TRUMP’S MATCH MADE IN HEAVEN

Daily Press (Sunday) - - Opinion -

By all in­di­ca­tions, the re­luc­tant sup­port by white evan­gel­i­cals for Don­ald Trump against Hil­lary Clin­ton in 2016 has so­lid­i­fied into some­thing like devotion.

In his anal­y­sis of the 2018 midterm-elec­tion re­sults, po­lit­i­cal jour­nal­ist Ron Brown­stein found many groups plagued by sec­ond thoughts about their sup­port of Trump. But not evan­gel­i­cals, who dis­play a “hard­en­ing loy­alty” to­ward Trump’s GOP. Evan­gel­i­cal sup­port for key Trump pol­icy pri­or­i­ties such as the bor­der wall has jumped. When asked re­cently if there was any­thing — any­thing at all — that Trump could do to for­feit evan­gel­i­cal al­le­giance, Jerry Fal­well Jr. replied: “No.”

In an era of strange po­lit­i­cal al­liances and events, this one re­mains no­table. Headed into a pos­si­ble im­peach­ment bat­tle, the most eth­i­cally chal­lenged pres­i­dent of mod­ern times — prone to cru­elty, big­otry, van­ity, adul­tery and se­rial de­cep­tion — is de­pend­ing on re­li­giously con­ser­va­tive vot­ers for his po­lit­i­cal sur­vival. And, so far, it is not a bad bet.

Trump has un­der­stood some­thing about evan­gel­i­cals that many are un­able to ar­tic­u­late them­selves. White, the­o­log­i­cally con­ser­va­tive Protes­tants were once — not that long ago — a cul­tur­ally pre­dom­i­nant force. Many of their con­vic­tions — on mat­ters from sex­u­al­ity to pub­lic re­li­gios­ity — were also the de­fault set­tings of the broader so­ci­ety. But that changed in a se­ries of cul­tural tidal waves — the Dar­win­ist ac­count of hu­man ori­gins, the ap­pli­ca­tion of higher crit­i­cism to the text of the Bi­ble, the sex­ual revo­lu­tion — which swept away old cer­tain­ties.

When con­ser­va­tive Chris­tian­ity be­came re-politi­cized in the 1970s and 80s, the sec­u­lar world — the world of fed­eral judges, pub­lic schools, ma­jor uni­ver­si­ties and lib­eral politi­cians — was viewed as an ag­gres­sive threat to Chris­tian ideals, in­sti­tu­tions and iden­tity. Over time, that strug­gle has taken on apoc­a­lyp­tic pro­por­tions in the minds of many be­liev­ers. For some, it is noth­ing less than the end-times con­flict of good and evil, which some­how cul­mi­nated in fights against the Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion.

In this strug­gle, many evan­gel­i­cals believe they have found a cham­pion in Don­ald Trump. He is the en­emy of their en­e­mies. He is will­ing to use the hard-ball tac­tics of the sec­u­lar world to de­fend their sa­cred in­ter­ests. In their bat­tle with the Philistines, evan­gel­i­cals have es­sen­tially hired their own Go­liath — bru­tal, pa­gan, but on their side.

It doesn’t take much bi­b­li­cal re­search to dis­cover that this isn’t quite how God ac­com­plished things in the orig­i­nal story. He ac­tu­ally em­ployed a scrawny Jewish boy, us­ing un­con­ven­tional tac­tics, in or­der to demon­strate that his fa­vor mat­tered more than worldly mea­sures of strength. From a purely po­lit­i­cal per­spec­tive, how­ever, the hir­ing of a Go­liath is what in­ter­est groups gen­er­ally do.

In this case, there is also a pre­dictable po­lit­i­cal cost. The em­ploy­ment of an un­eth­i­cal, racist, anti-im­mi­grant, misog­y­nist Gi­ant is not likely to play well with women, mi­nori­ties and young peo­ple, who are likely to equate con­ser­va­tive re­li­gion with prej­u­dice for decades to come.

This is true enough. But it is, for­tu­nately, not the end of the story. At least it has not been the end in sim­i­lar cases be­fore. Dur­ing the 19th and 20th cen­turies (and be­fore) con­ser­va­tive re­li­gion was of­ten used to jus­tify slav­ery and seg­re­ga­tion. Pas­tors and the­olo­gians blessed white su­pe­ri­or­ity and urged African-Amer­i­can ac­cep­tance of the ex­ist­ing so­cial or­der.

Over the cen­turies, Chris­tian faith (like other faiths) has been used to jus­tify ex­ploita­tion, op­pres­sion, im­pe­ri­al­ism and the per­se­cu­tion of mi­nori­ties. But as its true pre­cepts have taken root in re­form­ers, Chris­tian faith has also been a pow­er­ful source of crit­i­cism of those prac­tices. And for a sim­ple rea­son. Chris­tian­ity in­evitably raises the ques­tion: What if ev­ery­one we fa­vor, and ev­ery­one we fear, and ev­ery­one we help, and ev­ery­one we ex­ploit, and ev­ery­one we love, and ev­ery­one we hate, were the re­flected im­age of God — unique, valu­able and des­tined for eter­nity? This Chris­tian vi­sion of hu­man rights and dig­nity has grabbed men and women by the col­lar in ev­ery gen­er­a­tion — the Wil­liam Wil­ber­forces and Dorothy Days and Martin Luther Kings. A hypocrisy be­comes un­sus­tain­able. A seed gets planted. And a greater power emerges — re­veal­ing new lead­ers, and sham­ing those who re­duce Chris­tian­ity to a sad and sor­did game of thrones. Ger­son is a Washington Post colum­nist. Send email to michael­ger­[email protected]­post.com.

Michael Ger­son

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