Tag Archives: Evangelicals

A New (Moral) Moral Majority?

My first discussions about sex with my sons as they were entering their teenage years were complicated by my effort to balance arguments for delay and responsibility with an admonition that sexual activity is an aspect of an individual’s general moral behavior.

I wanted them to understand that moral people don’t “use” others for sexual or other gratification. Moral people don’t lie about their feelings or intentions to get something they want. Treating other people the way you want others to treat you is an imperative that includes but is not limited to your behaviors below the waist.

I thought about those conversations when I read an article from the Guardian about “pro-life” voters for Biden, because single-issue voters have always mystified me, in much the same way I’m mystified by people who define morality solely in terms of sexual purity.

Candidate A may be a rotten human being who vilifies his opponents, is intent upon using public office to line his pockets, and espouses numerous policies with which they disagree–but they’ll put all of those concerns aside if Candidate A is “with them” on just one issue. Maybe that issue is abortion, maybe it’s taxes–whatever it is, I’ve never understood narrowing the definition of morality to exclude all but that favored issue.

I was thus pleased to see that at least some “pro life” voters have also concluded that moral behavior–and thus the casting of a moral vote–encompasses more than a single issue. Christianity Today recently reported that Ohio’s Right to Life executive director resigned rather than support Trump in 2020, and the linked article was written by a clearly pious graduate of Liberty University.

What’s so pro-life about forced hysterectomies?” It’s an obvious follow-up question after the revelation that the Department of Homeland Security under Donald Trumpforced unwanted reproductive medical procedures on Immigration and Customs Enforcement (Ice) detainees. And with some rank-and-file anti-abortion workers resigning rather than stomach supporting Trump, it lays open the question of whether the movement, even with its judicial success and the possibility of one more appointment to the supreme court, can survive the damage Trump has inflicted.

During the last election, the desire to overturn Roe v Wade had some holding their noses and voting for Trump. Four years later, the problems of standing with such a deeply immoral president, a string of horrific policy actions and a small but significant change in the voting patterns of religious conservatives all may be combining to hasten the diminishment of the movement even as it reaches a coveted milestone.

In 2008, the author of the article spent some 200 hours interviewing young evangelicals who were leaving the church. He found that the primary reason was the disconnect they saw between the teaching of scripture and the politics of the religious right–politics that bear little resemblance, in their view, to the issues Jesus cared about. What happened to those parts of scripture that demand justice for workers, people of all races and migrant  children at the border?

The essay makes it clear that these young evangelicals are still anti-abortion. But they have enlarged their definition of morality. As the author concludes:

We need to foster ways for faithful evangelicals to act faithfully, to reclaim the moral narrative and provide space to advocate for the election of leaders who reflect a full set of Christian values that will help our nation heal. This is why I am lending my voice to the New Moral Majority and participating in actions to reclaim our sacred story. In the past few weeks, frustrated by the reality that children are still being separated from their families and placed into detention, over 450 faith leaders called upon Trump to change course. To learn now that mothers of the separated children have been forced to have hysterectomies is news that sends shockwaves through communities of faith. It’s the type of government intervention in the family planning process that is not only fundamentally immoral, but against every freedom we claim to protect for all those made in the image of God.

I once asked a younger evangelical who grew up in a Republican and anti-abortion household why he has chosen a life of service among the urban poor. He said: “They blew it, man. Our parents and their generation. They cared more about power than people. We needed to do something new.” Indeed.

Those of us who believe that government should not have the power to compel a woman’s  reproductive choices can work with–and find common ground on other issues of life and death with– a genuinely moral “moral majority” that refuses to limit its definition of “morality” to a single issue.

 

The Art Of The Religious Deal

Reporters who have followed Donald Trump over the years tend to describe his approach to pretty much everything–business, family, charity and now the Presidency–as transactional. (That’s a nicer way of describing the paradigm through which he operates than “what’s in it for me.”)

A recent article from the Guardian suggests that a similarly transactional approach is not only more widespread than we might suppose, but that it explains the otherwise inexplicable support for Trump of those “family values” Evangelical Christians who comprise the majority of his political base.

Before the end of 2016 there was little in Donald Trump’s life, or frequently offensive political campaign, to suggest that as president he would be hailed as God’s appointee on Earth, be beloved by born-again Christians, or compared to a biblical king.

Yet that is exactly what has happened in the three years since Trump took office, as he has surrounded himself with a God-fearing cabinet and struck up an unlikely but extremely beneficial relationship with white evangelical supporters.

It’s a relationship that, for Trump, has ensured unwavering support from a key voter base and for his religious supporters, seen a conservative takeover of the courts and an assault on reproductive and LGBTQ rights.

The Executive Director of Americans United has accurately summed up the transactional nature of this support, noting that Trump continues to confer “unparalleled privilege” on this one narrow religious constituency–and that, in exchange for that privilege, Evangelicals are willing to ignore the numerous behaviors that are blatantly inconsistent with their purported beliefs, and to exhibit loyalty at the ballot box.

In law school contracts class, students learn that enforceable transactions require consideration (promises) from both parties. If you do thus-and-so, I promise to do thus-and-so. If one of the parties breaches, by failing to deliver on those promises, performance by the other will be excused.

Thus far, at least, Trump has lived up to his end of this particular deal. That makes this  transaction unusual: he has stiffed contractors, banks and charities, cheated on wives, broken promises to students enrolled in Trump University…In this case, however, he undoubtedly realizes that failure to perform would doom any chance of re-election.

Trump’s capture by the Evangelical Christian constituency has been widely remarked, and the steadfast loyalty of that community has been the subject of significant commentary–most of which has revolved around the stunning hypocrisy shown by  religious right figures and their transparent efforts to justify support for a man who (if he wasn’t delivering judges) they would call the anti-Christ.

The unlikely alliance between those nominally following biblical interpretations of right and wrong, and a thrice-married man who has been credibly accused of sexual assault and infamously paid off a pornographic actor, has thrown up a rich – and bizarre – cast of characters.

A sustained effort by influential Christian voices to justify Trump’s personal misdeeds and political cruelty has led to the frequent portrayal of Trump as a flawed vessel for God’s will. In particular, Trump has been compared to King Cyrus, who, according to the Bible, liberated the Jews from Babylonian captivity, despite himself being a Persian ruler.

The hypocrisy is certainly there. But what is becoming clear is that it isn’t only Donald Trump who approaches everything as a “deal.” In the Evangelical community, capitalism and market values have rather clearly overwhelmed (trumped?) theological commitments.

Wasn’t there a warning in Genesis about selling one’s soul for a bowl of pottage?

 

 

Trumpers And The Culture War

I love it when research confirms my suspicions.

A few days ago, I posted a rant about the hollowness of claims that de-funding Planned Parenthood was “pro life.” The assault on Planned Parenthood, which provides needed medical care to poor women, and the increasing efforts to limit access to birth control, struck me as far more “anti woman” than “pro life.”

Then I saw this column in The Guardian, reporting on recent survey results that support my thesis.

According to self-identified “pro-life” advocates, the fundamental divide between those who want to outlaw abortion and those who want to keep it legal comes down to one question: when does life begin? Anti-abortion advocacy pushes the view that life begins at conception; the name of their movement carefully centers the conceit that opposition to abortion rights is simply about wanting to save human lives.

A new poll shows that’s a lie. The “pro-life” movement is fundamentally about misogyny.

A Supermajority/PerryUndem survey released this week divides respondents by their position on abortion, and then tracks their answers to 10 questions on gender equality more generally. On every question, anti-abortion voters were significantly more hostile to gender equity than pro-choice voters.

More than half of the “pro life” survey respondents opined that men make better political leaders than women. More than half didn’t want to see equal numbers of men and women in positions of power. (Eighty percent of pro-choice respondents did want to see power shared equally.) “Pro life” respondents disapproved of the #MeToo movement. They disagreed with the proposition that diminished access to birth control has an impact on gender equality. And they didn’t believe that sexism or the way women are treated is an important issue.

That misogyny fits with what social science has found in the wake of the 2016 election.

In the aftermath of the 2016 election, mostly white pundits wondered if Donald Trump’s white male base was motivated by “economic anxiety”. We heard this over and over: Trump voters aren’t the racist deplorables the liberal media (of which those same pundits were a part) makes them out to be. They’re decent people who have been hurt by free trade agreements, increasing Chinese economic dominance, the decimation of unions, a thinning social safety net, and stagnating wages. (Why those same people would then turn around and vote for a party that kills unions, tears up the safety net and blocks minimum wage raises while cutting taxes for CEOs went unexplained.)

Then came the social scientists – and whaddaya know? Trump voters weren’t motivated by economic anxiety as much as fear of “cultural displacement”. White Christian men (and many of their wives) were so used to their cultural, political and economic dominance that they perceived the ascension of other groups as a threat.

To put it in more straightforward terms, they were racist (and sexist), and saw in Trump a kindred spirit who would work for their interests – their primary interest being a symbolic reassertion of their cultural dominance.

The author reminds us that the American anti-abortion movement invented political gaslighting.  (As religious historian Randall Ballmer has documented, Evangelicals hadn’t thought much about abortion until defending their segregated schools became a harder political rallying point.)

Around the same time, women’s social roles were rapidly changing. The birth control pill brought with it an avalanche of opportunities and freedoms, and women, finally fully able to have sex for fun and prevent pregnancy, took full advantage. The ability to delay a pregnancy – and later, the ability to legally end one – meant that women didn’t have to choose between romance and ambition (and it meant women could be choosier about romance, making a more considered decision about who and whether to marry).

The survey confirmed the connection between “pro-life” and “anti-woman”.

More than three-quarters of anti-abortion respondents agreed that women “are too easily offended”. More than 70% of them agreed that women interpret innocent remarks or acts as being sexist. Only 34% of them–as opposed to 82% of pro-choice respondents– said the country would be better off with more women in political office.

It’s hard to disagree with the author’s conclusion:

It’s not about “life.” It’s about the fact that abortion is inexorably tied to women’s freedoms and female power.

It’s about sexism.

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?