A Conservative Blogger Examines the Toxic Christianity that Helped Land Trump in the White House
Something amazing happened in 2016: evangelical Christians voted overwhelmingly for a man who’s the furthest thing from “Christ-like” in modern American politics. This head-scratching turn of events didn’t just catch us liberal snowflakes off guard; a whole lot of Never Trump evangelical Christians were dismayed to see their faith and politics tied to a man who had more in common with Julius Caesar than with Jesus. And, as of this late date, Trump still enjoys a healthy favorability rating with voters who self-identify as evangelicals. How in the hell did this happen?
Ben Howe, for one, went looking for the answers. What he comes up with doesn’t always speak well for the modern-day political evangelical movement. In The Immoral Majority: Why Evangelicals Chose Political Power Over Christian Values, Howe, a conservative blogger, tries to wrap his head around the idea that a political movement which once tried to impeach Bill Clinton over sexual immorality is now the go-to base of a thrice-married unrepentant serial adulterer whose behavior is far from Christ-like, much less presidential.
When Donald Trump took that escalator ride down to announce his candidacy, many voters were already lining up behind more traditionally conservative candidates like Jeb Bush, Marco Rubio, and Ted Cruz. And yet those same voters jumped ship to support Trump when it became clear that he was going to steamroll his way to the nomination. To see such obvious hypocrisy (in the eyes of many) play out in real time didn’t do much for the evangelical movement and its standing with folks on the left, who already suspected that the “holier than thou” set were anything but. Howe demonstrates that it really shouldn’t be so surprising.
The modern-day evangelical movement has its roots in the groups who pushed for Prohibition for a long time before it became the law of the land in the Twenties. Moral and religious groups have long played a role in American politics, sometimes with honor (the abolition and civil rights movements) and with sometimes with shame (immigration laws seeking to curtail Catholic migrants). But there’s always been a religious force at work in some aspect of American politics.
In Immoral Majority, Howe, a former contributor to RedState among other conservative sites, explains his own move towards evangelical activism through his parents, who sought to steer him away from peer pressure to embrace “worldly vices” like drugs and alcohol. When Howe asked his father why people often felt out of touch with modern-day Christian values, his dad replied “because so many Christians are jerks.” Howe then goes on to cite the numerous instances of televangelists like Jim Bakker and Jimmy Swaggart, men of God who were caught in compromising situations and exposed as charlatans. Howe, a firm believer, points out that such instances from evangelical Christianity’s history play into the narrative that evangelicals are far more worldly (especially in terms of pleasure) than they may like to think. So perhaps it’s not that big of a stretch to think that they would fall for a con man who covers everything in gold.
At times, Howe seems to contradict or even go back on his central Immoral Majority thesis. As a traditional conservative, he doesn’t entirely oppose everything Trump does. And he’s not comfortable questioning if Trump’s professed Christian faith is real or just a ploy, because he points out that “you can’t know” what’s in another person’s heart. I doubt that Ben Howe and I would agree about much of anything besides our shared disgust at the notion of Trump being President, or at the obvious cruel things Trump does (such as his immigration policy) that no one, Christian or secular, could honestly say is benign or kind. But I respect the hell out of him putting down on paper all the reasons why evangelical Christians are lying to themselves, or just don’t care, about their Trump support.
I know many people who voted for Trump with more than a hint of disgust, but did so because they were traditional conservatives and Hillary Clinton wasn’t about to get their vote. Many of them, to quote the president, are very fine people, and I imagine that they don’t always agree with what he does. But I think they can’t really wash their hands of their Trump support if the shit hits the fan. When they voted for him, they counted on conservative judges and the stripping-away of abortion rights, and they might very well get them. But what does it gain a movement to win the world, if it loses its soul?
(Broadside Books, August 13, 2019)