Archive for Wednesday, January 24, 2018

Opinion: The Trump evangelicals seem to have lost their gag reflex

January 24, 2018

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— Billy Graham has been one of the most visible, respected and influential Christians in the world since the 1950s. But he often had a blind spot when it came to politics. Graham was Richard Nixon’s golfing buddy and spiritual adviser. He was there to pray with Nixon after every victory and loss. And Nixon consulted him on everything from his vice presidential pick to the conduct of the Vietnam War.

It must have been a heady experience. “Nixon showed his friendliness to me in many personal ways,” Graham later recalled. “He came to our home on the mountain. He often referred to the pineapple tea my mother served him when he visited her. ... In our games of golf together, he was always willing to coach me. ... He remembered birthdays.” In Graham’s view, Nixon was “a modest and moral man with spiritual sensitivity.” He “held such noble standards of ethics and morality for the nation.”

Graham was in denial about Watergate until the last. When he finally read through the Watergate tape transcripts — including profanity, political corruption, lying, racism and sexism — Graham remembers becoming physically ill. He said later of Nixon: “I wonder whether I might have exaggerated his spirituality in my own mind.” Graham’s biographer William Martin quotes a close Graham associate who is more blunt: “For the life of me, I honestly believe that after all these years, Billy still has no idea of how badly Nixon snookered him.”

We can now look back on such gullibility with nostalgia. Billy Graham had the alibi of self-deception. But Franklin Graham, Jerry Falwell Jr., Robert Jeffress and Donald Trump’s other evangelical advocates have no such excuse. They have made their political bargain with open eyes. Trump has made profanity an unavoidable part of our political culture. He is in the midst of a gathering corruption scandal that has left close aides under indictment. He tells repeated and obvious lies. He incites ethnic and racial resentment as a political strategy and was caught on tape bragging about sexual assault. Add to this something that could never be said of Nixon: The credible accusation that Trump paid hush money to a porn star to cover up an affair.

And what is Franklin Graham’s reaction? “We certainly don’t hold him up as the pastor of this nation and he is not. But I appreciate the fact that the president does have a concern for Christian values, he does have a concern to protect Christians whether it’s here at home or around the world, and I appreciate the fact that he protects religious liberty and freedom.”

“A concern for Christian values.” I imagine there is considerable presidential stroking behind such a pronouncement — the current equivalent of remembering birthdays and pineapple tea. But Graham’s argument is as crudely political as it gets. Since Trump has delivered the goods on protecting Christians, evangelicals should give him the benefit of every doubt on moral matters, even when such doubts are absurdly transparent ploys.

The level of cynicism here is startling. Some Christian leaders are surrendering the idea that character matters in public life in direct exchange for political benefits to Christians themselves. It is a political maneuver indistinguishable from those performed by business or union lobbyists every day. Only seedier. You scratch my back, I’ll wink at dehumanization and Stormy Daniels. The gag reflex is entirely gone.

From a purely political perspective, the Trump evangelicals are out of their depth. When presented with the binary choice of Hillary Clinton or Donald Trump, I can understand a certain amount of anguish. But that is not a reason to become sycophants, cheerleaders and enablers. Politics sometimes presents difficult choices. But that is not an excuse to be the most easily manipulated group in American politics.

The problem, however, runs deeper. Trump’s court evangelicals have become active participants in the moral deregulation of our political life. Never mind whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is right, whatever is of good repute. Some evangelicals are busy erasing bright lines and destroying moral landmarks. In the process, they are associating evangelicalism with bigotry, selfishness and deception. They are playing a grubby political game for the highest of stakes: the reputation of their faith.

Not long after Watergate broke, a chastened Billy Graham addressed a conference in Switzerland, warning that an evangelist should be careful not “to identify the Gospel with any one particular political program or culture,” and adding, “this has been my own danger.” The danger endures.

— Michael Gerson is a columnist for Washington Post Writers Group.

Comments

Steve Hicks 3 weeks, 6 days ago

What's led Christian "leaders," and many of their followers, to support the increasingly sleazy politicians of "their" faction is the lie that persuaded them it IS "their" faction.

The "Moral Majority" delivered the "Christian vote" in 1980 on the false equivalence that Christian values are "conservative" values. The lie was never more evident than in the straight-up choice that year between a deeply Christian candidate (Jimmy Carter) and a deeply "conservative" one (Ronald Reagan)...when newly-politicized Christians overwhelmingly voted for the latter.

American Christians have largely been a sub-demographic of "conservative" politics for 40 years now: and have slavishly followed anyone (even, incredibly, Donald Trump) whom their (mis-) leaders, Franklin Graham and many others, certified to them as "conservative."

The shame of American Christianity is that it has willingly prostituted itself to political deceivers, pimped by its own deceitful "leaders."

The greater shame is that many American Christians have adopted the contemptuous attitudes and rhetoric of "conservatives" toward helping the poor ("welfare-cheats"), the sick ("Obamacare"), and aliens ("illegals"). Nothing better proves the lie of "Christian conservatism" than Jesus' commands His followers be merciful to the poor, the sick, and aliens.

Bob Smith 3 weeks, 6 days ago

SH**, what is your position within the church to decide what a "Christian" is?

Steve Hicks 3 weeks, 6 days ago

Jesus said He knew His sheep by the fact they hear His voice (John 10:27). He also said His brothers and sisters are the people who do God's will (Matthew 12:50). I'd go with Jesus' definition who's a Christian, hearers and doers.

Who do you consider is a Christian, BS ?

Bob Smith 3 weeks, 6 days ago

Guess you forgot Matthew 7:1-3 King James Version.

Steve Hicks 3 weeks, 5 days ago

Guess you forgot about those times Jesus called some people out as children of the devil (John 8:31-47): or King Herod as "that fox" (Luke 13:32), or called one of His favorite disciples "Satan" (Matthew 16:23 and Mark 8:33), and religious leaders "hypocrites" many times.

Do you think Jesus soft-pedaled to people the truth about their spiritual state ?

Dorothy Hoyt-Reed 3 weeks, 5 days ago

Generally if they follow the teachings of Jesus. then I would call them Christians. If they don't, they aren't. Anyone can go around saying they believe that Jesus is their savior. There have been a lot of evil people who claim this.

P Allen Macfarlane 3 weeks, 6 days ago

Donald Trump seems to have a particularly enticing kool-aid that so-called Christian evangelicals just can't resist. Just drink it, you'll feel better in the morning.

Bob Summers 3 weeks, 6 days ago

I love it when the congenital Liberal analyze subjects they hate.

They are always so angry and bitter, clinging to their hate.

Greg Cooper 3 weeks, 6 days ago

You know, Bob, that Christians don't hate anyone. The may hate what some do or say or how they act, but they love the person, just as Jesus, and His Father love all people. You guys just can't get by the fact that there really are "Christian values" that allow one to make that distinction. The bitter ones are the ones who espouse Christianity but have no Christianity in their hearts.

Richard Heckler 3 weeks, 6 days ago

The moral majority ....... is that the group with deceptive leadership and donate to corrupt political campaigns?

The term "moral majority" is misleading at best.

Steve Hicks 3 weeks, 6 days ago

Absolutely, Richard. I always put the term in quotation marks for that reason..."so-called."

Bob Smith 3 weeks, 5 days ago

The Moral Majority organization that was founded by Jerry Fallwell hasn't existed since the 1990s. There was a reboot in 2004, but it doesn't seem to be doing much these days. You guys need to keep up better.

Steve Hicks 3 weeks, 5 days ago

Notice I was talking about the "Moral Majority" as an organization that existed in 1980, BS...

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