It looks like the flaming torch Mark Galli tossed onto the evangelical brushpile with his anti-Trump editorial in Christianity Today last December hasn’t taken light.
Oh, a few localized blazes did break out, and internet traffic in its aftermath broke the CT website temporarily. But defections from Evangelical Trumpland were rare. An editor at the Christian Post resigned in a huff because his editorial overseers pushed back with a pro-Trump piece after the magazine had gone on record against Trump a couple of years previously. Galli said CT added 1,800 new subscribers after his editorial dropped.
Much of the praise for Galli’s piece came from voices on the religious spectrum already hoarse from virulent reproach of the president. Haters on the secular left played up the editorial with breathless hope that it portended dissolution of the Trump base, and special efforts were made by new players in the game. An Indiana worship leader penned a song entitled “A Hymn for the 81%” that is directed, not to the Almighty, but to the churchgoers who put Trump in office. The Lincoln Project, comprising a band of “Never Trumpers,” put out the attack ad “The MAGA Church” — a spoof on “megachurch,” get it? — that likens Trump to a “false prophet.”
The secularists’ reaction to the Galli piece is not unlike what happens when a Catholic scandal erupts: all sorts of non-Catholics fasten onto it as just another opportunity to lambaste the Catholic Church. They want the church to fall, and this is another chance to push against its walls.
The secular Left has an identical end in mind for evangelicalism. As George Neumayr wrote here at The American Spectator, “Beware whenever [the chattering class] offers unsolicited advice to Christians or Republicans; the advice is intended to destroy, not preserve.”
Already unhappy with the president, Galli and CT reached the bridge too far with the Zelensky phone call. Pretty much taking Adam Schiff and the Democrat leadership at their word, Galli wrote, “The president of the United States attempted to use his political power to coerce a foreign leader to harass and discredit one of the president’s political opponents.” This, the outgoing editor opined, was a violation of the Constitution and “profoundly immoral,” and enough to warrant either the president’s removal by impeachment or his defeat at the polls later this year.
Galli seems to have gone all-in on the impeachment managers’ story — tendentious and closed to alternate explanations as it was. He seems to have forgotten Martin Luther’s explanation of the eighth commandment, “Thou shalt not bear false witness against thy neighbor,” to wit: “We should fear and love God that we may not deceitfully belie, betray, slander, nor defame our neighbor, but defend him, speak well of him, and put the best construction on everything.” To believe Schiff and company is to put the worst construction on the Zelensky phone call on all levels.
But put all that aside. The true scandal for the evangelical anti-Trumpers is a number: 81, as in the 81 percent of white evangelicals who voted for Trump in 2016. Think about it: eight out of every 10 people sitting around them in their local megachurch pulled the lever for the upstart real-estate magnate in 2016.
It baffles them. They write books about it, pen magazine articles and op-eds about it. How can so many of their evangelical brothers and sisters not share their moral disgust for the Orange Man? Why, in addition to being corrupt and personally unrighteous — their tongues are ever poised to unloose a lengthy index of moral failings — the man doesn’t even talk a good religious game. He seems not to truly grasp the Christian concept of repentance; he calls one biblical book “Two Corinthians”; his views of the Bible are, shall we say, unsophisticated — “I think it’s just incredible, the whole Bible is incredible!”
Talk about hypocrisy! For the longest time, evangelicals have been condemning immoral behavior. Sex outside marriage is wrong, greed is wrong, having many wives is wrong, unkindness to others is wrong — it’s all sin, brothers and sisters, very, very bad. And then here comes this walking avatar of all things these conservatives have excoriated — he’s avaricious, a chaser of skirts, unkind in tweet and deed — and these pulpit pounders and moral exemplars want to make him president?
And you know what else? Twenty years ago, all these same Bible-wavers were fulminating against the presidency of one William J. Clinton simply because he was a liar and a letch. It’s enough to put the evangelical elbow patch and ponytail crowd on morphine drips.
It’s what has happened in those 20 years that makes sense of this conundrum. Conservative evangelicals have seen the liberal, anti-Christian zealots lay siege to their America, both secular and religious. The country dove headlong into affirmation of same-sex marriage, gender roles have been profoundly ambiguated, PC and cancel culture are bringing down public figures with contrary views, mobs of the “woke” are literally pulling down statues of historical personages they don’t like, religious liberty is in peril of diminution or outright negation, speech is endangered as never before in this country, and born babies are murdered in the name of choice. All this has happened in a twinkling of the historical eye — in 20 years’ time — and elected conservatives, their paladins of righteousness, throw their fists at it on the campaign trail but, once in office, turn into pillars of squish.
Trump stood against it all. Not particularly attractive in a spiritual sense, he looked like somebody who would scrap with the forces of evil, who wouldn’t crumble in the face of a media onslaught that was sure to rain down on him, who would, in short, fight back and, if not stop the madness totally, at least pause it.
He is their Cyrus, a flawed and fallible leader whom God uses to effect his will upon his people. The Bible is full of such people — most of the heroes in the book of Judges would qualify. Trump’s call to “make America great again” is something these evangelicals have been waiting to hear from Republicans for decades. What liberals see as xenophobic, racist, Islamophobic, nativist rantings are an appeal for American power and prosperity and a pledge to honor evangelical faith and appoint conservative judges (crucial in our litigious society) — promises, like many others, he has largely kept.
But this squabble has unearthed what looks like an elitist–regular people divide in evangelicalism. While not true in absolute terms, because there are pro- and anti-Trumpists on both sides, it seems that the clerisy — the college profs, the publishing world — is inclined to dislike the president, while the pew-sitters have his back.
This is very odd. Elitists are usually premier on-the-one-hand-but-on-the-other-hand types, proud in their ambiguity, firmly planting their feet on both sides of every issue. Commoners are the it’s-either-right-or-wrong people, the black-or-white-but-no-gray people, the hills-and-holler folk who wouldn’t know a nuance if it rose up and bit them on the butt.
But in this case the roles are reversed. The elitists are the moralistic prigs — pietists anxious to condemn those not as sensitive as they are to misbehavior and sin, who point the finger of blame at their less righteous fellows and shout, “Unclean!” — while the regular Joes are teleological, reluctant to condemn and willing to abide the shading and gradations of issues in the name of positive outcomes.
It is possible greater motives are in play here. A Trump removal and a Democrat return to power would unleash socialistic ventures without number on the country. The welfare state would grow, universal medicine would be a certainty, borders would become even more porous, and redistribution of wealth would be rampant.
Sounds like the social gospel to me — a cause many of the evangelical Left already champion.