Before the Rev. Franklin Graham criticized the administration’s policy of separating immigrant families at the border, he claimed “progressive” was “just another word for godless.”

Graham is one of President Trump’s most zealous holy warriors. Despite his rare and surprising rebuke of the president, there’s no evidence that he’s sworn off xenophobia or jumped the Trump ship. If he took back what he said about “progressives,” I missed it.

Anyway, his progressive-godless comparison reminded me of a 2004 letter-to-the editor in the Paducah Sun. “Jesus Christ is for President George W. Bush,” claimed the correspondent, who vowed he was a Democrat.

Nonetheless, he was certain that if the King of Kings returned before election day, “He would cross party lines just like I will and pull the Republican lever.”

The guy didn’t say where he went to church. But how any mortal could purport to know how the Son of God would cast an earthly ballot is beyond this fallible Presbyterian’s power to comprehend.

Cognitive dissonance: White evangelicals continue to support both family values and Trump

Graham’s father was the Rev. Billy Graham, who was also a conservative evangelical, but not as pointedly partisan as his offspring. Franklin Graham is another one of those male, white, right-wing Republican preachers who talk like “GOP” stands for “God’s Own Party.”

Graham and around 80 percent of other white evangelicals—in pulpits and pews—voted for Trump. Polls show that most of them still dote on The Donald, Amy Sullivan wrote in The New York Times on Easter weekend.

“The resilient support for Mr. Trump is hard to square with a constituency best known for trumpeting ‘family values’ and proclaiming the nation’s moral decline,” Sullivan acknowledged. “It also belies the idea that a record-high percentage of white evangelicals voted for Mr. Trump in 2016 simply because they could not bring themselves to cast ballots for Hillary Clinton.”

Added Sullivan: “You could open a publishing press devoted to the theological and sociological explanations for this phenomenon — from the unlikely belief that Mr. Trump found Jesus on the campaign trail, to the idea that his presidency is all part of God’s plan, to the role persecution narratives and Christian nationalism play in the evangelical worldview.”

Trump is a thrice-married, alleged (and probable) adulterer who spews profanity. The president professes to be Presbyterian, but he’s reportedly not of the every-Sunday-in-the-pew sort. His own words have betrayed his limited familiarity with the Good Book.

The Southern Strategy meets the Moral Majority

For about 40 years, “You can’t be a Christian and a liberal” and “You can’t be a Christian and a Democrat” have been standby charges from Republicans in rural white Kentucky and elsewhere in the Bible Belt, and even beyond. Where did this come from?

The demonizing of Democrats started in the 1970s, when the GOP piggybacked Jerry Falwell’s “Moral Majority” on its late 1960s “Southern strategy,” which was calculated to win over conservative white southern Democrats who were mad at the national party for championing landmark federal civil rights bills aimed at overturning Jim Crow laws in Dixie.

Many of these whites who were all in for segregation and denying African Americans the ballot were conservative Christian evangelicals. A slew of them eagerly embraced Falwell’s almost entirely white, GOP-allied movement. His “Moral Majority” dovetailed with President Nixon’s “Silent Majority.”

Thus, the GOP broadened its dog-whistling and pandering to racial prejudice to include conservative, Christian “social issues.” One of my union brothers called them “the Three Gs: God, guns and gays.”

Trump is still hitting all the hot buttons, catering to racism, sexism, misogyny, homophobia, xenophobia and religious bigotry.

He “owes his continued high standing among white evangelicals to the fact that nearly 40 years after the Moral Majority’s founding, the partisan meld is complete,” Sullivan wrote. “Decades of fearmongering about Democrats and religious liberals have worked. Eighty percent of white evangelicals would vote against Jesus Christ himself if he ran as a Democrat.

'Eighty percent of white evangelicals would vote against Jesus Christ himself if he ran as a Democrat.' – Amy SullivanClick To Tweet

“The messages that have steadily cemented white evangelicals within both the Republican Party and the churches that marry traditionalist theology with Republican politics are so ingrained that even those conservatives who lament the current state of American evangelicalism can’t help reinforcing them.”

How does this compare to the Jesus of the Bible?

Never mind that in the Bible, the Son of God said nothing about homosexuality. Nor did He command his followers to pack heat—mainly spears, clubs and edged weapons in Jesus’ day.

I’m 68 and far from a regular churchgoer. But I still remember learning in Presbyterian Sunday school that Jesus admonished, “Judge not, that ye be not judged.”

Even so, I’m nowhere close to an authority on scripture. Thus, I sought guidance from a pro about Graham’s liberals-are-infidels charge.

Remembering from my youth that Presbyterians are ecumenical, I phoned the Rev. Megan Huston, senior pastor at the First Christian Church in Bowling Green. She confirmed my take on the Bible and said you can be a progressive and godly.

Rev. Megan Huston
Rev. Megan Huston, senior pastor at the First Christian Church in Bowling Green, and a co-chair of the Kentucky branch of the National Poor People’s Campaign–A National Call for Moral Revival.

“This is not about left or right, it’s about right and wrong,” maintained Huston, a co-chair of the Kentucky branch of the National Poor People’s Campaign—A National Call for Moral Revival.

“If you really read your Bible, you’ll see that it doesn’t say anything about the things that [conservative Christians like Graham]…claim are moral,” Huston suggested. “It doesn’t say anything about robbing people of health care. In fact, Jesus seems to be pretty clear about healing the sick.”

She said that throughout the New Testament, Jesus “is all about taking care of people who are living in poverty, who are sick, who are foreigners and immigrants.”

Huston, who has a seminary sheepskin, has failed to find scripture where Jesus said “anything about prayer in the schools or said you can’t be gay and a Christian.”

The “Christian values” she has found include “caring for the poor and the outcast. Jesus never missed an opportunity to welcome people who were on the outskirts of society.”

Right-wing Christians—especially well-heeled ones like Graham—also act as if unfettered capitalism is godly, even though Jesus himself was not wealthy. His earthly father wasn’t a plutocrat, either. In fact, he was a working stiff—a carpenter.

Hence, I asked Huston to confirm something else I heard in my Sunday school days. Didn’t Jesus chase the money changers from the temple and say that the meek–not the moneyed–would inherit the earth?

He did indeed, she replied.

–30–

Berry Craig
Berry Craig of Mayfield is a professor emeritus of history at West Kentucky Community College in Paducah and an author of five books on the Civil War in Kentucky. The last one, published by the University Press of Kentucky, is Kentucky’s Rebel Press: Pro-Confederate Media in the Civil War. His critically-acclaimed Kentucky Confederates: Secession, Civil War, and the Jackson Purchase, also from the University Press, has been reprinted in paperback.

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