A new study proves something we’ve suspected to be true for years: right-wing evangelicals are hypocrites.
Two professors at the University of Notre Dame, David Campbell and Geoffrey Layman, analyzed data from two surveys to determine what white evangelicals (who are overwhelmingly conservative) believe about how a politician’s personal behavior affects his/her ability to govern.
Historically, the evangelical view has been that if a political leader is guilty of a personal moral failing, he’s no longer fit to lead the nation. That’s why so many of them demanded that President Bill Clinton either resign or be removed from office after revelations that he had a sexual relationship with a White House intern.
A recently as 2011, evangelicals were sticking with this line. A poll conducted by Public Religion Research Institute and Religion News Service found that 60 percent of white evangelicals agreed with the statement that a public official who “commits an immoral act in their personal life [cannot] behave ethically and fulfill their duties in their public and professional life.”
But in October 2016, following the release of the infamous “Access Hollywood” tape of Donald Trump boasting about how easy it is to sexually assault women when you are rich and famous, the number of white evangelicals who agreed with the statement above plummeted to 20 percent.
Campbell and Layman wondered if the figure has rebounded since the fall of 2016, so they took a hard look at some data that came out from the Cooperative Congressional Election Study (CCES) after the 2018 midterm elections. They found that the number of white evangelicals who are willing to hold a politician accountable for personal failings is continuing to drop. It’s now at 16.5 percent.
Huffington Post religion writer Carol Kuruvilla called evangelicals' shift on this issue "stunning."
Here’s where things get really interesting: Kuruvilla wrote that Campbell and Layman wanted to know if the results would change “if respondents were primed to think about either Bill Clinton or Donald Trump.”
Indeed they do. Campbell and Layman noted that the CCES randomly gave respondents one of three versions of the same question concerning politicians’ personal morality. One was generic, one mentioned Trump by name and one mentioned Clinton.
Wrote Kuruvilla, “The professors found that white evangelicals were more likely than other religious groups to have different responses based on the politician they had in mind. Only 6% of white evangelicals primed to think about Trump said that elected officials who behave immorally in private won’t act ethically in professional life. But 27% of those primed to think about Clinton said the same.”
Speaking of conservative evangelicals, Campbell said, “They have put politics first.”
For something like 40 years, Religious Right groups have been sanctimoniously lecturing the rest of us about how character counts and why we need “godly” men and women in public office. But when put to the test, they tossed that standard aside as they rallied around the most amoral man to hold the highest office in the land since Richard Nixon.
The Trump presidency has exposed the Religious Right and its leaders for what they are and always have been: a band of hyper-partisan, morally confused scolds who have failed a simple ethical test of differentiating between right and wrong.
It has also made it clear that these people have absolutely no right to judge the rest of us when their own house is in such a state of moral disorder.
(Photo: Family Research Council President Tony Perkins kicks off the Religious Right's Values Voter Summit in 2015)