You can’t be a Christian and a Democrat.
Democratic candidate Charlotte Goddard said she heard that from more than a few Republican voters during her unsuccessful bid to flip the second state House district from red to blue.
The district encompasses my native Graves County and a small slice of southern McCracken County. Both are smack in the middle of the rural, mostly white, Bible-Belt Jackson Purchase, Trump territory.
The “you can’t be a Christian and a Democrat” slam didn’t surprise Goddard. Me, either. I’ve heard it—and “You can’t be a liberal and a Christian”—for decades. So has Duane Bolin, a retired Murray State University history professor.
Meanwhile, he still can’t fathom why so many evangelicals dote on The Donald.
“Trump represents everything they should be against,” said Bolin, who has switched from Southern Baptist to Episcopalian. He meant the fact that the president is a double-divorcee with a penchant for prevaricating, talking dirty and, apparently, adultery.
Trump’s a Presbyterian. Presbyterians aren’t big on churchgoing; I know, I grew up one of the “Frozen Chosen.” It seems Trump seldom warms a pew. He evidently prefers Sunday golf to Sunday worship.
Yet the president’s worldly pursuits on the sabbath also don’t seem to trouble the souls in his evangelical flock. Never mind that most of them are in church, Bible at the ready, just about every time the doors open.
Randall Balmer on white evangelicals
Writing in The Guardian, Randall Balmer satirized white evangelicals who are apparently willing to overlook the president’s “very flexible” ethics.
Yes, we know all about that business about not bearing false witness in the Ten Commandments, but that was a very long time ago. Can’t we get beyond that? Truth and truthiness are overrated. After all, did it really matter that the ‘birther’ nonsense was hokum? Not at all. It enraged those godless liberals and launched our brother in Christ Donald Trump toward the presidency.
And all those websites fact-checking our president, claiming that he told more than 2,000 lies his first year in office? Big deal. He’s also pro-life, and he’s trying to root out transgender folks in the military, so cut the guy some slack. Besides, that same website that tracks lying concluded that Barack Obama told 28 lies during his two terms in office. So there. (Democrats are such hypocrites!)
– Evangelical whites, according to Randall Balmer
Added Balmer: “Let’s be clear here. We’re not talking about polygamy (sorry, Mitt), only serial marriages. This revision has been a long time in the making. Yes, Jesus said: ‘Anyone who divorces his wife and marries another commits adultery, and whoever marries a woman divorced from her husband commits adultery.’ Through the 1970s, we evangelicals ostracized anyone who was divorced, let alone divorced and remarried. But then we decided to ditch a family man (and fellow evangelical) in favor of a divorced and remarried Hollywood actor in 1980. Once that barrier was breached, we concluded that, hey, if two marriages are okay, why not three?”
Evangelicals overlooked the “family values” of these Repubs
Right-wing evangelicals have a long history of overlooking randy, right-wing Republican politicians and media personalities.
Like Trump, Newt Gingrich is twice divorced and on his third wife. He cheated on spouses 1 and 2. While he was wedded to 2, he was making whoopie with future wife 3 at the same time “he was trying to impeach Bill Clinton for the Monica Lewinsky affair,” wrote Gail Collins in The New York Times.
Rush Limbaugh has made four trips to the altar; divorce, not death, parted him from spouses 1, 2 and 3. Rudy Giuliani divorced his first two wives. He married his paramour from marriage 2 but filed to divorce her last spring.
Fired Fox News host Bill O’Reilly and his longtime employer agreed to shell out about $13 million in settlements with five women who complained that the star was guilty of sexual harassment or other inappropriate behavior against them, according to The Times.
Christian conservatives rushed to lay hands on Roy Moore, the born-again, Alabama Republican special election Senate candidate. Moore was believably accused of sexually inappropriate behavior with teenage girls. Trump said he all the bad stuff about Moore was “fake news.”
“Rather than recoil at the credibility and multiplicity of the accusations against [Moore, who lost]…his God-fearing supporters” alibied, McKay Coppins wrote in The Atlantic. “‘This is a spiritual battle we’re fighting,’ they say. ‘As Christians, we believe in second chances,’ they say. ‘There’s Biblical precedent, they say — just look at Mary and Joseph!’”
Concluded Coppins: “For decades, the belief that private morality was essential to assessing the worthiness of politicians and public figures was an animating ideal at the core of the Christian right’s credo. As with most ideals, the movement did not always live up to its own standards. So-called ‘values voters’ pursued a polarizing, multi-faceted agenda that was often tangled up in prejudice and partisanship. They fiercely defended Clarence Thomas when he was accused of sexually harassing Anita Hill, for example, and then excoriated Bill Clinton for his affair with Monica Lewinsky.”
White evangelicals and Trump
In any event, white evangelical husbands may be married and faithful to their one and only wife. They may not cuss. They may read the Good Book and pray every day and go to church every Sunday morning and evening and never miss a Wednesday night prayer meeting.
But they and their spouse-helpmeets love the hedonist Trump because he loves them, for their votes. They love Trump back because his enemies are theirs.White evangelicals love the hedonist Trump because he loves them, for their votes. White evangelicals love Trump because his enemies are theirs.Click To Tweet
Polls show a whopping majority of white evangelicals are all in for Trump, who panders non-stop to racism, sexism, misogyny, nativism, militarism, greed, religious bigotry, and LGBTQ prejudice.
The president’s standing among the faithful “has remained virtually unchanged at 71 percent, according to a recent Public Religion Research Institute (PRRI) poll conducted in late August and early September,” wrote Tara Isabella Burton in Vox. “Eighty-one percent of white evangelicals voted for Trump in the 2016 presidential election. White evangelicals remain the only religious group in America to view Trump favorably according to the poll.”
White evangelicals practice selective forgiveness
To be sure, white evangelicals don’t just ignore Trump’s lechery. They excuse it or insist he’s repented of his sins.
The Bible says Jesus forgave sinners; He admonished Christians to forgive those who trespass against them.
Evangelicals fall all over themselves forgiving the likes of Trump, Gingrich, Giuliani, and Limbaugh. But Baptist Bill Clinton’s presidential peccadilloes, whatever they were, don’t rate an evangelical indulgence because—you’ve got it—”You can’t be a Christian and a Democrat.”
The descendants of Jerry Falwell still don’t get it
White evangelicals of the Jesus-loves-me-but-He-can’t-stand-you persuasion have been demonizing Democrats for going on 40 years. In 1979, the the late Rev. Jerry Falwell, a Baptist, founded the Moral Majority, a big part of the rising Republican-allied Religious Right.
Professor Bolin’s dismay with the hypocrisy of Christian conservatives reminded me of the late Rev. Robert McAfee Brown. The Presbyterian theologian questioned Falwell’s conspicuous silence “in areas where one would presume that a student of the Bible would have special sensitivities.”
Explained Brown: “We have much talk [from Falwell] about things sexual, but we have not a word, not even a whisper, about the great concerns that characterize Christian and Hebrew scriptures.”
Concerns for the poor and starving, for the oppressed, and for the victims of injustice “are written large through the prophets,” Brown added.
Another time, referring to Jose Miranda, a leader in the Catholic liberation theology movement, Brown said, “One important aspect of justice, Jose Miranda reminds us, involves the restoration of what has been stolen. Giving food to the hungry or clothing to the naked is not a charitable handout but an exercise in simple justice – restoring to the poor what is rightfully theirs, what has been taken from them unjustly.”
I came across Brown’s essay 36 years ago in a “Face to Face” bulletin published by the Anti-Defamation League of B’Nai B’rith. His words are still timely.
Moral minorities, the answer to the Moral Majority
Brown was disgusted with the “breathtaking theological arrogance” of Falwell and other Religious Rightists. “The notion of claiming that much of an inside track to the mind of the Almighty makes most statements of the doctrine of papal infallibility seem like cringing modesty,” he wrote.
According to Brown, the basic stance of Religious Rightists was (and still is) that if you don’t agree with them, theologically or politically, you don’t believe in God. Hence, their you-can’t-be-a-Christian-and-a-Democrat or a Christian-and-a-liberal charge.
Brown suggested that the answer to the Moral Majority was “moral minorities.” (Though the Moral Majority dissolved in 1989, Religious Rightists are still the shock troops of the GOP, who act like “GOP” stands for “God’s Own Party.”)
Brown proposed that “moral minorities” would include people who treasure America’s pluralism, which he said “is healthy precisely because no one group or opinion has enough muscle to shove everybody else off stage.”
He said that moral majorities are a danger because they start seeing themselves as moral monopolies. So he proposed new approaches to politics he said would liberate the country from ideologues.
Brown suggested, “This would involve such things as honoring the national and cultural pluralism that permits the holding of unpopular views: seeking the good of all and not just of small segments of the population; presenting issues without demagoguery or cheating; acknowledging that problems are complex and that simplistic solutions will be wrong; and that ambiguities abound not only in the position of one’s opponents but in one’s own position as well” [italics mine].”
Evangelical patriotism vs healthy patriotism
Not coincidentally, Religious Rightists also brag about their patriotism. Interestingly, Falwell’s oft-stated love-of-country somehow failed to move him to join the armed forces. Trump, who evaded the draft—legally—during the Vietnam era, said avoiding STDs while dating in New York City in the 90s was like Vietnam to him.
Brown’s version of patriotism is different from the Falwell-Trump I’ll-hold-your-coat-and-you-go-fight variant. “True patriotism is not worship of our nation but rather, in the light of our worship of the God of justice, to conform our nation’s ways of justice,” Brown said.
“Patriotism is the last refuge of a scoundrel,” Samuel Johnson, the celebrated 18th-century English gent of letters famously observed, according to his storied sidekick, Thomas Boswell.
Johnson’s followup is not as well known. Boswell explained that his friend “did not mean a real and generous love of our country, but that pretended patriotism which so many . . . have made a cloak for self-interest.”
Like Falwell, Franklin Graham (Billy Graham’s son) twists scripture and sticks The Almighty’s seal-of-approval on Republican, red-tooth-in-claw, unfettered, screw-the-unions capitalism.
Graham is another flag-waving “chicken hawk” who skipped military service.
Which Kingdom of God will evangelicals choose?
So it goes with Trump and most Republicans. Their aim is to make the rich richer.
Never mind that Jesus ran the money changers out of the temple. Forget that He said the meek, not the moneyed, would inherit the earth.
Falwell was no fan of Walter Rauschenbush, the Baptist theologian and late 19th and early 20th-century Social Gospel movement leader. Graham’s not a fan either, but Brown was.
“The Kingdom of God is not a matter of getting individuals to heaven, but of transforming the life on earth into the harmony of heaven,” Rauschenbusch said.
That’s enough to make even a lapsed Presbyterian burst out with an “amen!”
I’m 68. But I remember learning in Sunday school that Jesus elevated love over hate, peace over war, brotherhood and sisterhood over bigotry, and exclusion and charity over greed.
Here’s hoping that someday conservative white evangelicals will get around to practicing what the Prince of Peace preached, and elevate genuine righteousness over the rancor of partisan politics.Here's hoping that someday conservative white evangelicals will get around to practicing what the Prince of Peace preached, and elevate genuine righteousness over the rancor of partisan politics.Click To Tweet