Peter Wehner, a Republican who has served in the administrations of both Presidents Bush and Reagan and now serves as a senior fellow at the Ethics and Public Policy Center (a conservative think tank), has an essay in today’s New York Times in which he talks about why he no longer calls himself an “evangelical Republican.”
The short answer? Both words have become irredeemably tarnished by the people currently using the words to their advantage.
… I consider Mr. Trump’s Republican Party to be a threat to conservatism, and I have concluded that the term evangelical — despite its rich history of proclaiming the “good news” of Christ to a broken world — has been so distorted that it is now undermining the Christian witness.
Assume you were a person of the left and an atheist, and you decided to create a couple of people in a laboratory to discredit the Republican Party and white evangelical Christianity. You could hardly choose two more perfect men than Donald Trump and Roy Moore.
It’s not just the two men, says Wehner. It’s the fact that the entire establishment, elected Republicans and the party itself, have latched onto both men instead of denouncing them fully. These aren’t a couple of bad apples in the barrel. In this case, the entire orchard needs to burn down and start over.
Just to echo a key point here, Trump and Moore weren’t created by liberal atheists — as if Democrats weren’t mostly Christians, too — they were products of the marriage between the GOP and evangelical Christianity. When you throw critical thinking and common decency out the window, as those groups have done for years, what else were we to expect?
It’s always nice to hear a conservative say he’s fed up with all this, and Wehner gets credit for doing it publicly instead of behind closed doors, but I would take issue with the idea that all of this change only happened recently. Wehner worked for presidents who did plenty to discredit both the Republican party and conservative Christianity. If anything, Trump’s biggest problem is that he says out loud what Republicans have mostly believed privately.
The GOP will gerrymander and work to prevent black people from voting, but only Trump pursued a commission to etch that into policy under the guise of stopping (virtually non-existent) voter fraud. The GOP has long tried to make life worse for LGBTQ people, but Trump’s the one who tried to ban transgender people from the military with a tweet based on nothing more than a whim. (He didn’t even waste his time trying to pretend there was just cause for his bigotry because the anti-LGBTQ sentiment in the party has never been about reason.) Republicans have always been a problem for public education, but Trump is the one who put someone in charge of the Department of Education who openly waged a war against it in her home state. We could do this for so many issues that the GOP is pursuing now.
The point is: Conservative Christianity wasn’t any better under, say, George W. Bush. The Republican Party has always endorsed bigots, pursued racist policies, and advocated for evidence-free policies based on evangelical Christian dogma. Perhaps it’s hit a fever pitch now, but it sure as hell isn’t new. (Are we supposed to ignore the election of Ted Cruz? The nomination of Sarah Palin for Vice President?)
Trump and Moore are just the latest incarnations of what the GOP has been for a long time. The party didn’t “leave” people like Wehner. The problem is that people like Wehner never pushed back against a party that was so clearly headed in this direction when they had the opportunities to do so. They remained silent when critics pointed out what was happening. And very few openly endorsed the Democrats who had the ability to stop the derailing train.
Also note how Wehner never once mentions, much less praises, Barack Obama, who was openly Christian and said as much during his time in office. Republicans who can’t stop bragging about how much Trump talks about Christianity — though he rarely walks the walk — never did that during Obama’s time in office. Maybe because they were too busy spreading lies about his supposed Muslim faith.
The hypocrisy isn’t new. It’s always been there. So while Wehner should be commended for his essay, large parts of it could have been written years ago, just with different names.
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