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Donald Trump Winning Evangelicals Is Not A Great Mystery

AP Image AP_789724456943

Pastor Joshua Nink, right, prays to heal the hair of Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump, as wife, Melania, left, watches. (AP Photo/Jae C. Hong; caption by me)

This election cycle has produced some mysteries that really shouldn’t be mysteries. For instance, why is a political party that is allegedly conservative rejecting conservatism, both fiscal and social, by a broad margin in favor of a socially liberal, big government loving, rent seeking, flimflam man? And why has a religio-political movement that started off as “the Moral Majority” degraded to the point where the son of that movement’s founder has endorsed Donald Trump, the unambiguously most immoral Republican to run for office, period?

The New York Times touches on the Evangelicals-voting-for-Trump issue:

It is one of the prime paradoxes of the 2016 election: A twice-divorced candidate who has flaunted his adultery, praised Planned Parenthood and admitted to never asking for God’s forgiveness is the favorite of the Christian right.

Mr. Trump’s appeal with the religious right is debunking some long-held maxims about evangelical voters, showing that they are not monolithic; that they do not fall neatly in step with evangelical leaders, many of whom endorsed Mr. Cruz; and that within evangelical ranks lie fault lines of class and culture.

“Social conservatives are taking a look at Trump and saying he’s not with me on all these issues, but the overall larger imperative for us is to tear down this system that has not served us for a very long time,” said Gregg Keller, a former executive director of the Faith and Freedom Coalition, which was founded by the Christian conservative Ralph Reed.

Mr. Falwell’s son, Jerry Falwell Jr., now the president of Liberty University, where Mr. Trump called a book in the Bible “Two Corinthians” instead of the more accepted “Second Corinthians” in a speech, has endorsed the billionaire. He cited Mr. Trump’s business record and the strength he projects.

“All the social issues — traditional family values, abortion — are moot if ISIS blows up some of our cities or if the borders are not fortified,” he said, referring to the Islamic State. “Rank-and-file evangelicals are smarter than many of the leaders. They are trying to save the country and maybe vote on social issues next time.”

That sentiment is echoed by many grass-roots Trump supporters who identify as evangelical, though they may not be regular churchgoers.

“You’re voting for a president; you’re not necessarily voting for a pastor,” said Less McNiff, a retired human resources executive who heard Mr. Trump address thousands at the Oklahoma City rally on Friday. “He’s not necessarily orthodox, but I like the fact that he’s strong.”

Linda Sharp, an elementary school music teacher from Moore, Okla., who attended the rally and plans to vote for Mr. Trump, said, “He’s made moral choices that are not stellar, but I lay that against his business plan or the economic growth for America, and I choose that.”

I think the reason that about 60% of the electorate is rejecting the two most conservative candidates available in this, or in any other, primary is basically the same reason that Evangelicals are going to Trump and that Roman Catholics elect Pelosis and Bidens and Kennedys, and that American Jewry relentlessly votes for politicians who, if they had their way, would eradicate Israel. The bottom line is that their attachment to conservatism, or to Evangelicalism, or to Catholicism, or to Judaism is cultural and social and it has no role at all in their daily lives.

For instance, it is not unusual to find someone who is vocally conservative and maybe even quote Ayn Rand (as an aside, one of the ironies of the internet is that, if one judges by grammar, spelling. and composition, there is a strong inverse relationship between Ayn Rand fans and the ability to not starve to death in her type of society) who is living on Social Security, or in a house purchased by an FHA loan, or receiving Disability payments or Unemployment Compensation or whose kids receive government subsidized student lunches and who will use government issued student loans to make it through college. They don’t see any dichotomy between being emotionally in favor of free markets and small government while actually living a life of reliance upon government.

The same is true of faith. And this shouldn’t be a surprise as humans are involved in both politics and faith.

Both Evangelicals and Catholics are treading the path already worn bare and packed hard by the feet of mainstream Protestant denominations. The Gospel and the Commandments are ambiguous personal goals and objectives because Christ is interested in us, rather than vice versa. Where Evangelicals have invented the seeker churches that try to embody religion with that intense fervor one finds in the honeymoon period of any romance — a feeling that can’t be sustained and the loss of which leads to disenchantment and divorce among many who view marriage as a call to personal happiness all the time — Catholics have for a few decades now been beset with the “We Are Church” nonsense which proclaims that the purpose of the Church is “fairness”, and  the secular happiness and fulfillment of the members, not guiding them to the salvation of their souls. This enables politicians to say “I’m personally against abortion but…” or to support divorce or transgenerism or homosexual marriage because life is really about feeling good, having a great sex life, and maybe doing good to others if it doesn’t interfere with personal happiness. It enables them to say that your vote does not have to match your faith.

Across the board, though, religious people have made Christ’s admonition of “judge not” and “cast the first stone” into something that is clearly not intended: a get out of jail free card for every sinner and every sin. Tolerance and welcoming, not the acceptance of Christ, has become the flawed cornerstone of  modern Christianity. God, afterall, wants you to be happy and successful. Salvation is not something you need worry yourself about. In particular, Jerry Falwell Jr., has embraced this goofiness by proclaiming to his followers that they could vote for Trump because, wait for it,

“Render unto Caesar things that are Caesar’s, means being a good citizen,” Mr. Falwell told the crowd on Sunday. “That means when you go into the voting booth you choose the candidate that is most qualified to run the country.”

This isn’t theology. This even gives gibberish a bad name. I would have thought he could have come up with something like

When the righteous are in authority, the people rejoice: but when the wicked beareth rule, the people mourn.

But what Falwell is telling his people is very clear, do not let faith inform your political judgment. Put it in a lockbox… and, by the way, Donald Trump is a very generous man. The upshot being that you can’t hold Trump’s infidelities and adulteries and manifest dishonesty against him because then you are judging and your behavior, not his becomes the issue. And if the best man to run the country, a country conceived on Christian principles, is a freakin heathen, then so be it. By the way, did I mention that Trump is very generous?

The ability of religious and politically conservative people to compartmentalize these feelings is not unusual. I was raised in the rural South where many, many men drank, whored, and gambled on Saturday night but were at preaching on Sunday. I’m told the same phenomenon was readily observable in the mill and steel towns of the Northeast and Midwest. Where this was acknowledged as hypocrisy fifty years ago and the men acknowledged they were sinners in need of redemption, today it is the standard view of Christian life among a huge number of self-proclaimed religious people. We have successfully excised religion and religious influence from our daily lives. Church is not where persons leading a Christian life meet to worship, the church is a social club which demands little from the members and which has lost nearly all influence in how its members lead their lives. And given that erosion of public piety and institutional influence, it is small wonder that Evangelicals are ignoring their faith and voting their worst instincts. Because ultimately, that is a very human and very un-Christian thing to do.

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