In an editorial for Rewire News, Hollis Phelps decries the sentiment that white evangelicals have lost their moral grounding since the election of Donald Trump.
They haven’t lost their sense of morality, Phelps argues, because they didn’t have any to begin with.
Such charges of hypocrisy against evangelical supporters is as old as Trump’s campaign, and by now has become a standard feature of the discourse. Unfortunately, such criticisms are, for the most part, painfully anemic.
To begin with, such criticisms often assume that white evangelicalism in the United States has somehow devolved from a once salutary moral vision to brute political opportunism. Or, as Paul Robeson Ford recently argued, evangelicals have lost their “moral standing” with the broader culture.
Such “moral standing,” however, has always been more of a political self-designation, designed to implement conservative, often racist and/or discriminatory, policies under the guise of religious convictions. Although abortion and, now, LGBTQ rights serve as its contemporary calling card, the religious right in the United States, as some have argued, has its origins in racial segregation, particularly the establishment of private Christian schools as a work-around to the desegregation policies that emerged out of Brown v Board of Education. Given this history, it’s not surprising that those on the religious right would continue to support a president that is, by most sane accounts, a racist himself.
This is standard knowledge for anyone who’s followed the Religious Right for decades… but not the Religious Right itself, which seems to have a conveniently forgetful memory.
If anything, the election — and continued support — of Trump reveals the group’s true colors, concealed for years under layers of flowery religious language and clever marketing. It’s like they knew the public would reject them if they ever found out the Christian Right’s actual values — “values” that now include cruel family separation, blatant racist fearmongering, and repeated sexual harassment.
Moreover, if the religious right does consider itself to have some “moral standing,” it’s largely out of touch with majority opinion. Fifty-eight percent of Americans support abortion rights, and over 60% support gay marriage. Evangelicals don’t have much “moral standing” with most — and, in fact, they never did. Contemporary evangelicalism in the United States projects its “morality” onto culture at large, and the media often buy it with little hesitation. It’s difficult to assume that they are acting in good faith, though, and in this sense they mirror the president.
Abortion and gay marriage are interesting litmus tests for morality, given that the same group of Christians used to believe — up until the formation of the modern GOP in the 1970s and 80s — that abortion should be a private decision between a woman and her doctor. And their “morality” about the issue of sexual orientation is nothing to brag about, given the carnage of disowned teenagers, suicides, and harassment that are a natural consequence of the Christian Right’s anti-LGBTQ rhetoric.
Phelps offers two suggestions after explaining all this:
… First, we should drop all criticism of evangelicals as hypocritical, as somehow out of step with otherwise stated ideals. Such ideals remain too abstract for the sake of criticism and, if we cut past the lofty religious rhetoric, we’ll find that contemporary evangelicalism is simply what it is. There’s no depth behind their political activism and posturing, for these simply constitute evangelicalism in its contemporary form. It’s their religion.
Second, those on the so-called Christian left would do well to acknowledge that evangelicalism is Christianity too. That may make many uncomfortable, but let’s face it: Christianity, in its 2000-year history, has driven empire, colonialism, racism, xenophobia, sexism, homophobia, and the like — and whole swaths of peoples and territories have been and continue to be subject to this brutal regime. Maybe it’s time for liberal Christians to revisit Eduardo Galeano’s Open Veins of Latin America, as a start.
In my opinion, a requirement for any sort of moral standing is a willingness to acknowledge your religion’s tragic history. Writing off the slave owners, rapists, and murderous crusaders as “untrue” Christians is intellectually dishonest, no matter how many Christians disapprove of their actions today.
The Christian label may tell us something about a person’s beliefs, but good character is something that must speak for itself.
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