Kevin’s Conversations: An Apologetic (And A Rebuke) For Evangelicalism
The rise of Donald Trump to the Presidency of the United States has wrought all kinds of consternation and discord towards Evangelicals and within their own community. We all know the commonly cited statistic that 81% of white Evangelicals who voted in the last presidential election cast their vote for Donald Trump. In many ways in our culture, rightly or wrongly, the term Evangelical has become synonymous with Trump supporter.
In this interchangeableness that has come about, there has also come the assignment to Evangelicals of all the negative attributes commonly associated with Trump supporters. Attributes such as racism, anti-immigration, homophobia, not caring about the poor, and so on. Those who are “conservative”, another term also commonly lumped together with Evangelicals and Trump supporters as if they are all just one big ball of the same matter, are regularly portrayed by progressives and a heavily Left-bent mainstream media as being these terrible people with terrible behavior and terrible motives. Even so, it sometimes seems as if Evangelicals are separated out of the group for an extra special beating.
However, a recent report put forth by the Democracy Fund Voter Study Group and written about here, suggests that those who are religious among political conservative ranks, on average have more honorable and compassionate attitudes and viewpoints than their nonreligious conservative counterparts… particularly on subjects like race and immigration. While the study does not separate out Evangelicals from a more generic “churchgoing conservatives”, one can safely assume that Evangelicals make up a considerable chunk of those whose are the churchgoing conservatives.
This study found results like 48% of churchgoing Trump voters think it ought to be harder to immigrate to the United States while the number jumps to 67% of nonreligious Trump voters who think this way, and only 9% of white churchgoing Trump voters find their racial identity to be “extremely important” while the number again jumps to 26% of those who are white nonreligious Trump supporters. While these type of general questions and answers do not point specifically to righteous/unrighteous actions and behaviors, the given answers would appear to be significant indicators of whether one has righteous/unrighteous attitudes and beliefs regarding specific issues and circumstances. And the results of this study would suggest that those who are regular churchgoers among the ranks of the conservatives, which again likely includes many Evangelicals, are more loving and virtuous in their beliefs and attitudes than are those conservatives who are generally nonreligious.
These results would appear to give the opposite picture than what is often painted for us. Maybe Evangelicals aren’t nearly as hateful and thoughtless and insidious as they are often portrayed to be. Maybe there needs to be a recognition that Evangelicals are not anywhere close to the monolithic group that they are often portrayed to be and that there is actually quite a variety of thoughts and attitudes within the group, with many Evangelicals actually being quite thoughtful and compassionate. Maybe there needs to be a reprogramming among those who regularly and aggressively attach a scarlet letter of shame to anyone and anything Evangelical.
However, there is bunk like this. (Bunk is the nice word.) Perhaps the most well known living Evangelical Christian and leader in the world goes on television and speaks to the current circumstance of the nomination of Brett Kavanaugh to the Supreme Court and the recent accusation of sexual assault against him. Franklin Graham says things like the accusation is “not relevant”, and it is “just another attempt to smear him (Kavanaugh)”, and that “there wasn’t a crime that was committed”, and that “she said no and he respected that, so I don’t know what the issue is”. This begrimes the name of Evangelicalism. All those who see Evangelical Christians as evil, thoughtless, partisan Trump supporters stand up and shout, “See!”
Now, I do not bring up this subject to debate Kavanaugh’s guilt or innocence or even how the whole situation should be handled. But that whole interview with Franklin Graham just drips with partisan debasement and it gives Evangelicalism a big old black eye. He blatantly and unrighteously assesses and misrepresents the situation:
“There wasn’t a crime that was committed” . How does he know this? Does he have some kind of secret knowledge and know that the accuser is definitively lying? If she’s not lying and is accurately describing what happened, then it most certainly was a crime.
“She said no and he respected that, so I don’t know what the issue is.” Again, another blatant misrepresentation. She said the only reason the assault stopped was because she escaped. Under no testimony whatsoever, from either the accuser or from Kavanaugh, is it being said that she said no and he respected that and stopped.
Then there is the judgment that whatever Kavanaugh did or didn’t do doesn’t even seem to matter. It’s “not relevant” what he may have done, and it is “just another attempt to smear him”. How on earth can a potential sexual assault be “not relevant” when deciding whether or not someone is fit to fill one of the only nine seats of the highest Court in the land? Markedly, because if he actually committed the act, then he is actively lying about it and refuses to show any remorse or seek any reconciliation. How on earth can a Christian leader say that such a thing doesn’t matter? How is it possible to come to such a judgment that it is “just another attempt to smear him”, when one cannot possibly know for sure whether or not an incident took place? How can a Christian leader who takes an attitude like this possibly ever minister to any woman who has ever suffered from sexual assault?
It is garbage like this that exceedingly contributes to giving Evangelical Christians a bad name. This politically partisan poppycock spoken by Franklin Graham is seemingly a worst case example, but sadly it has become commonplace for the Court Evangelicals to wrongly protect, support, rationalize, minimize, or turn a blind eye toward the wrong that is committed by President Trump and/or within conservative politics as a whole. Court Evangelicals, the term coined by John Fea, representing those Evangelical leaders who sacrifice their biblical and moral convictions to seek influence within the courts of worldly and political power. Sadly, this behavior does not stop with just the Court Evangelicals, but it is present within rank and file Evangelicals. Likely, at least partially so because of the influence these leaders have over those who look up to them.
In and of itself, it certainly is not wrong to be a political conservative. It is not wrong to desire a conservative judge be added to the Supreme Court, I desire the same. I personally do not even believe that a vote for Donald Trump in this past election, given the choices, should bring about universal condemnation. But unrighteous partisan behavior that undertakes whatever means necessary to achieve its desired political ends cannot be excused. Such behavior is damaging Evangelical identification.
So, on one hand, we see chronicled evidence that those “conservatives” who are dedicated to their Christian beliefs, many of whom are likely Evangelicals, presumptively have more compassionate and upright attitudes and behavior than do their fellow generally nonreligious conservatives. I would submit that many other studies could be undertaken that would document evidence of much good done by and righteous attitudes and beliefs held by Evangelicals. Evidence that would show that Evangelicals are often wrongly labeled with pejoratives they do not deserve, especially when it is done with a broad brush. Yet on the other hand, we have a consequential amount of Evangelicals, most notably high-profile ones, who carry poor attitudes and commit inexcusable behavior under the guise of partisan political power and gains. And it makes it very easy for others to meld together the name of Evangelical with unrighteous Trump supporter or hypocritical political conservative.
Some days I just want to turn in my Evangelical card for one that simply says “Christian” to avoid all this mess. I wonder if that new simplified card might someday end up in the same muddled boat?