Sunday, March 11, 2018

Michael Gerson on Trump and White Evangelicals: "This Is Not Mere Gullibility; It Is Utter Corruption"

Not to be missed: Michael Gerson's just-published essay in The Atlantic entitled "The Last Temptation: How evangelicals, once culturally confident, became an anxious minority seeking political protection from the least traditionally religious president in living memory." As Gerson notes, he speaks as someone raised in an evangelical household, who studied theology at Wheaton College, the "Harvard of evangelical Protestantism." He speaks as a former staffer for Senator Dan Coats, a fellow Wheaton alumnus, and as a former policy advisor (along with other evangelical leaders) to President George W. Bush. His (white) evangelical cred is impeccable. Here are some memorable passages in his essay:

One of the most extraordinary developments of recent political history—is the loyal adherence of religious conservatives to Donald Trump. The president won four-fifths of the votes of white evangelical Christians. This was a higher level of support than either Ronald Reagan or George W. Bush, an outspoken evangelical himself, ever received. 
Trump's background and beliefs could hardly be more incompatible with traditional Christian models of life and leadership. Trump’s past political stances (he once supported the right to partial-birth abortion), his character (he has bragged about sexually assaulting women), and even his language (he introduced the words pussy and shithole into presidential discourse) would more naturally lead religious conservatives toward exorcism than alliance. This is a man who has cruelly publicized his infidelities, made disturbing sexual comments about his elder daughter, and boasted about the size of his penis on the debate stage. His lawyer reportedly arranged a $130,000 payment to a porn star to dissuade her from disclosing an alleged affair. Yet religious conservatives who once blanched at PG-13 public standards now yawn at such NC-17 maneuvers. We are a long way from The Book of Virtues.


The moral convictions of many evangelical leaders have become a function of their partisan identification. This is not mere gullibility; it is utter corruption. Blinded by political tribalism and hatred for their political opponents, these leaders can’t see how they are undermining the causes to which they once dedicated their lives. Little remains of a distinctly Christian public witness. 
As the prominent evangelical pastor Tim Keller—who is not a Trump loyalist—recently wrote in The New Yorker, "'Evangelical' used to denote people who claimed the high moral ground; now, in popular usage, the word is nearly synonymous with 'hypocrite.'"


For a package of political benefits, these evangelical leaders have associated the Christian faith with racism and nativism. They have associated the Christian faith with misogyny and the mocking of the disabled. They have associated the Christian faith with lawlessness, corruption, and routine deception. They have associated the Christian faith with moral confusion about the surpassing evils of white supremacy and neo-Nazism. The world is full of tragic choices and compromises. But for this man? For this cause?

But as Broderick Greer told us recently (this richly bears repeating), if any of this surprises us, we simply have not been paying attention. What many folks now claim to see as white evangelicals unmask themselves in the era of Trump is a face a lot of us have seen for a long time now, because we have not had the option not to see this face:

And let me tie that thought together with something Joy Reid tweeted during the night, regarding the rally at which the man in the White House performed last night in Pennsylvania, at which every vile statement that poured out of his mouth was greeted with whooping and hollering and wild cheers:

White Christians own this man — white Christians of all confessional stripes. Over half of them chose to put him into the White House. And we cannot allow that saient fact to be forgotten, if we care anything at all about the Christian message and how it's communicated to the world.

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