Tag Archives: Evangelicals

The Enemy Of My Enemy…

E.J. Dionne had an interesting column in the Washington Post a few days ago.

He was analyzing the relationship that has recently been uncovered between Russia and the American Right–not just the NRA (fascinating as THAT is) but also the Evangelical Christian community. There’s been a lot of focus on that community’s support of Trump, but very little commentary on its seemingly bizarre relationship with Russian operatives.

In truth, there is nothing illogical about the ideological collusion that is shaking our political system. If the old Soviet Union was the linchpin of the Communist International, Putin’s Russia is creating a new Reactionary International built around nationalism, a critique of modernity and a disdain for liberal democracy. Its central mission includes wrecking the Western alliance and the European Union by undermining a shared commitment to democratic values.

I think that one key to the referenced “disdain” for liberal democracy is resistance to the “liberal” part–not to liberal politics as we understand that term today (although the Right opposes that liberalism too), but resentment of the 18th Century liberal restraints on what the majority can vote to have government require of everyone else. In other words, the limits on majoritarianism imposed by the Bill of Rights. But I digress.

Dionne notes that Putin’s affinity toward the far right makes sense, because his power rests on a nationalism rooted in Russian traditionalism.

And the right in both Europe and the United States has responded. Long before Russia’s efforts to elect Trump in the 2016 election became a major public issue, Putin was currying favor with the American gun lobby, Christian conservatives and Republican politicians.

In a prescient March 2017 article in Time magazine, Alex Altman and Elizabeth Dias detailed Russia’s “new alliances with leading U.S. evangelicals, lawmakers and powerful interest groups like the NRA.”

I thought the most telling paragraph in the column was Dionne’s explanation of the Evangelical/Russia bond.

Evangelical Christians, they noted, found common ground with Putin, a strong foe of LGBTQ rights, on the basis of “Moscow’s nationalist and ultraconservative push — led by the Russian Orthodox Church — to make the post-Soviet nation a bulwark of Christianity amid the increasing secularization of the West.”

There’s an old saying to the effect that “the enemy of my enemy is my friend.” I have never understood fundamentalist Christians’ seething hatred for the gay community–as many pastors have noted, the one (incessantly recited) bible passage about a man lying with another man is vastly outnumbered by the biblical admonitions they cheerfully ignore about feeding the poor and helping the widow and orphan, etc.

It’s hard to avoid the suspicion that these Evangelicals use the Bible the way a drunk uses a street lamp–for support rather than illumination.

Be that as it may, evidently all Putin had to do too woo Evangelicals was discriminate against the people they’d love to oppress if only that pesky Bill of Rights and old-fashioned American notions about civil equality didn’t get in their way…

The deepening ties between the Russian government and elements of the right should give pause to all conservatives whose first commitment is to democratic life. The willingness of traditionalists and gun fanatics to cultivate ties with a Russian dictator speaks of a profound alienation among many on the right from core Western values — the very values that most conservatives extol.

Of course, the people who support Trump and are willing to get in bed with Putin (and I mean that in the most heterosexual possible way!) aren’t genuine conservatives. They have no discernible political philosophy–just a deep-seated resentment for people unlike themselves, and a well-founded fear that the dominance they once enjoyed is rapidly evaporating.

 

Did They Really Have Souls To Sell?

A few days ago, I was on the treadmill watching “Morning Joe,” and heard Presidential historian Jon Meacham, from all indications a deeply religious man, respond to questions about the Trump Administration’s “biblical” defense of separating parents and children in order to deter asylum seekers. Meacham predicted a “day of reckoning” for Evangelical Trump supporters, and put it in stark terms: They sold their souls for a Supreme Court seat, and they’ll have to decide whether it was worth it.

Of course, in order to sell a soul, you first need to have one.

Later that same day, The Washington Post reported that Mike Pence (aka “Mr. Piety”)has turned the Vice-President’s office into “a gateway for lobbyists.”

About twice as many companies and other interests hired lobbyists to contact the vice president’s office in Pence’s first year than in any single year during the tenures of Vice Presidents Joe Biden and Richard B. Cheney, filings show.

Speaking of selling one’s soul….(Since this is Pence, one assumes the sale price reflects an appropriate and substantial discount…)

A couple of observations: first, Sessons’ use of a biblical reference to justify a governmental policy is profoundly anti-American. As several commentators have pointed out, America isn’t a theocracy.  Public policies must be attacked or defended with secular reasoning and argumentation, not appeals to theology.

More generally, however, what Sessions and Pence both exemplify is the cynical use of religion to advance personal and political ends–to justify bigotry, to claim privilege, and to reassure a frightened and angry “base” that its hostility to the “other” is God’s will.

As regular readers of this blog know, I am not religious. But I have friends who are genuinely religious people, and there is a huge difference between the devout people I know, who tend to be both humble and kind, and the “faux religious” and “holier than thou” hypocrites who are supporting and excusing the behaviors of this administration.

Meacham may be right when he predicts a day of reckoning. If I had to hazard a guess, however, I’d predict that reckoning will consist only of recognizing the strategic failure of efforts to find religious justifications for Trump’s unholy behaviors.

Somehow, I don’t see the Mike Pences and Jeffrey Beauregard Sessions of this world looking deep inside themselves and reckoning with the truly important questions: have I been a good person? Have I been honest? Kind? Have I read my holy book in its entirety, or have I cherry-picked and “interpreted” it in order to convince myself that God dislikes the same people I do? What is the nature of my obligation to my fellow-man and woman? What is justice? What is mercy?

Do I have a soul? Have I sold it for a mess of pottage?

Hannity, Evangelicals And Fiscal Conservatives

The election of Donald Trump has elevated hypocrisy to an art form.

Rightwing pundits criticized everything Obama did or said. (Of course, he was black…) Not only do they overlook appalling behavior, embarrassing (and frequently misspelled) tweets and uncivil, ignorant rants from Trump–they praise him when he engages in the exact behavior for which they excoriated Obama.

Case in point: Hannity. A post from Dispatches from the Culture Wars provides a recent–illustrative–example.

It has been announced that Trump will meet with Kim Jong-un of North Korea sometime soon, something no American president has ever done with a North Korean dictator. And Sean Hannity, not even pretending to be anything but a pathetic, hypocritical hack, is praising Trump for this great victory.

After quoting Hannity’s laudatory remarks, the post continues with a bit of history:

As always, the Wayback Machine shows a totally different story when Obama said in an interview that he would be open to meeting with him under the right circumstances if he thought it would help avoid a nuclear North Korea and preserve the peace.

During the May 15, 2008, edition of his Fox News show, Hannity referenced Obama’s answer and asked former House Speaker Newt Gingrich: “After Hitler invaded Poland in 1939, before we were at war with Nazi Germany, do you think it would be wise — would have it been wise for us to engage in talks with him?” Later during the same show, Hannity asked former Republican Rep. Jack Kemp (R-N.Y.) the same thing: “After the Nazis invaded Poland, before we were at war with them, is it fair to ask the question, ‘Would you have met with Hitler in 1939?’

Then there’s Trump’s loyal base among self-proclaimed, “bible-believing” Evangelicals. Their continued support has been the subject of much (horrified) analysis from Evangelicals and others. A recent article in the Atlantic by Michael Gerson–formerly, George W. Bush’s speechwriter and an Evangelical himself– noted the jarring nature of that support:

One of the most extraordinary things about our current politics—really, one of the most extraordinary developments of recent political history—is the loyal adherence of religious conservatives to Donald Trump. The president won four-fifths of the votes of white evangelical Christians. This was a higher level of support than either Ronald Reagan or George W. Bush, an outspoken evangelical himself, ever received.
Trump’s background and beliefs could hardly be more incompatible with traditional Christian models of life and leadership. Trump’s past political stances (he once supported the right to partial-birth abortion), his character (he has bragged about sexually assaulting women), and even his language (he introduced the words pussy and shithole into presidential discourse) would more naturally lead religious conservatives toward exorcism than alliance. This is a man who has cruelly publicized his infidelities, made disturbing sexual comments about his elder daughter, and boasted about the size of his penis on the debate stage. His lawyer reportedly arranged a $130,000 payment to a porn star to dissuade her from disclosing an alleged affair. Yet religious conservatives who once blanched at PG-13 public standards now yawn at such NC-17 maneuvers. We are a long way from The Book of Virtues.
Evidently, the promise of power trumps (sorry!) Christian behavior. That Jesus fellow was what our crass President would call a loser…
Despicable (and transparent) as these examples are, Paul Ryan, Mitch McConnell and the Congressional GOP are the clear winners of the hypocrisy sweepstakes. These “fiscal conservatives” spent years whining about the national debt–and the minute they were in power, cheerfully added over a trillion dollars to that debt, in a rushed-through tax “reform” that gave away the store to the already-rich.
Adding insult to injury, the ink was barely dry on that policy abomination when Ryan announced that Republicans will target welfare, Medicare, Medicaid spending in 2018–in order to control the national debt that they just increased!
That unashamed display of Robin Hood in reverse takes real chutzpah.
Even reading about these people makes me want to take a shower.

About That Mulligan…

For the past year and a half, many people have tried to understand  the “family values” Evangelicals who support Trump. That discussion has ramped up since Tony Perkins, leader of the Family Research Council, told Politico that Trump gets a “mulligan,” or do-over, on his past moral transgressions, because he’s willing to stand up to the religious right’s enemies.

One recent analysis of that arguably unholy relationship came via Michelle Goldberg at the New York Times. She began by reminding readers that this seeming departure from New Testament exhortations of love and mercy isn’t anything new.

In 1958, the Baptist preacher Jerry Falwell, who would go on to found the Moral Majority, gave a sermon titled “Segregation or Integration: Which?” He inveighed against the Supreme Court’s anti-segregation decision in Brown v. Board of Education, arguing that facilities for blacks and whites should remain separate.

“When God has drawn a line of distinction, we should not attempt to cross that line,” he wrote, warning that integration “will destroy our race eventually.”

He went on to establish what would become Liberty University–as an all-white school.

Goldberg noted the Evangelical community’s later willingness to support Ronald Reagan despite his divorce, although prior to Reagan’s emergence on the scene, a candidate’s divorce had been an absolute bar to the Christian vote.  Access and influence, evidently, are more important than theology. (You might even say they trump theology.)

Given this history, it is not surprising that the contemporary leaders of the religious right are blasé about reports that Trump cheated on his third wife with a porn star shortly after the birth of his youngest child, then paid her to be quiet. Despite his louche personal life, Trump, the racist patriarch promising cultural revenge, doesn’t threaten the religious right’s traditional values. He embodies them.

Earnest evangelicals, of course, are appalled.

As Michael Gerson–himself an Evangelical Christian– wrote in The Washington Post, the “Christians” who support Trump and ignore behaviors previously considered very unChristian are “associating evangelicalism with bigotry, selfishness and deception. They are playing a grubby political game for the highest of stakes: the reputation of their faith.”

Goldberg also notes the (unpersuasive) contortions of contemporary Evangelicals who are trying to distinguish between their former pro-segregation resistance to Brown v. Board of Education and their current support for anti-LGBTQ activists who don’t want to bake cakes or otherwise do business with same-sex couples. The latter are described by their co-religionists as “sincere Christians” whose religious liberties are being trampled by civil rights laws, and she makes the obvious point:

it seems absurd to ask secular people to respect the religious right’s beliefs about sex and marriage — and thus tolerate a degree of anti-gay discrimination — while the movement’s leaders treat their own sexual standards as flexible and conditional. Christian conservatives may believe strongly in their own righteousness. But from the outside, it looks as if their movement was never really about morality at all.

I’d say that’s a fair conclusion.

Of course, Goldberg and those she cites aren’t the only ones who are trying to understand the fervent Evangelical embrace of a repellant man who embodies everything they claim to abhor.

Among the various explanations I’ve come across, my own favorite is this one that I only recently saw: They believe Trump will use nuclear weapons and destroy the world–and that will bring on the long-awaited Rapture.

At least the Rapture is part of their theology, unlike porn stars….

 

The Odd Couple

Shortly after the news media announced that Trump had chosen Mike Pence as a running-mate (a choice that Trump later last night said was not yet firm!), I received a request from the New York Daily News to send them 350 words describing the Governor. Here’s what I sent. (I actually think I was restrained. I could have given them the whole list.)

Yesterday, Donald Trump ended a week of feverish speculation (at least in Indiana) by choosing Governor Mike Pence as his running mate.

Color me bemused.

Pence, who describes himself as Christian, Conservative, Republican in that order,” has a well-earned reputation as a culture warrior. In his eleven years in Congress, he was best known for efforts to defund Planned Parenthood. A bill to end tax breaks for insurance providers whose policies covered abortion appears to be the only legislation for which he was actually responsible, not just a cosponsor.

As Governor, it quickly became obvious that he had no interest in the nitty-gritty of public administration. Instead, he continued his war on Planned Parenthood, signed the most restrictive anti-abortion bill in the country, diverted education funding to an extensive school voucher program—a gift to the state’s religious schools—and most famously, infuriated the business community and a majority of Hoosiers by signing a “Religious Freedom Restoration Act” (RFRA) that would have allowed businesses to discriminate against LGBT citizens.

The blowback to RFRA was so intense that Pence folded, and signed an amendment “clarifying” the original bill. That retreat, in turn, infuriated the Indiana religious right activists who had promoted the measure—and who are Pence’s base.

Pence has been so inept at justifying these and numerous other unpopular actions that most political observers expect him him lose his re-election bid. That likely loss probably explains why he found a spot on Trump’s ticket attractive, despite the fact that it will require “Mr. Family Values” to sell a thrice-married proud philanderer who talks about the size of his penis to the only constituency with which he has any currency: the religious right.

What Pence adds to the ticket is harder to fathom. He certainly won’t help with women, or LGBT folks, or immigrants (he tried to prevent Syrian refugees from settling in Indiana). His much-ridiculed interview with George Stephanopoulos in the wake of the RFRA debacle suggests he isn’t nearly ready for the scrutiny he will receive on the national stage.

Trump must really need those Evangelicals.

Among the (many) things I didn’t mention was the fact that any credible Republicans who might actually have helped the ticket had previously signaled that they that weren’t interested. (Even Joni Ernst–the hog castrater–declined to be considered.)

Trump’s available choices were Newt Gingrich (six wives between them, and visions of a colony on the moon….), Chris Christie (He’s got a bridge…and an attitude) and our very own Mikey. All wounded, all with favorable ratings in the 30s or below.

Talk about your B teams…..