Will Liberal Protestants Squander their Moral Authority by Opposing Trump?

Will Liberal Protestants Squander their Moral Authority by Opposing Trump? August 31, 2017

If you can believe it, the columns that underline evangelical hypocrisy for supporting the POTUS keep coming and never get stale for many editors. The latest is another by Jonathan Merritt in which he observes the gap between evangelical convictions and Donald Trump’s existence:

Evangelicals are one of the most socially conservative groups in America, which has made for unlikely allies for Trump since the beginning. They’ve historically opposed pornography and gambling, but Trump once performed a cameo in a soft-core porn film and appeared on the cover of Playboy magazine, and one of his erstwhile casinos even housed a strip club.

Evangelicals have often advocated for abstinence education in public schools and the “sanctity of marriage,” but the thrice-married Trump has repeatedly bragged about his loose sexual exploits. The group has widely lamented the secularization of society, but Trump doesn’t regularly attend church.

Consider Trump’s stance on gay marriage. While evangelicals have long fought against rights for the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community, the president has repeatedly stated his unwillingness to overturn the legalization of same-sex marriage. When Trump invited Peter Thiel, the openly gay founder of PayPal, to speak at the Republication National Convention, nary a peep was heard from evangelicals. One can only imagine how conservative Christians would have criticized the Democratic Party’s lack of “traditional values” if Thiel had spoken at the Democratic convention in support of Hillary Clinton.

When rumors emerged that Trump would nominate Richard Grenell, a gay man who once served as U.S. spokesman to the United Nations, to be ambassador to NATO, members of Trump’s faith advisory council stated they would support the president’s decision. Just a few years earlier, Mitt Romney selected Grenell as a foreign policy adviser and religious leaders revolted.

Why doesn’t Merritt reverse the equation and ask about the mainline. Because liberal Protestant denominations have not upheld “the sanctity of marriage,” have blessed gay marriages (and celebrated the Supreme Court’s 2015 ruling), and are reluctant to stand against pornography, shouldn’t they as a matter of conscience support President Trump? They don’t, of course. So doesn’t that mean that the mainline has come around to Jerry Falwell (Sr.)’s positions while the head of the Moral Majority? All of a sudden the mainline has found its inner fundamentalist?

Merritt doesn’t ask that question. Why not? I don’t suppose it has anything to do with the status of Liberty University compared to the New York Times.

The more interesting question about how white Protestants do politics. Each is in it for its own understanding of what’s good for the nation. And each is not bashful about basing their political positions in religious ideals. On separation-of-church-and-state grounds, that’s a violation by both the Protestant left and the Protestant right.

Merritt concludes:

Four decades ago, evangelical leaders warned that America was entering a period of moral decline. Moral Majority leaders claimed to take up the mantle as the nation’s conscience. Under the Trump administration, however, the moral decline about which evangelicals spoke has been realized, and they have ironically enabled it. It’s difficult to imagine anything that Trump could conceivably do at this point that would trigger an evangelical exodus.

In other words, when mainline Protestants gave up being the nation’s conscience on matters of personal morality — remember Prohibition? — evangelical and fundamentalist Protestants filled the void.

That’s not an exoneration of Trump or an excuse for faith-based politics. It is a point about Jonathan Merritt’s own inconsistency.


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