Most Right-Wing Religion Won’t Handle This Political Dilemma Well

When the Conservative Evangelical magazine Christianity Today, founded in 1956 by the late right-wing evangelist Billy Graham called this December for the removal of Donald Trump from office - describing him as “a near perfect example of a human being who is morally lost and confused” - it confirmed that many evangelicals are as others thought they were. Since the magazine is by far not the most widely read by right-wingers – it has always appeared too scholarly for many of them - the opinion raised more hackles than it changed Evangelical opinion.

The magazine historically has affirmed all those early twentieth-century “Fundamentals of the Faith” formulated as a reaction to progressive scholarship, and backed about everything else theologically that Evangelicals stand for and fight over. It stands solidly for the “inerrancy of the scriptures” just like other fundamentalists.

Expecting camaraderie from its like-minded believers, it’s chief executive expressed hope for more than is likely: “I would be pleased if it promotes constructive conversations among evangelicals about how we engage in political life. I’d also be pleased if the conversation led to a more effective witness of the church.”

The editorial’s key concern seems to be Christianity Today’s fear that support for Trump will weaken Evangelical’s ability to effectively peddle their brand of faith. But the problem with their stance is that all such arguments naively assume rationality, an openness to civil discussion, and a willingness to even listen to anyone who begins with a statement such as theirs by Trump’s White Evangelical base.

Trump’s right-wing religious base doesn’t follow him out of their belief in their god at all but out of their unbelief. In fact, they hide behind their religious beliefs the way a drunk blames the liquor for actions that are destructive to all those around them.

It’s important for us to begin by recognizing that when we join them and also blame their religion, we’re buying into their excuse for not dealing with their real issues. We’re enabling them to keep copping out.

The doctrines, practices, and institutions they take comfort in merely reinforce the prejudices, fears, scapegoating, and insecurities within.

There are six real reasons that those Evangelicals who cling to Trumpism so desperately do so. And it’s these issues that must be faced and dealt with clearly.

Getting them to face these issues is performing an intervention for an experienced user who is so accustomed to their drug that they have no problem conning those around them or damaging any who don’t enable their addiction.

And the harsh reality that’s to be faced by those who wish better for them and who’d like to protect their communities from their damage is that enabling doesn’t work. It instead sucks up one’s energy and encourages them.

Arguing religiously is mostly useless because it doesn’t get down to their core beliefs – see that list of six, fear-based beliefs that are deeper than their religious ones. The small slice of Evangelicals who are the audience for Christianity Today is already skeptical of Donald Trump.

And as Collin Hansen, editorial director for the “Gospel Coalition,” a network of evangelical churches points out: “Evangelicals tend to get their political news from Fox News far more than Christianity Today or other Evangelical media.”

It’s a relief to see that there are some more realistic Evangelicals who are worried about their appearance to the world and its effect on recruitment. It’s actually clear that in many areas the Evangelical brand has already been damaged by accepting the political and culturally aligned Republicanism that uses right-wing religionists to maintain economic and political power through touting anti-women’s-choice and anti-LGBTQ policies.

The Pew Research Center reports that the share of U.S. adults who are white born-again or evangelical Protestants now stands at 16%, down from 19% a decade ago. The largest Evangelical denomination, the Southern Baptist Convention, reported a decline in membership that has brought it to its lowest point in over thirty years.

But to be surprised when these anti-Trump Evangelicals merely become outcasts to the broader constituency of Trump’s Evangelical supporters is to misunderstand why they hold on to him and his Party. He represents what they really stand for.

Criticizing others for anything they consider immoral doesn’t mean they do a consistent self-criticism. They can forgive anyone who makes them feel that they have the Truth and hypocrisy is accepted as a normal human frailty, not a criticism.

Those Evangelical leaders who belong to the Republican cabal aren’t sticking with him because of their or his beliefs. There’s probably nothing that could make Billy Graham’s son, Franklin, give up claims that Trump is chosen by his god.

Instead, imagine what these leaders would have to relinquish after their years of claiming Donald Trumps’ presidency is an act of God. When any religious leader claims that they’ve been chosen by their god for whatever they’re doing, whatever church they’re leading, whatever “truth” they’re preaching, to disagree with them is to disagree with the Divine.

Repentance, after all is talked about endlessly, but repenting (“turning around”) is not something these leaders do personally. It would be like those in 12-Step recovery programs working steps 4,5,8,9:

  • Make a searching and fearless moral inventory of oneself
  • Admit to God, to oneself, and to another human being the exact nature of one’s wrongs
  • Make a list of all persons you had harmed, and become willing to make amends to them all
  • Make direct amends to such people wherever possible.

But it would also mean giving up what their lives are built upon:

  • having all those followers who look up to them
  • threatening their economic status built by their preaching of bigotry and exclusion
  • appearing never to be flawed leaders who could now be wrong about many other things since they were wrong about all this
  • getting their psychological attention needs met by a means they’ve well perfected.

There’s much preventing these Evangelicals from paying attention to the current American majority who reject so much of what they stand for today.

And even those within the movement, then, will become pariahs to those who need the kind of fix, the high they get from feelings that they’re the righteous who are “persecuted for righteousness sake,” and the leaders who deal that high of righteousness to them.

© 2020 Robert N. Minor

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Robert N. Minor, Ph.D., Professor Emeritus at the University of Kansas, is author of When Religion Is an Addiction; Scared Straight: Why It’s So Hard to Accept Gay People and Why It’s So Hard to Be Human; and Gay & Healthy in a Sick Society. Contact him at www.FairnessProject.org

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