email protected]