President Donald J. Trump captured 81 percent of the evangelical vote on election day. Since then, many political pundits have grappled with the question of how a lecherous and biblically illiterate candidate whose relationship with the truth is casual at best could have done so well with this constituency of alleged “values voters.”
A few days ago, Gary Abernathy, publisher and editor of the Hillsboro, Ohio, Times-Gazette, decided to enlighten us in the pages of The Washington Post.
Abernathy admits that many conservative evangelicals like Trump because of his far-right political positions. But he also asserts that there’s a biblical basis for their decision to stick with him: We’re all sinners, and that includes Trump.
President Trump is received with adulation when he speaks at Religious Right gatherings.
“Most evangelical believers don’t condemn Trump for the litany of words or deeds that so disturb others, even when they disapprove,” wrote Abernathy. “Probably half the people in churches across the country defined as ‘evangelicals’ were converted from lives that were even more unprincipled than the life Trump has led. Some experienced divorces, others used foul language, and many were addicted to drugs or alcohol.”
I don’t claim to be a theologian, but it seems to me there are a few problems with this assertion. First off, it hinges on the argument that Religious Right-style evangelicals are reluctant to judge someone who has fallen short because they’ve been there themselves.
Please. Followers of the Religious Right have absolutely no problem condemning anyone whom they’ve decided isn’t living up to their rather strict interpretation of “godly” standards. Their arrogant and judgmental behavior is legendary. We constantly hear them attack members of the LGBTQ community, political progressives, women’s rights advocates, pro-choice activists, defenders of separation of church and state, nonbelievers, liberal Christians, non-Christians, etc. – yet they can’t seem to muster up even one mildly critical word for Trump no matter what he does. That’s hypocrisy, pure and simple.
Secondly, all of those conservative evangelicals who boast about how they’re living better lives due to their embrace of faith are turning a blind eye to the fact that Trump is making no effort at all to do what they did, that is, change his personal behavior and live more ethically (by conservative Christian standards). In the evangelical worldview, true repentance isn’t just asserted, it is lived. It is supposed to bring an alteration in tone as well as lifestyle changes that can be seen. We’re getting none of that from Trump. If anything, he just keeps getting worse.
Finally, you might have noticed that the type of “we-are-all-sinners-and-can-be-forgiven” rhetoric seems, curiously, to be available only to right-wing conservatives. A Religious Right-friendly senator, member of Congress, governor, etc. who commits a moral offense is immediately forgiven and can go right on governing. A political progressive who does something similar is never forgiven, even if he or she asks for it, and remains fair game for attack years after the transgression occurred.
So pardon me if I’m not buying the argument that Trump is some sort of evangelical in training who is struggling to overcome the temptations of the world and rise above his faults. All too often, he revels in those things and, so far, he hasn’t been even mildly rebuked for it by his band of far-right evangelical sycophants.
I think there’s a simpler explanation for what’s going on here: Right-wing evangelicals yearn for political power and the control over others it gives. They lust to make all of us live under their narrow, repressive vision of Christianity. They continue to view the raw power of the state as an appropriate vehicle to make people “good” or “moral” (as they define these words, of course) – despite the fact that history shows that this never works.
Bottom line: Conservative evangelicals had plenty of opportunities to persuade us to adopt their religion and its rigid moral rules, but many of us chose not to. So now they will try to force us – and they are not above using a man like Trump to do it.
The lines are drawn, and nothing less than our freedom is at stake. Let’s get to work to stop them.