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Jesus Wept: Evangelicals’ moral vacuum

December 7, 2016


Eighty-one percent of white evangelicals voted for Donald Trump this election, a greater number than supported Romney, McCain or both Bushes. There was essentially no gender gap for this group, and for all the hand-wringing from their leaders, they showed up full-throated in their support for a misogynistic, bigoted, materialist, prideful, lying, con-artist.


So, how does a voting bloc which votes their faith end up supporting a man who represents the antithesis of Christianity? It all comes back to segregation.


The revisionist history of the religious right claims Roe v. Wade 1973 as the catalyst for their movement. The reality is that the religious right coalesced around fighting the federal government over segregation in religious schools long before abortion was part of their interest.  


Jerry Falwell’s Lynchburg Christian Academy described itself as a “private school for white students.” Bob Jones University didn’t accept non-white students until 1971, around which time they banned interracial dating. These segregation academies were developed to circumvent the Brown v. Board of Education ruling of 1954. In time, the IRS determined that the tax-exempt status would no longer be provided to these organizations, but the course had already been set. The forces of conservatism and segregation were running the table. Christ had nothing to do with it.


When he wasn't busy fighting Dr. Martin Luther King Jr and civil rights, advocating for total destruction of North Vietnam, or hosting George Wallace and other segregationists on his television show, Falwell and his allies identified the years-old abortion case as a potential rallying point for conservatives. They were able to seize on this issue, not as a moral imperative, but as a tool to shepherd voters to their conservative causes. In the Carter/Reagan campaign of 1970, Falwell and his Moral Majority abandoned their support of the first Evangelical Christian president because of his continued support of the IRS crackdown on segregationist schools, not because of his views on abortion. In fact, in 1967 Reagan signed the most liberal abortion law in the country as governor of California. In his speech to 10,000 evangelicals in Dallas in 1980, Reagan railed against an overzealous regulatory agency interfering in segregated schools, but made no mention of abortion.


Since this time, the leaders of the religious right have operated as tools for cynical political operatives who learned that the only thing necessary to deliver a massive voting bloc is to make vague promises about abortion and the Supreme Court. Ignoring the moral imperatives defined by Christ during their time in government, conservative politicians come around every couple years asking for money and votes. While white evangelicals deliver the goods politically, they have paid with their souls.


The most vicious, vocal and effective supporters of racist policy and segregation were borne out of the evangelical church. The moral cover provided to unabashed greed was provided via prosperity theology in a bizarre reversal of the gospels.  Support for the war in Iraq —a war that had no basis in reality— was led by a chorus of church leaders prioritizing their power over their message. The evangelical church was complicit in conservative attempts to discredit the science of global warming, perverted the message of mercy of Christ to defend their attacks on the LGBT community, and continues to work itself into knots defending the white supremacist, Islamaphobic winds in the Republican party. So, it comes as no surprise that the group that lacked a moral foundation to begin with was like a moral weather-vane when it came to Trump. They are made promises which are never kept, and they keep believing that their misplaced vengeance will save them.


Promised Supreme Court justices and influence, leaders like Jerry Falwell Jr. accepted Trump as a member of their tribe despite everything in Trump’s past and present indicating he had little time for Christ, Christians, or Christianity. But, the thing that Falwell Jr. and Trump had in common was a shared investment in maintaining the traditional balance of power through demonization of anyone in their path, and this is what mattered. This is what the tribe has become. And this is why his presidency looms over all empathetic Americans at this point, because he appears to have no moral compass and will use whatever means possible to achieve his ends.


The need for a spiritual movement in this country is great. The gods of the religious right, judgment of one's neighbor, money and power, have proven to sow destruction and inequity. The progressive politics and humanistic traditions that Falwell and his ilk were so afraid of have more in common with Christ than the majority of his supposed followers.  It is up to us to unequivocally refuse complicity with these forces while remaining open and empathetic to the people who drive them, knowing that they are our natural allies. They just don’t know it yet. 


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