One of the things about the Trump phenomena that stumps me is how some of his supporters so readily abandon the teachings of their faith when confronted with Trump’s offenses against that faith. Here’s an article that may help us understand that. Michael Gerson (Washington Post) explains how The Trump evangelicals have lost their gag reflex - and why.
He observes “something that could never be said of [former President Richard] 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. Because 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 no 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 [Franklin’s father] 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.