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Evangelicals Made a Bad Bargain With Trump

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  • Evangelicals Made a Bad Bargain With Trump

    Evangelicals Made a Bad Bargain With Trump

    In public, Donald Trump has spoken in glowing terms about his evangelical supporters, calling them “warriors on the frontiers defending American freedom,” people who are “incredible” and “faithful,” a bulwark against assorted moral evils.

    But behind the scenes, as The Atlantic’s McKay Coppins recently reported, “many of Trump’s comments about religion are marked by cynicism and contempt, according to people who have worked for him. Former aides told me they’ve heard Trump ridicule conservative religious leaders, dismiss various faith groups with cartoonish stereotypes, and deride certain rites and doctrines held sacred by many of the Americans who constitute his base.”

    Trump “mocks evangelicals behind closed doors,” Republican Senator Ben Sasse recently told his constituents.

    “Can you believe people believe that [redacted]?” Donald Trump said after a 2012 meeting with pastors who laid hands on him, according to Michael Cohen, Trump’s former lawyer and confidant.

    “Those [redacted] evangelicals,” the president, smiling and shaking his head, told GOP lawmakers, according to Tim Alberta’s book, American Carnage. Trump believed, Alberta writes, that if he gave them “the policies and the access to authority that they longed for,” then “in return they would stand behind him unwaveringly.”

    And so they have.


    In judging how each side sees the relationship, let’s start with the president. A man whose lifestyle is more closely aligned with hedonism than with Christianity, Trump clearly sees white evangelicals as a means to an end, people to be used, suckers to be played. He had absolutely no interest in evangelicals before his entry into politics and he will have absolutely no interest in them after his exit. In fact, it’s hard to imagine a person who has less affinity for authentic Christianity—for the teachings of Jesus, from the Sermon on the Mount to the parable of the Good Samaritan—than Donald Trump.

    But what about evangelicals? How do they view him? Some have undoubtedly convinced themselves that they have a faith connection with the president, declaring that Trump is everything from a “baby Christian” to a “born-again Christian.” In 2016, James Dobson, a significant figure in the evangelical political world for decades, said, “Trump appears to be tender to things of the [Holy] Spirit.” Let’s just say Trump has a rather peculiar way of showing such tenderness.

    The less gullible or more cynical evangelicals view Trump transactionally. Trump may be using evangelicals to advance his aims, but they are also using Trump to advance theiraims. (Many evangelicals have grown enamored with Trump’s relentless attacks and aggression, believing that he is inflicting wounds on those who deserve to be wounded.) The president might not be a model Christian in his personal life, they admit, but he delivers what they want, which is power and influence.

    In no area is that more true than in the judiciary, where Trump has placed two conservative justices on the Supreme Court, Neil Gorsuch and Brett Kavanaugh, and, absent anything unforeseen, will end his first term having added a third, Amy Coney Barrett. Say what you will about Trump’s ethical failures, his evangelical supporters insist, on the issue that matters most to them, Trump has been spectacular.

    The transaction, from their perspective, is better than they could have hoped for. Trump has reshaped the federal judiciary, particularly compared with what would have happened if Hillary Clinton had been president, and nothing else Trump has done—no moral line he has crossed, no offense he has committed—can take away from his achievements in this area.

    But if politically conservative evangelicals have things they can rightly claim to have won, what has been lost?

    For starters, by overlooking and excusing the president’s staggering array of personal and public corruptions, Trump’s evangelical supporters have forfeited the right to ever again argue that character counts in America’s political leaders. They might try, but if they do, they will be met with belly laughs. It’s not that their argument is invalidated; it is that because of their glaring hypocrisy, they have sabotaged their credibility in making the argument.

    The conservative evangelical David French has reminded us that in 1998, during the Bill Clinton–Monica Lewinsky scandal, the Southern Baptist Convention passed a “Resolution on Moral Character of Public Officials,” declaring that it was wrong to “excuse or overlook immoral or illegal conduct by unrepentant public officials so long as economic prosperity prevails,” because “tolerance of serious wrong by leaders sears the conscience of the culture, spawns unrestrained immorality and lawlessness in the society, and surely results in God’s judgment.”

    It further affirmed that “moral character matters to God and should matter to all citizens, especially God’s people, when choosing public leaders,” and “implore[d] our government leaders to live by the highest standards of morality both in their private actions and in their public duties, and thereby serve as models of moral excellence and character.”

    “Be it finally RESOLVED,” the document continued, “that we urge all Americans to embrace and act on the conviction that character does count in public office, and to elect those officials and candidates who, although imperfect, demonstrate consistent honesty, moral purity and the highest character.”

    It turns out that this resolution cannot have been based on deep scriptural convictions, as it was sold to the world (the Southern Baptist resolution included a dozen scriptural verses); it has to have been motivated, at least in large part, by partisanship. It’s quite possible, of course, that many of its supporters were blind to just how large a role partisanship and motivated reasoning played in the position they took. But there is simply no other way to explain the massive double standard.

    The carefully choreographed dance goes like this: Moral character in public officials matters quite a lot when the public officials who morally fail are Democrats; it matters hardly at all when they are Republicans. If it’s a liberal who has crossed ethical lines, emphasize righteous conduct; if it’s a conservative, emphasize forgiveness and verses like “Judge not lest you be judged.” If it’s Bill Clinton in the dock, savage him; if it’s Donald Trump, savage his critics.

    But the problem goes far beyond an inconsistent application of a biblical ethic. What the Trump years have exposed is something more fundamental, which is that many evangelical Christians have not brought anything distinctively Christian to politics.

    One would hope that people of faith would act differently from members of political interest groups—that followers of Jesus would passionately defend human dignity, champion justice, and create the conditions for human flourishing, without being co-opted by any political party or power structure.


    One might expect that they would care for the weak and the vulnerable, including the unborn and those living in the shadows of society; promote ordered liberty, empathy, and compassion, especially toward those viewed as social outcasts and aliens (one of the most striking features of the ministry of Jesus); and speak out—time and time and time again, if necessary—against political leaders and presidents, including those who advance a political agenda they believe in, if those leaders are cruel, pathologically dishonest, and lawless, and if they dehumanize their enemies. To reduce this to a single sentence: People of faith should embody moral and intellectual integrity.

    I’ve argued in these pages before that the Trump-evangelical alliance has inflicted enormous damage on the Christian witness in America, particularly among Millennials and Gen Z. Unfortunately, the stories keep pouring in.

    I was recently told by a friend that in 2018 he met with a group of students from a leading evangelical college. He reported that all of them—about a dozen—had turned against the term evangelical because of the way evangelicals were engaging in culture and politics during the Trump era.

    This account reflects what James Astill, a reporter with The Economist, told me three years ago. Astill met with 14 students on the campus of the same school. “Most of them said they were less willing to be identified, by the world at large, as evangelicals,” he told me, “because they were so sickened by the identification of evangelicals with Trump.”

    A few weeks ago, a person in Christian ministry told me in pained and poignant terms that he’s been counseling scores of younger evangelicals who are on the edge of leaving their faith and scores more who actually have lost their faith because they have been so unsettled by what they have witnessed during the Trump years.

    I’ve heard from others about how nascent efforts at multiethnic reconciliation within their communities have now collapsed because of racial tensions that have been inflamed by the president, even while Trump retains the enthusiastic support of white evangelicals.

    It’s fine to say to young people that they shouldn’t judge Christianity based on the actions of flawed Christians or the reckless statements and misconduct by those who are in positions of leadership, because the acid test of Christian faith is who Jesus was.

    But that argument, while valid, goes only so far. Because the truth is that people, certainly outside the faith but also within it, do judge the merits of Christianity on the conduct of Christians and Christian leaders. We are social beings at our core; we find fulfillment and meaning in associating with others. So it’s a real problem if people see a narrative unfold—even if it’s an incomplete narrative, even if it’s one that doesn't fully represent the diverse and nuanced views of tens of millions of evangelicals in America—and their reaction is: Look, I don’t want to be a part of that group. It’s self-righteous, it’s judgmental and ungracious, it’s angry and arrogant, and it’s just not something I want to be a part of.


    This doesn’t mean Christians who vote for Donald Trump are committing a mortal or venial sin. It doesn’t mean they don’t have a case that deserves to be heard. It doesn’t mean they don’t have legitimate concerns or that they haven’t been on the receiving end of condescending attacks. And it certainly doesn’t mean Trump supporters can’t be fine people doing wonderful things in different areas of their lives.

    But if evangelical supporters of Trump are honest, they should admit—at least to themselves, if not to the rest of the world—that something has gone terribly amiss and that the power they have achieved is coming at the expense of the faith they proclaim.

    “We have a savior, and personally, my president doesn’t even have to share my faith,” Jerushah Duford, the granddaughter of Billy Graham, said at a press briefing hosted by Not Our Faith, a new PAC whose purpose is to peel off Christian support for Trump. “However, [Trump’s] attempt to hijack our faith for votes, and the evangelical leaders’ silence on his actions and behavior, has presented a picture of what our faith looks like that’s so erroneous, it’s done significant damage to the way people view Jesus.”

    The Trump era is hardly the first or most egregious time that people who speak for Christianity have disfigured their faith. Furthermore, evangelicalism isn’t the whole of Christianity in America, and Christianity in America isn’t the vital center of Christianity in the world. What American evangelicals do certainly matters, though perhaps not quite as much as its champions and critics might think. And there are pockets of renewal within American evangelicalism, along with a deep desire among many Christians to close this unfortunate chapter in their history and write a far more enchanting and captivating one next.

    A final, somewhat more personal reflection, if I might. My criticisms of American evangelicals during the entirety of the Trump era have upset many people within my faith community, including some very close, longtime friends, who believe my critiques have been much too harsh, ungracious, and unsympathetic. They argue that in criticizing the president, I have become too much like him. They may be right; my only response is that I have spoken the truth as I (imperfectly) see it, assessing the case as clearly as I can and marshaling the arguments as best I can. I have tried to align my words to match the need of the moment. My judgment may well be wrong, but my conscience is clear.

    I do know, though, that there are more and there are less constructive ways to disagree. In his beautiful book My Bright Abyss: Meditations of a Modern Believer, the poet Christian Wiman wrote:

    The spiritual efficacy of all encounters is determined by the amount of personal ego that is in play. If two people meet and disagree fiercely about the theological matters but agree, silently or otherwise, that God’s love creates and sustains human love, and that whatever else may be said of God is subsidiary to this truth, then even out of what seems great friction there may emerge a peace that—though it may not end the dispute, though neither party may be “convinced” of the other’s position—nevertheless enters and nourishes one’s notion of, and relationship with, God.

    Wiman went on to say, “Without this radical openness, all arguments about God are not simply pointless but pernicious, for each person is in the thrall to some lesser conception of ultimate truth and asserts not love but a lesson, not God but himself.”

    What many of us within the Christian faith need to do better than we have—what I can do better than I have—is assert less of ourselves and more of God. If more followers of Jesus did that, if I did that, it would offer more people a place of repose in a deeply unsettling world.

    Peter Wehner is a contributing writer at The Atlantic and a senior fellow at the Ethics and Public Policy Center. He writes widely on political, cultural, religious, and national-security issues, and he is the author of The Death of Politics: How to Heal Our Frayed Republic After Trump.

    Tried and waited then got tired, that's about it

  • #2
    tldr

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    • #3
      I am not happy with Pres. Trump. I am voting for the issues. I am more to the right than the left.

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      • #4
        Originally posted by annabenedetti View Post

        I was recently told by a friend that in 2018 he met with a group of students from a leading evangelical college. He reported that all of them—about a dozen—had turned against the term evangelical because of the way evangelicals were engaging in culture and politics during the Trump era.

        This account reflects what James Astill, a reporter with The Economist, told me three years ago. Astill met with 14 students on the campus of the same school. “Most of them said they were less willing to be identified, by the world at large, as evangelicals,” he told me, “because they were so sickened by the identification of evangelicals with Trump.”

        A few weeks ago, a person in Christian ministry told me in pained and poignant terms that he’s been counseling scores of younger evangelicals who are on the edge of leaving their faith and scores more who actually have lost their faith because they have been so unsettled by what they have witnessed during the Trump years..
        When you mix religion and politics, often the religion loses.

        We (Jews) have a concept of "Hillul Hashem". When a Jew does something shameful (which happens more often than one would wish), we view view it as an embarrassment to God himself.

        What would Jesus think of the current state of politics in the US?

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        • #5
          Originally posted by chair View Post

          When you mix religion and politics, often the religion loses.

          We (Jews) have a concept of "Hillul Hashem". When a Jew does something shameful (which happens more often than one would wish), we view view it as an embarrassment to God himself.

          What would Jesus think of the current state of politics in the US?
          The red-letter Jesus wouldn't recognize militant evangelical right-wingers as his followers. They don't realize they've subjugated their religion to their politics and I can understand how this happens because I was once in the middle of it. I'm not a life-long liberal or secularist looking at a group I can't relate to and don't understand, I lived the life of a religious social conservative for most of my life. Some years ago I read Bad Religion by Ross Douthat with a small reading group here, and I still remember the chapter (I think it was City on the Hill), that talks about the heresy of Christian Nationalism, and it hit with such a hard wake-up call. Recently I read Unholy: Why White Evangelicals Worship at the Altar of Donald Trump by Sarah Posner that goes through the history of the rise of the religious right in the U.S., how they built their machine in Washington from the 1980s forward. It makes such sense, reading it through the framework of experienced history.

          Tried and waited then got tired, that's about it

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          • #6
            Transcribed from the Lincoln Project Podcast
            Crazy Uncle in Chief and the SCOYUS Nomination Hearing:



            "Early on, at the start of the Lincoln Project, I was home with having a conversation with a family friend. She's conservative and pro-life. And we were, you know, discussing the upcoming election. She was planning on voting for Trump, it was all about the judges.

            I asked her at the time, rhetorically, given all of the damage that Trump has done to the American system, whether she would be willing to trade democracy for autocracy or a theocracy, if it meant she got more of what she wanted, which was more conservative judges.

            I asked rhetorically because I expected 'Well, obviously not'. But the answer she gave was, 'Oh. I'll have to think about that'.
            And that was, for me, an alarm. A really loud alarm. I was not expecting that, not from someone who is so, so thoughtful."


            Tried and waited then got tired, that's about it

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            • #7

              Tried and waited then got tired, that's about it

              Comment


              • #8
                Please make sure you are starting threads in the correct subforum. This is clearly a political thread, and as such, I have moved it to the Politics section.

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                • #9
                  Originally posted by annabenedetti View Post
                  Transcribed from the Lincoln Project Podcast
                  Crazy Uncle in Chief and the SCOYUS Nomination Hearing:



                  "Early on, at the start of the Lincoln Project, I was home with having a conversation with a family friend. She's conservative and pro-life. And we were, you know, discussing the upcoming election. She was planning on voting for Trump, it was all about the judges.

                  I asked her at the time, rhetorically, given all of the damage that Trump has done to the American system, whether she would be willing to trade democracy for autocracy or a theocracy, if it meant she got more of what she wanted, which was more conservative judges.

                  I asked rhetorically because I expected 'Well, obviously not'. But the answer she gave was, 'Oh. I'll have to think about that'.
                  And that was, for me, an alarm. A really loud alarm. I was not expecting that, not from someone who is so, so thoughtful."
                  You know despite the fact that Trump is a truly awful President, there could be worse, especially if more tightly wrapped in religion. Trump's religions is superficial. he simply does not have the capacity to be a True Believer in anything or anyone but himself.

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                  • #10
                    Originally posted by annabenedetti View Post
                    Evangelicals Made a Bad Bargain With Trump

                    Bla, bla, bla, ad infinitum
                    But THE BEST thing about Trump is that he's not a "Democratic HATE Monger".

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                    • #11
                      Originally posted by Bob Carabbio View Post

                      But THE BEST thing about Trump is that he's not a "Democratic HATE Monger".

                      Tried and waited then got tired, that's about it

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                      • #12
                        Originally posted by Bob Carabbio View Post

                        But THE BEST thing about Trump is that he's not a "Democratic HATE Monger".
                        Like most other hate mongers, there's nothing democratic about him.
                        This message is hidden because ...

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                        • #13
                          Originally posted by The Barbarian View Post

                          Like most other hate mongers, there's nothing democratic about him.
                          There's a personality cult around President Trump. Reminiscent of Erdogan or maybe Putin. To be fair- I think there was a bit of a personality cult around Obama too.

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                          • #14
                            There were some people arguing that Obama was God's chosen one. Just as blasphemous as guys like Falwell or Graham. The copies, I mean; not the originals. Even Jerry Falwell had principles. And Billy Graham was as good a disciple of Jesus as you could expect of a fallible human. Their sons have been huge disappointments.
                            This message is hidden because ...

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                            • #15
                              Originally posted by annabenedetti View Post

                              The red-letter Jesus wouldn't recognize militant evangelical right-wingers as his followers.
                              Guess you could call me an evangelical, and I don't even listen to rabid, politically obsessed whackjobs on the left or right.You, with all your guile and agenda, are all abject bores. In terms of politics, what you generally get is somebody that, in action, may have more righteous policies here and there, as opposed to actively promoting reprobation, evil and sliding into a cultural abyss. But there's no politician that speaks for me. I'm sure there are a lot of religious people on their way to hell, with the left, that are certain God is a Republican.

                              In any event, along those lines, don't go around talking about the red letter Jesus that you, clearly, know nothing about, for how you, clearly, have zero living faith. You need to find you a red letter homo, or just shut your yap, trying to speak for Christians. You're just making a fool of yourself, trying to hijack Christ for your evil politics. What's this argument Christian people should, therefore, cast their lot with the party of homo abortionists and antichrists, that are teaching their children not to be sure of their gender, that are rabid to remove the name of the Lord Jesus entirely from public life, despite Constitutional free exercise, showing us that if you don't like something the answer is to burn and loot, that what, rip the likes of Romans 1 from their Bibles? Is that just stupidity or what, folks?

                              I, for one, will let you know when I want exegesis from the Satanic left, but please don't hold your breath.

                              Luke 6:39 And he spake a parable unto them, Can the blind lead the blind? shall they not both fall into the ditch?

                              James 1:8 A double minded man is unstable in all his ways.

                              John 4:23-24 But the hour cometh, and now is, when the true worshippers shall worship the Father in spirit and in truth: for the Father seeketh such to worship him. God is a Spirit: and they that worship him must worship him in spirit and in truth.

                              Galatians 6:7 Be not deceived; God is not mocked: for whatsoever a man soweth, that shall he also reap.

                              1 John 1:6 If we say that we have fellowship with him, and walk in darkness, we lie, and do not the truth.



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