Say what you will about the terrible, terrifying Trump years, one good thing has already come out of them: the discrediting of evangelical Christianity. For decades, believers have boasted of their superior virtue, especially in matters of sex and marriage and parenting and social propriety. They’ve blasted premarital and extramarital sex, LGBTQ people, divorce, pornography, sex work, foul language, crude behavior, and not being a Christian—as they define “Christian”—blaming these things for everything from 9/11 to Hurricane Katrina. They never get tired of going after Bill Clinton for his infidelities and Hillary Clinton for “enabling” them. (How frustrating it must have been for them that Barack Obama, the Muslim Kenyan communist, spent eight years in the White House with nary a whiff of scandal!) Now they’ve sold their souls to Donald Trump, who has partaken freely of practically every vice and depravity known to man. Urged on by their leaders, 81 percent of white evangelicals voted for Trump—more than voted for George W. Bush, an actual evangelical—and now everyone is laughing at them. It’s about time.
In the latest issue of The Atlantic, Michael Gerson, a former Bush speechwriter and current Washington Post columnist, mourns the loss of evangelical credibility in an angry, eloquent essay, “The Last Temptation.” As Gerson writes: “The moral convictions of many evangelical leaders have become a function of their partisan identification. This is not mere gullibility; it is utter corruption.” An evangelical himself, Gerson excoriates those leaders who make outlandish excuses for Trump’s behavior (my personal favorite: James Dobson’s explanation that the president is a “baby Christian”). Evangelicals, he says, have been driven to a kind of paranoia by their loss of cultural hegemony: They fall into absurd and unnecessary battles over school prayer and creationism, and losing those battles has made them seem—or actually be—“negative, censorious, and oppositional.”
I suppose it’s natural for Gerson to look on the bright side when he can: The evangelicals are his tribe. Thus, he’s full of nostalgia for the 19th-century evangelicals who opposed slavery, but he never mentions that the largest evangelical denomination by far today, the Southern Baptist Convention, split from those northern abolitionist Baptists in order to defend slavery (and, after that, segregation). He wishes more people knew about the good works that evangelicals have done and still do, but on what contemporary issue are evangelicals on the right side of history these days? When you look more closely, even those pastors and programs that Gerson lauds can be a bit problematic. One global health organization that he mentions, Franklin Graham’s Samaritan’s Purse, is tarred with a reputation for heavy-handed proselytizing and Graham’s own ravings against Islam as “an evil and very wicked religion” whose followers are going straight to hell. Gerson slides past evangelicals’ resistance to women’s basic equality as human beings, which goes way beyond opposition to their reproductive rights: Southern Baptists insist that wives submit to their husbands and ban women speaking from the pulpit or having religious authority over men. Gerson mentions the philanthropic work against AIDS done by the mega-preacher Rick Warren, but not that his church has promoted the idea that there is no biblical right to divorce for women abused by their husbands. Is it so surprising that many churchgoers who think women should obey even violent men have a soft spot for Donald Trump? At least he’s not gay—or a feminist like Hillary Clinton, who actually happens to be a devout Methodist.
The bottom line is racism. “I do not believe that most evangelicals are racist,” Gerson writes. “But every strong Trump supporter has decided that racism is not a moral disqualification in the president of the United States. And that is something more than a political compromise. It is a revelation of moral priorities.” I’m sorry, but being OK with a racist president is what racism is! Only 5 percent of black evangelicals identify as Republican, so it’s unlikely many of them voted for Trump; before the election, only 15 percent of nonwhite evangelicals planned to vote for him. And, as Gerson notes, we know that almost no black evangelicals voted for Roy Moore, the darling of godly whites. According to Pew, in December Trump’s approval rating among white evangelicals was 61 percent—down from 78 percent the previous February, but still almost twice the figure for voters overall (32 percent). They’re the only religious demographic where Trump has anything like majority support.
If you leave out the part about Trump being a corrupt, immoral con man and bully who might well plunge us into World War III—which to some evangelicals wouldn’t be so bad, given the sinfulness of humanity—there’s lots for them to like. He’s putting their guys on the federal bench—just one more Supreme Court justice and there go abortion, civil rights, gay rights, the separation of church and state, and much more. He’s installed agency heads who are right-wing Christians: Betsy DeVos, Ben Carson, Jeff Sessions, Scott Pruitt, Nikki Haley, and, if he’s confirmed, Mike Pompeo, plus virtually anyone in his administration who has anything to do with women’s health. He’s promised to get rid of the Johnson Amendment, which bars tax-exempt religious institutions from endorsing candidates, paving the way for a mammoth tide of political contributions to churches. White evangelicals distrust science, dismiss racial discrimination, believe that immigrants threaten American values, and worry about extremism among American Muslims? So does Trump.
Best of all, Trump is the one New Yorker who will never make them feel the least bit culturally inferior. After all, they are virtuous, and he is not.
I know we’re all exhausted, what with the awful news that every day seems to bring, but it’s the time of year for the annual National Network of Abortion Funds Bowlathon, and once again I am fundraising for the New York Abortion Access Fund, a wonderful group which helps low-income women pay for their abortion care.
NYAAF is an all-volunteer organization and the staffers are kind and very knowledgeable. Think what that means to a woman who has no resources and who may live in a family or community that is harsh and judgmental and tells her she will go to Hell if she ends a pregnancy.
If you are looking for a way to resist Trump and his right-wing Christian enablers, what better way than helping a low-income woman in crisis exercise the right he and his super-rightwing-Christian vice-president Mike Pence want to take away from all of us? You can also donate anonymously.
Here’s a link to my donations page.
If you’d prefer to donate to a fund in your area, that’s great too. You can find your local fund on the Bowlathon home page.
Thank you in advance for your kindness and generosity.
Editor’s Note: An earlier version of this column claimed that Rick Warren bars divorce for women abused by their husbands. While audio clips that had been posted in the “Bible Questions & Answers” section of the website of Saddleback Church, which Warren founded and where he is senior pastor, do make that injunction, the pastor speaking in the clip is not identified. The webpage in question has been taken down but is still available through the Wayback Machine. We regret the error.