Earlier this month, I wrote a blog post about the Religious Right’s decision to stick with President Donald J. Trump no matter what he says or does. I noted the hypocrisy of the members of this movement, who are normally so quick to judge everyone else, in backing a man whose moral lapses are glaring and who clearly lacks the “biblical worldview” these folks claim to champion.
In an opinion piece in The New York Times yesterday, Thomas B. Edsall went into considerable detail about this phenomenon. Edsall’s piece goes beyond the Religious Right; he examines the tendency of some hyper-partisan voters to find excuses to stay with their candidates even when those candidates fall short of supporters’ expectations.
The column contains an enlightening nugget of information that’s relevant to the Religious Right: In 2011, the Public Religion Research Institute (PRRI) took a poll and asked people if “an elected official who commits an immoral act in their personal life can still behave ethically and fulfill their duties in their public and professional life?”
White evangelical Protestants (in other words, the core of the Religious Right) tended to be very judgmental. Sixty-one percent replied that a politician like that could not “behave ethically.”
Just before the 2016 election, PRRI asked the question again. This time, the results were different. Seventy-two of white evangelical Protestants said an elected official who behaved unethically in his/her personal life could still be ethical enough to fulfill a public office. Only 20 percent said he/she could not.
As Edsall put it, many of Trump’s supporters “have been revising their views on right and wrong.”
TV preacher Pat Robertson interviews President Donald Trump in a judgment-free Christian Broadcasting Network segment.
Robert P. Jones, the CEO of PRRI, called this “a head-spinning reversal.” Jones wrote in a recent issue of The Atlantic, “[W]hite evangelicals went from being the least likely to the most likely group to agree that a candidate’s personal immorality has no bearing on his performance in public office.”
It has been my lot to attend many Religious Right gatherings over the years. I recall sitting with thousands of members of TV preacher Pat Robertson’s Christian Coalition in Washington, D.C., for annual “Road to Victory” conferences throughout the 1990s. A 1999 trip took me to Fort Lauderdale for a “Reclaiming America for Christ” conference sponsored by Coral Ridge Ministries. In 2006, I slipped into a gathering of a group called the Pennsylvania Pastors Network in Valley Forge. I’ve been a faithful attendee of the Family Research Council’s Values Voter Summit in D.C. every year. (I wrote about some of my adventures attending Religious Right meetings in my 2000 book Close Encounters with the Religious Right.)
I could say a lot about what it’s like to attend these events, but one thing that has really hit me over the years is how quick the members of these groups are to judge others. They measure everyone by an exceedingly narrow standard of morality based on their interpretation of the Bible – and most of us fall short.
A partial list of people I’ve heard them judge, criticize and heap disdain on over the years includes: gay men, lesbians, transgender people, feminists, college professors, journalists, political progressives, women who’ve had abortions, pro-choice Americans, atheists, humanists, Muslims, Democrats, people who have pre-marital sex, anyone who believes in evolution, public school teachers, advocates of sex education, Charles Darwin, the French, Americans who support separation of church and state, librarians, residents of the “left coast,” Ruth Bader Ginsburg, members of Planned Parenthood, anyone employed by The New York Times, scientists, liberals, Americans United members, government workers, “the elites,” socialists, Democratic presidents going back at least to Franklin D. Roosevelt, anyone connected to Hollywood and supporters of public education.
Supporters of the Religious Right found the time to judge all of these people, most of whom did nothing except run afoul of a pet far-right political position – yet they can’t say one word about Trump, an admitted serial groper who last month could not even bring himself to strongly condemn a band of noxious neo-Nazis prancing about with torches in central Virginia.
Now, don’t make the mistake of thinking that this is a permanent behavior shift for the Religious Right. It’s not. Rest assured, members of that movement will be quick to judge a president for perceived moral missteps again. I don’t have to be psychic to tell you exactly when that will happen: It will be the very day a non-conservative next occupies the White House.