Michael Gerson attempts to provide some guidance to the political and religious climate as it relates to our dear president, Donald Trump. As a Washington Post columnist, he wrote an article for Atlantic, “The Last Temptation: How evangelicals, once culturally confident, became an anxious minority seeking political protection from the least traditionally religious president in living memory.”
But while he provides lots of background in Christianity in the U.S. and politics, he misses obvious clues as to why Trump has become a popular candidate for Christians in America.
Gerson presents a relatively well-researched article with a dizzying amount of history about Christianity and politics in the U.S. Most of it, however, is irrelevant to why Trump was supported by and overwhelmingly voted for by a majority of evangelicals.
It is worth exploring Gerson’s lengthy essay. He thinks something is wrong with Christianity in the U.S. when a majority of Christians support Trump. It’s hard to take his complaint seriously, though, when the Washington establishment, including Republicans, attempt to marginalize nearly everything that has to do with Christianity.
Why would Trump be popular with Christians? Because he well represented Christian views and standards in debates with Hillary Clinton and in his first year in office. He told Clinton that allowing abortion during all nine weeks of a woman’s pregnancy is not acceptable. He said he would nominate a conservative Supreme Court justice and he did. There’s his answer.
He said he would oppose the Johnson amendment, (which purports to regulate speech by pastor’s from the pulpit) and he did. Even in past Republican conventions, traditional Christian values, or what is generally considered to be that, have been in jeopardy. They don’t seem to be with this president.
Gerson claims that Trump does not reach the level of a serious Christian in speech and conduct. But ff the media had paid attention to or investigated people who had claims against Democrat candidates, they would probably never have been elected. Obama had the “God damn America” pastor, Rev. Jeremiah Wright, who even married Barach and Michelle. That didn’t matter. He had a male friend who claims he had sex in various bathhouses in South Chicago, and even wrote a book about his relationship with Obama. That didn’t matter.
Bill Clinton was accused of molesting at least two women, and raping Juanita Broderick. Neither of these candidates had to pay hush money because the media did not care about it. The hush money was paid in kind, through media threats and intimidation, much of which came from Hillary. With Trump we have what amounts to a seemingly consensual relationship with a Stormy Daniels, and it makes national news. The effort is mostly meant to embarrass Trump, and hurt Melania, for daring to think that someone like Trump would dare to be president.
He may celebrate his connection to Wheaton College, but Wheaton College and Gerson have not made much of an impact on the national marriage debate since the Defense of Marriage Act was signed by Clinton in 1996. Since then we’re seen a general decline in Christian influence in the political arena, with degenerate behavior of all kinds being celebrated as having the same worth as traditional marriage between a man and a woman.
Oberlin College during Lyman Beecher’s day may have been a leader in fighting slavery; it isn’t any more. In fact, it’s leading in the other direction, giving people every reason possible to give up on marriage as something that is ordained by God. Colleges like Oberlin have been at the forefront of challenging Western Civilization as it is supported by Christianity and any kind of related ethic that was supported by the Reformation.
As well, Lyman Beecher’s daughter, Harriet Beecher Stowe, was much more involved in American culture and society’s ills than Gerson and pastors are today. In other words, pastors today don’t see the need to get involved in an issue like slavery or even talk about it from the pulpit, as they did in the early 19th century.
The upshot of all this is that there is no anointed or perfect method, as Gerson claims, of people who support Christian values to get involved in politics. The effort in England to end the slave trade was a yearly slugfest that compares well to the fight to end abortion in the U.S.
What has affected the social conscience is the fact that people who could have integrated society or at least forced equality of resources so that black citizens could have more advantages - people like Teddy Roosevelt, and Franklin D. Roosevelt and other politicians - instead did nothing. They did not make sure that these Christian values of equal treatment carried over to people of all ethnic groups. The result is that Negro, African-Americans in the 20th century languished in poverty and cruelty.
While the Scopes “monkey trial” may be a benchmark for Gerson, journalists were already opposed to Christianity and not willing to give the church the benefit of the doubt. The trial was just an easy opportunity to do just that. It probably would not have mattered who won the trial. Christians have battled Darwinism and a general disrespect for the idea of creation by God for generations.
At the same time, there is a general consensus among the population that the earth did not get where it is by accident, and there had to be some outside force to allow us to get to where we are today. This idea is even accepted by scientists who believe in evolution. In other words, Christians have not really lost any ground because of a trial about evolution.
Christians and Republicans have also been at the forefront of meeting needs in inner cities, although it my not seem to be the case. They don’t a lot of credit for it. But does that really matter? If there is an adversarial relationship to what Christians are doing in public, it’s mostly because Democrats don’t want Christian effort in this area to carry over into politics. In fact, Christians (at least Republican ones) have fought for civil rights and voted for the Civil Rights Act while being opposed by Southern Democrats like Sen. Robert Byrd, a former Klu Klux Klan member. Whether they claimed to be Christian was irrelevant; they didn't act like Christians.
If Gerson reads the Sermon on the Mount, he will see that Jesus was for many things, but he was also against a lot of things. The Apostle Paul was also. The ten commandments is full of things not to do. Is that an unrealistic politically theory of involvement for Christians, or simply something worth defending? This idea that Christians are not supposed to oppose things is simply not realistic. Christians pay attention to sex in the media because the media is obsessed with sex.
If any one played by worldly rules in an attempt to end the slave trade by labeling something wrong it was William Wilberforce. In fact, the slave trade was ended by legislative technicality - by taking advantage of a situation. Was Wilberforce a bully? Should not Christians use any legal means at their disposal to pass laws that comport with Christianity?
I’m not sure that evangelical view their efforts to pass laws in hysterical terms. But what we do know is that speakers like Ann Coulter and Ben Shapiro, people who are not evangelical by any means, defend a reasoned Judea-Christian ethic in public more than popular pastors. I would ask Gerson where the principled pluralism is in a college like Middlebury, a place where Charles Murray was physically attacked. Who stands for him? Which group is the one that is hysterical? Christians are the ones who are attacked by masked protesters at events across the nation.
Our culture is course. It has been for decades. Christians have been mocked for opposing a number of social evils for decades. Liberals have mocked Christians like James Dobson for decades. Today people in the news media mock and lie about people like Coulter, colluding with each other to malign her, no matter how much reason she supports in her books.
As well as spreading the gospel, Jesus tried to make people’s lives better. There are larger problems at work in inner cities than how one describes Nigerians. Most black Americans will never visit Nigeria or any other country in Africa. Nor do they want to.
Further, white Christians in the South were Democrats, not Republicans. Sen Robert Byrd was cerebrated by Bill Clinton, as a great and influential Democrat senator. He filibustered against the Civil Rights Act. He was a member of the Klu Klux Klan.
It is this intrinsic and equal value of all human life that set Trump on a mission to end the reign of MS-13 terror in Hispanic communities in New York, Baltimore and elsewhere, as well as the high murder rate in inner cities. During the Obama administration and even for Democrats and liberal news moderators, the suffering and death of some in the U.S. seems to have been ignored. In fact, Joy Reid stated that MS-13 terror, murder and killing was only a factor for people who watching Fox News.
This would seem to qualify as reverse racism, or something that happened in the South when lynchings were ignored because blacks were considered subhuman. How is this any different? This is essentially acknowledging death and suffering by political party or Republican or Democrat. If death and suffering depends on the political preference of a news commentator, it would seem to allow all sorts of suffering similar to what happened in Nazi Germany. Jews are being rounded up and killed in Poland. That’s okay. They’re only Jews in Poland. So too with blacks in the South. They were a different race so their death did not rank very high. It’s ironic that Reid, a black woman, would consider suffering and death at the hands of MS-13 unimportant. One black couple was invited to the State of the Union address by Trump; their daughter was killed by members of an MS-13 gang.
If we have learned anything from the Russia collusion story and Obama years, it is that corruption - the cold and calculating kind - knows no bounds. Any level of government, the highest reaches of the FBI and the IRS can be corrupted by evil and dishonest men and women. This is where Gerson gets it especially wrong. Trump’s election has brought these scandals, these levels of corruption by the FBI to light. Without his election, and opposition to his election, none of this would have happened.
If there is anything we can gain from Christian conscience, we can see it is the speeches given by Pres. Trump in South Korea and the latest State of the Union address before congress. We see it in the compassion that he shows for people who have suffered from MS-13 gangs, from North Korea, for a police officer who decides at the last second to adopt a baby that could just as easily been aborted. If Gerson sees no compassion in these acts, then there is little hope for him. This is the real sharing of sorrows, when a Korean man stands before congress with tears in his eyes, relishing his freedom from the tyranny of an oppressive Communist regime in North Korea. Despite all of Gerson’s misgivings about Trump, we do see real Christian character in him and a reason for hope in America.
© 2018 Larry Ingram
Based in St Louis,
Larry Ingram writes about the news media, movies and culture, as well as on topics like race, privilege, Christianity, religious expression and tolerance.
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