Perhaps like me, you were a bit puzzled to hear news of a group of conservative religious leaders meeting with Donald Trump a week or so ago. They were concerned about his stance on issues such as abortion and transgender rights. The group of religious leaders was comprised largely, if not entirely, of evangelicals – people such as Mike Huckabee, Franklin Graham, James Robison, Ralph Reed and Tony Perkins.
After the meeting one of Trump’s earliest evangelical supporters, Jerry Falwell Jr., along with new Trump convert Ralph Reed were on Fox News excited about their candidate. No official endorsements were handed out after the meeting but, clearly, many attendees left there with typical obligatory optimism. They want to like Trump…they need to like Trump…because they so thoroughly despise Hillary Clinton.
I have many wonderful evangelical friends to this day. People I love dearly. But despite these friendships I have been a quick and often harsh critic of the Christian right. This latest escapade in support of Trump is no exception. It’s idiotic and counterproductive. But there’s a pattern here among the Christian right.
From my experiences, America’s Christian right is short sighted, insular and often delusional (in that, as a group, it often refuses to see political reality). I’ve also found it to be much like its left-wing stereotypes – suppressed, self-righteous, bigoted and prideful. Not that those characteristics are unusual in politics generally all across the spectrum. It’s just that I expect so much more from people of faith who claim to own a real-world view of life and its purposes. I hold these same higher political expectations for my own faith here in Utah. We’re not perfect and I’m not judging anyone personally. I’m speaking about our politics.
As early as 1993, I called out the Christian right for its politics masquerading as religion. In a speech before the John Randolph Club – an eclectic group of paleo-conservative oddballs, then dedicated followers of presidential candidate Pat Buchanan (a man I once admired very much), including the late Murray Rothbard, former National Review editor Joe Sobran, the late journalist Sam Francis and publisher Tom Fleming – I shared remarks titled “Nothing Christian About It.” My first sentence began, “The term Christian right really is an oxymoron.”
To this weird mix of paleo-cons, libertarians and gays (I said it was a weird mix), here were my concluding remarks, “True liberty, both personal and civil, comes through the pure and undefiled gospel of Jesus Christ. That is the basis for an honest Christian right. Any more than this will enslave us, while anything less is conscientious objection. The real work of any Christian is to build the kingdom of God on earth in anticipation for His return. Hence, our role in politics is to seek a civil atmosphere wherein we can magnify that calling.”
By 1997, I wrote about how the religious right, and social conservatives generally, had lost the culture war. Again, that was 19 years ago. Writing privately to my social conservative colleagues at the time, I said, “We have failed. Our side, the ‘pro-family,’ ‘conservative,’ ‘traditional’ side, has failed in our collective attempt to hold at bay the advancement of organized homosexuality. The ‘gay rights’ movement has proceeded relatively unabated, and in precisely the arenas where we, the self-proclaimed political leaders of traditional Americans, have made it a point to engage the problem…We have failed NOT because we are any less intelligent, any less sophisticated, or any less committed than our opponents. We have failed because we have no vision and they do.
“Frankly, if we ever were as a group, we are no longer a cause for truth. We are an industry with our many captains. Neither are we, if we ever were, any longer legitimized by truth. Money and power are now our basis for legitimacy. Worst of all, we have in many ways become the characterization painted by the left: partisan, uncaring, authoritarian, and greedy…If we were a business we’d be bankrupt. If we were a ball club, we’d be in last place. If we were married, we’d be divorced. But we’re in none of those situations. It’s worse. We’re in a war – a war for the future of western civilization, a war over public virtue that defines our national liberty, a war for our future generations. A Christian perspective — indefatigable and eternally minded — is all that keeps me from pronouncing our surrender even now.”
Of course, those opinions were controversial back then and even still today. Many social conservatives disagreed with me then as now. But doesn’t evangelical support for Donald Trump alone make my case? How can a person of deep faith support Donald Trump? Just because the perceived alternative is even worse? Choosing Trump because of Hillary is not transcendent. It’s a devaluing of our spiritual currency. It is a politicization of our faith and a continuation of the misguided tactics embraced by the Christian right for the past 25 years.
I’m Paul Mero. Thanks for listening.