I rarely agree with things I read in the National Review – OK, I rarely read the National Review – but a recent column by David French that appeared within the pages of that arch-conservative journal has been making the rounds on social media and came to my attention. It’s worth a look.
I’ve been sharply critical of evangelicals who constantly bemoan the state of America’s morals even as they enthusiastically support President Donald Trump. I couldn’t help but feel this way again on Thursday as I watched the White House’s National Day of Prayer (NDP) ceremony on C-SPAN. Milling about in the crowd were familiar faces like Gary Bauer and Ralph Reed.
These Religious Right activists never hesitate to judge – and indeed even verbally assault – an LGBTQ person, a political progressive, a feminist or a non-believer. They’re quick to assail anyone who engages in “ungodly” behavior. Yet they say nothing about Trump’s transgressions.
Those transgressions are growing too large to ignore. Just one day before the NDP event, Rudy Giuliani, former New York City mayor and now a Trump attorney, appeared on Fox News and admitted that Trump had reimbursed his personal attorney Michael Cohen $130,000 for money Cohen had given to pay off Stormy Daniels, an adult film star who claims she had an affair with Trump about 10 years ago.
Trump had been insisting that he never paid Daniels a dime. Giuliani’s casual admission that Trump authorized the payoff means Trump lied about it. Trump has also denied that he had an affair with Daniels, but that looks like another lie. Why else would he had given her the money?
Some evangelicals are able to see why this is a problem. Others – and based on recent polling it’s the vast majority of white evangelicals – simply refuse to face it.
I’m not one of them, so perhaps I’m not the best person to explain to evangelical Christians why what they’re doing is completely counterproductive (although I thought it was fairly obvious). French makes the case nicely:
“The president of the United States has paid hush money to a porn star – apparently to cover up a tryst that occurred shortly after the birth of his son,” French observed. “And that’s hardly his only affair. More than a dozen women have accused him of sexual assault or some form of sexual harassment. He has been caught lying, repeatedly and regularly. Yet there are numerous Christians of real influence and prominence who not only won’t dare utter a negative word about the president, they’ll vigorously turn the tables on his critics, noting the specks in his critics’ eyes while ignoring the sequoia-sized beam in their own.”
Continued French, “I’m sorry, but you cannot compartmentalize this behavior, declare that it’s ‘just politics,’ and take solace that you’re a good spouse or parent, that you serve in your church and volunteer for mission trips, or that you’re relatively charitable and kind in other contexts. It’s sin, and it’s sin that is collapsing the Evangelical moral witness.”
The last line is especially important. Yes, as a matter of fact, all of this is collapsing the evangelical moral witness. I, for one, am tired of being lectured to about my supposed sins by those evangelicals who obviously believe that Trump’s don’t matter (or, worse yet, that Trump is God’s instrument, an idea endorsed by Franklin Graham). To be honest, I was never a likely recruit for evangelical Christianity in the first place, but now that so much of evangelicalism has become an obvious refuge for hypocrites, I’m not only not interested, I’m offended – and it looks like I’m not alone.
Many non-evangelicals may not care about this, seeing it as not their fight. Fair enough. But all evangelicals ought to care because the whole point of their faith – spreading the good news and demonstrating in their day-to-day lives how that faith spurs them to live as decent people – is being compromised for short-term political gain.
A few years ago, it became popular in evangelicals circles to ask, “What would Jesus do?” Perhaps it’s time to rewrite the question for pro-Trump evangelicals: How can you explain to Jesus what you’re doing?