One of the most befuddling anecdotes of the Donald Trump era has been the religious right’s almost otherworldly loyalty to him. It seems that none of Trump’s outrages are nearly enough to peel the nation’s so-called moral guardians away from him. Not his degrading of women. Not his unhinged attacks on those who dare cross him. Not his blatant lying. Not his willingness to coddle some of the worst people in the world. Not out-and-out racism. Not even ham-handed abuse of power.
One evangelical who is not at home with this trend is John Fea, a history professor at Messiah College in Grantham, Pennsylvania; near Harrisburg. He has a name for some of Trump’s most diehard evangelical supporters–“court evangelicals.”
As Fea sees it, people like Lance Wallnau, Jim Bakker, Paula White, Rick Joyner, and others were so enthralled when Trump made clucking noises they liked on social issues that they adopted the posture of medieval courtiers. That is, they trip all over themselves to win Trump’s favor–presumably to ensure that he continues to service the massive debt he owes them for their continued support in 2016.
However, he argues, in their desire to wangle a place at the West Wing table, they have “sacrificed the prophetic voice of the Christian faith for a place of power and influence.” Indeed, some of them have gone further than that. They have willing to condone behavior from Trump that would spell finis to any other president, regardless of party. Indeed, they not only condone it, but have actually ramped up their campaign to bully Americans, and evangelicals in particular, into bowing down to Trump.
Fea recently uncovered one particularly nauseating example of this trend. One of Trump’s most ardent religious right defenders went mask-off and warned that those who try to peel people away from Trump may have some explaining to do in heaven.
Fea felt compelled to speak up in defense of another evangelical scholar of history, Thomas Kidd of Baylor University. Just before Trump became the first sitting president to speak at the March for Life, Kidd took to Twitter to suggest that Trump’s appearance might do the pro-life movement more harm than good in the long run.
When prominent Christian conservative talk show host Todd Starnes saw this tweet, he hit the ceiling. He was still perturbed by it when he sat down with Family Research Council president Tony Perkins on Friday, not long after Trump took the stage at the annual anti-abortion gathering.
Perkins and Starnes fawned over Trump’s speech. In particular, Perkins gushed over Trump’s record, saying he’d “set a new standard for what pro-lifers and Christians in this country” should expect from a Republican presidential candidate. Starnes agreed, which was why he was befuddled by Kidd’s tweet, saying that he “couldn’t get” why there were still so many never-Trumpers lurking about.
Perkins didn’t understand it either. He claimed that evangelicals who can’t abide Trump’s boorishness can’t credibly deny that Trump has given them “everything that people in the Christian community” have wanted to see happen for four decades. He then delivered a dire warning to those who are still trying to peel evangelicals away from the Trump train.
It might not have come in the same package or the one that we desired, but it’s getting done, and so I have to admit it. They’re unwilling to do that and quite frankly, they will have to give an account for that some day–not before me, they’ll have to give an account for trying to turn people the wrong way when it comes to this administration.
Perkins wasn’t even trying to be subtle. He was telling those who still oppose Trump that if they continue to peel people away from Trump and aren’t willing to simply accept what he’s done, they’ll have to explain themselves to Almighty God.
Fea recognized that Perkins was speaking in code. He argues that if you measure presidents by what the religious right expects a president to do, then Trump really is “the greatest Christian president of all time.” However, he believes that the religious right’s strategy is “deeply flawed,” since it is built primarily on fear. To Fea’s mind, any evangelical Christian would know that “to dwell in fear is a sinful practice.”
Fea is pro-life, but contends that it’s possible to be pro-life and still not be at home with the religious right. Indeed, he has argued that there are ways to end abortion that aren’t so intertwined with “the raw pursuit of political power.” In his book, “Believe Me: The Evangelical Road to Donald Trump,” he quoted an essay by two of his fellow academics, Jonathan Tran and Stanley Hauerwas, pointing out a number of ways that Christians can stand for the sanctity of life by preventing pregnancies before they occur.
Fea admits he’ll have to give an account for his writings in opposition to Trump, but then puts the shoe on the other foot. He reminds Perkins and other court evangelicals that they will have to answer for enabling “an immoral president” and sacrificing their witness for “a mess of political pottage and some federal judges.” He also believes they will have to answer for young people who have decided to peel away from the “hypocrisy” they see in the church.
Like Fea, I’m an evangelical. I know I’ll have to give an account for why I cannot and will not support Trump. It’s simple–I know that nothing Trump does is worth the shame and disgrace. The obvious question–will Perkins and other Trump-worshiping evangelicals be ashamed to say why they continued to bow down to their dear one?
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