For someone whose educational background is in the area of social ethics (with an historical bent), the current U.S. election cycle has been fascinating. In blogging for some years now about the religious right and its historical roots in resistance to racial integration, I've often felt as if I've been casting words to the wind, especially when I've called on the leaders of the Catholic community in the U.S. to acknowledge the deep racism of the white evangelicals with whom U.S. Catholic bishops have made a religious and political alliance that continues to the present (see the award just presented by Mormon leaders to the former USCCB president Cardinal Dolan, for his "visionary leadership"). Acknowledging the racism of white evangelical Southerners would require American Catholic leaders to begin to take a critical look at the extent to which racism also strongly informs the thinking and political choices of white American Catholics — something they, the Catholic media, and the mainstream media have not been willing to do.
Now, in this election cycle, conversations about religion, race, and gender are taking place out in the open in the mainstream media in a way I don't recall in previous election cycles. This is one of the interesting developments of the current election period, and I suspect there will now be no going back from analysis of the role that religion plays in the American public square to bolster (and also to challenge) both racism and misogyny. Many commentators, both in the mainstream and religious media, still want to draw a concealing veil around these issues, of course — hence the recurring meme some religious journalists keep seeding in the mainstream media that "Catholics" oppose Donald Trump, which pays absolutely no attention to the critical fact that white Catholics remain far more willing to support him than do Latino Catholics.
Still, I think there will be no going back after this election cycle. Too much open discussion is now taking place even in the mainstream media about how gender and race are affecting the voting choices of various religiously affiliated voters. A case in point: Laurie Goodstein's article in yesterday's New York Times about how Trump's campaign is exposing rifts within the evangelical community that might shape our political discourse for some time to come.
In the nearly four decades since Jerry Falwell Sr. founded a group called the Moral Majority, evangelical Christians have been the Republican Party's most unified and reliable voting bloc in November presidential elections. The leaders of what came to be known as the religious right were kingmakers and household names, like Pat Robertson, James C. Dobson, Ralph Reed.
But this year, Ms. Hatmaker's outraged post [i.e., a Facebook and Instragram post in which white evangelical leader Jen Hatmaker blasted Donald Trump as a "national disgrace"] was one small sign of the splintering of the evangelical bloc and a possible portent of the changes ahead. While most of the religious right's aging old guard has chosen to stand by Mr. Trump, its judgment and authority are being challenged by an increasingly assertive crop of younger leaders, minorities and women such as Ms. Hatmaker.
That article was complemented by one Emily McFarlan Miller published the same day at Religion News Service, asking whether evangelical women will turn the Trump tide.
At Truthout, William Rivers Pitt has just blasted white evangelicals for continuing to support Donald Trump. Pitt notes that the support of the white evangelical community for Trump totally explodes the pretense of this political and religious constituency to stand for moral values. He suggests that, this election cycle, the religious right is showing its true face to Americans, and there won't be any putting the mask back on after this — not for anyone with eyes to see.
Pitt does note that it's the "high-rollers" of the leadership structures of the white evangelical community — the people Goodstein characterizes as the "religious right's aging old guard" — who are standing by their man Donald Trump: he writes,
A veritable who's who of evangelical high-rollers have stared into the sewer of the Trump campaign and declared it palatable in the eyes of the Lord. Ralph Reed, Robert Jeffress, David Bozell, Jerry Falwell, David Brody and Tony Perkins are but a few of the Christian luminaries who have anointed Trump with the blood of the Lamb and deemed him morally worthy of Christian support. Some, like Michele Bachmann, have gone so far as to proclaim that Trump is in fact the chosen vessel of God.
“Trump is what happens when you wear your Christian conservative values like a cardigan to conveniently slip off when the heat rises.” https://t.co/VhMcUldczR— Rachel Held Evans (@rachelheldevans) October 17, 2016
And then there's Mariam Williams, a young African-American woman writing at Natinoal Catholic Reporter about the palpable (poll after poll backs up her analysis) confluence of racism and misogyny among Trump supporters, and what this says to her and others like her:
I fear that a time of unchecked power is what most, if not all, of the men supporting Donald Trump want to return to. I don't believe that under a Trump presidency, Congress would reinstitute slavery, nor do I believe the 19th Amendment would be rescinded, as some Trump supporters wish. But I do believe Trump's violent rhetoric and sexually aggressive, hyper-masculine, entitled behavior has given the white men who would vote for him permission to return to openly expressing a craving for power and a sense of entitlement that is dangerous to anyone who isn't a white, heterosexual man, or who doesn't identify as such. I am concerned that, whether they are conscious of it or not, the white men who would vote for Trump have never fully accepted women and people of color as equals, and that this inability to accept equality has spurred resentment at every step of progress people not traditionally in power have made.
As I think about all of these developments — in particular, about how the current election cycle is exposing toxic racism and sexism in the religious right and forcing both religion journalists and the mainstream media to begin talking about these matters, I'm struck by Morgan Guyton's use of the phrase "ugly witness" at his Mercy Not Sacrifice blog yesterday. Guyton is decrying, in particular, the "ugly witness" conservative Christians have given to the Christian gospel for years now through the coercive bullying tactics they have chosen to employ in their battle against abortion. But the phrase also applies, I think, to how conservative Christians have chosen to deal with gay people and with women aspiring to enjoy the same range of rights men enjoy.
What do the culture warriors have to show for their four decades of political struggle? Nothing. They've lost at everything. And they've completely alienated millions of people from ever considering the Christian gospel. That's what makes me gnash my teeth and lie awake at night. How many people will never know Jesus because of how Jesus' followers have misrepresented him? Jesus says to those who create stumbling blocks through their ugly witness that it would be better for them to tie a millstone around their necks and throw themselves into the sea. They will stand before God and answer for how they have represented him on Earth.
"Ugly witness" that turns people completely away from the gospels and Christianity: why would many of us ever want to hear another word again about that Jesus fellow that some of his followers choose to proclaim through "ugly witness," through the promotion of racism, misogyny, and homophobia? After this election, in which so many white Christians in the U.S. have behaved so very badly, who would ever want to darken the door of one of their churches again?
The Matt Wuerker cartoon is from Politico.