The Tragedy of American Machiaevangelicals

The Tragedy of American Machiaevangelicals July 18, 2019

Adjacent to signs for a smattering of Democratic senators with presidential ambitions, a neighbor of mine has this sign planted in their front yard: “Vote Blue No Matter Who!” Perhaps this would be saying something in some quarters but I live in a city that is overwhelmingly blue. Since 1964, Washington, DC has had a mere three electoral votes and never once has a Republican candidate received one.

Apart from signaling their political leanings to loads of neighbors who, by and large, share them, I’ve found myself wondering about the purpose of the sign. What’s the point? Given my neighborhood, I don’t think the sign will change many peoples voting behaviors. I do, however, think it is a reflection of the larger trends in American voting behavior over the past few decades.

After the most recent mid-term elections, FiveThirtyEight posted an article called “Everything is Partisan and Correlated and Boring.” In it, Nathaniel Rakich explains how voting behavior has changed in the past fifty years. During, let’s say, the election of 1972 when Nixon defeated McGovern, Americans were much more likely to vote for person over party. In our polarized political context, partisan loyalty has run amuck. According to a Pew Research poll, Americans are more polarized now than at any point in the past 20 years and the more politically engaged a person is, the more they are likely to vote along ideological lines.

The sign in my neighbor’s yard is as “partisan and correlated and boring” as a Republican sign with its own political jingle (probably lamer because what rhymes with “red”? – maybe “vote right or you’ll be wrong”) staked in a yard in Wyoming. Wyoming is red as DC is blue; it has just three electoral votes that also happened to have the highest percentage of votes for Trump in the general election.

All of this is a really long way to say that it almost doesn’t matter which candidate the parties nominate. Everything is partisan and correlated and boring. These days, Americans care far less about the particular person and his or her idiosyncrasies and character far more about the party they represent. If the road to 2020 is paved the way of 2016, the cardinal virtue for the next leader of the free world will not be moral courage, integrity, respectability or any other reasonable thing – it will be electability.

That the American electorate’s bar is so low is troublesome in and of itself but it is especially unacceptable for Christians. Christians ought to care far more about the integrity of their faith than the victory of a political party and the potential powers, privileges, and protections therein.

Given the well-documented and historic misdeeds, the inappropriate, unpresidential, offensive, mean, gross – not to mention sexually degrading, humiliating, false, and racist – things President Trump says on a regular basis, it makes no sense for American Christians, in general, and white evangelical Protestants, in particular, to endorse Donald Trump in the way they do.

Peter Wehner nails it when he writes this in a recent piece in the Atlantic called “The Deepening Crisis in Evangelical Christianity”:

The enthusiastic, uncritical embrace of President Trump by white evangelicals is among the most mind-blowing developments of the Trump era. How can a group that for decades—and especially during the Bill Clinton presidency—insisted that character counts and that personal integrity is an essential component of presidential leadership not only turn a blind eye to the ethical and moral transgressions of Donald Trump, but also constantly defend him?

How, indeed.

And when I (or Mr. Wehner) refer to white evangelicals, we’re not referring just to the particularly egregious instances of wholesale support by the likes of evangelical leaders like Jerry Falwell, Jr. who self-consciously jettisons “incidentals” like Christian character from the qualifications for President because they’re weighing the train down from getting political power (see this tweet). A recent Pew Research poll from March 2019 suggests that nearly 7 out of 10 white evangelical Protestants approve of Trump’s handling of the presidency. And, to be clear, this statistic doesn’t just refer to folks who “identify” as evangelicals but don’t actually go to church. According to the Pew report: “White evangelical Protestants who regularly attend church (that is, once a week or more) approve of Trump at rates matching or exceeding those of white evangelicals who attend church less often.”

American Evangelicals hitching their wagons to Trump was shocking in 2016 and the voltage is only increasing. It feels like some sort of terrible Stanley Milgram experiment.

I think David Remnick, the Editor of The New Yorker is right to call out all of the folks who voted for President Trump. As a Christian, I think his critique is especially appropriate for evangelicals. In direct response to President Trump’s directive to four congresswomen – all women of color, three of whom were born in America – that they should all “go back” to the countries “from which they came.” Remnick writes:

Republicans and Independents, evangelicals, and many others who might have voted for Trump in 2016 will eventually have to ask themselves whether it is possible to go on believing that he is a man of sufficient character to hold the Presidency.

Whether it was motivated by religious freedom, issues related to the sexual revolution, the chance to secure a few conservative Supreme Court justices or some other ultimate goal, white evangelicals ultimately voted as machiavellians. But I don’t think the ends ever justify the means. Potential political gains over the span of four or eight years, however important they are cannot be worth compromising the integrity of the Christian faith.

As an orthodox, Bible believing American Christian, I understand the temptation. In some ways, it’s not hard to understand why white evangelical Protestants voted for Trump (full disclosure: I did not). I think much of it was motivated by fear. Whether the fear is legitimate or not is besides the point here. Again, I think Peter Wehner is correct: many white evangelicals voted for Trump and, unless something changes will do so again, because there are “deeply fearful of what a Trump loss would mean for America, American culture, and American Christianity.”

I am deeply afraid of what another Trump victory will mean for America, American culture, and especially American Christianity.

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  • Salvatore Anthony Luiso

    Regarding “I am deeply afraid of what another Trump victory will mean for America, American culture, and especially American Christianity”: Quite understandably so.

    However, we should look at the benefits for American Christianity. Trump has not caused, but rather exposed, certain bad qualities which are common among white evangelicals, e.g. ignorance, fearfulness, foolishness, gullibility, lack of judgment, idolatry, racism, and–of course–hypocrisy. Through his candidacy and presidency, they have become plain to see.

    Plain to see, that is, for many people, although, sadly, only a minority of white evangelicals.

    We should recognize the good in this, as it was good for God to allow the iniquity of the Amorites to reach fullness (Genesis 15:16), and good for Him to give the Israelites over to corruption (Psalm 81:11-12), before they were ripe for His judgment.

  • kantlitz

    Fair point. Hopefully the painful process of exposing and purging lead to more health and faithfulness. I also think there are tangible benefits (as well as serious problems, of course) in terms of policies that conservatives, especially Christian conservatives care about. That said, I still don’t think those particular ends (e.g. religious freedom, a conservative majority on SCOTUS, etc.) justify the means.

  • Salvatore Anthony Luiso

    Neither do I.

    Furthermore, much of the problem is not that many white evangelicals have behaved in a transactional matter with Trump, but that their support has gone far beyond the strictly transactional to love (not in the Christian sense) and loyalty, and to ignore, excuse, justify, condone, and approve things which are evil and shameful.

    One other thing it has exposed among them: a lack of knowledge and understanding of the Bible. Otherwise they wouldn’t be saying that Trump is like the kings David and Cyrus, and they wouldn’t be defending him by saying things like “We’re all sinners”.

    It is distressing and depressing to see so much evil and weakness exposed, yet it serves, and will continue to serve, God’s good purposes.

  • I voted for Trump and along with others have repeatedly told you guys why. You just don’t want to hear it. I know explaining it again is a waste of time but sometimes I just like beating my head against a brick wall because it feels so good when I quit. So here goes:

    Clinton has no more Christian character than Trump. In some ways she is more immoral. The poor character of both candidates meant that we couldn’t use character as a criterium.
    No voting would have had the same result as voting for Clinton.
    The Republican party actively tries to attract Christians who oppose abortion, support religious freedom and want limited government.

    To claim that Christians who voted for Trump have abandoned their morals is just a lie and makes me question the faith of those who so unjustly criticize other Christians.

  • Rob Kreutznaer

    Your analysis of the President and his evangelical supporters is superficial. If you want to engage in a serious discussion concerning the ethics of voting, you should respond both to Stephen Wolfe’s essay “A Consequentialist Theory of Voting” (Mere Orthodoxy, December 14, 2017) and to his essay “Can David and Nancy French Ever Vote Again” (Sovereign Nations, May 27, 2019). If you want to engage in a serious discussion concerning moral witness, you should respond to Mr. Wolfe’s essay “The Role of the State in Evangelical Moral Witness” (Sovereign Nations, May 15, 2018) and to Thomas Bradstreet’s essay “The Scandal of the NeverTrump Evangelical Mind” (Sovereign Nations, August 31, 2018). If you want to engage in a serious discussion of political inconsistency, you should begin by responding to Winston Churchill’s essay “Consistency in Politics,” which can be found in a collection of essays that is entitled Thoughts and Adventures. However, don’t stop there. Press on to Robert Gagnon’s essay “Nevertrumpers Say Evangelicals Who Voted For Trump Are Hypocrites. Not so.” (Sovereign Nations, May 24, 2019).

  • Rational Human

    Please explain how Clinton is in some ways more immoral than Trump. In what ways, exactly?

  • She defended Bill’s assaults on women and attacked those he assaulted. She promotes abortion, homosexuality and transgenders as the height of good morality. She violated the law by keeping State Dept documents and emails on her personal server. She was responsible for the deaths of the diplomats and soldiers at Bengazi. And she a socialist.

  • Typical response of an atheist. No Christian would speak such vile things about other Christians.

  • Obscurely

    I’m an evangelical pastor who’s deeply concerned about the complicity of Christians in supporting the moral blight that’s currently defiling the office of the Presidency. Because so many evangelicals make the “lesser of two evils” claim in justifying their votes for Trump, here are two reasons such a claim is specious:

    (1) White “evangelicals” overwhelmingly supported Trump during the 2016 primaries, when there were many other Republican choices — it was their EARLY support that made the general election “a choice between two evils” in the first place. I voted for John Kasich in the primary and wrote him in on the general election ballot — he’s a conservative and an actual Christian who was available as an alternative to the godless Trump, who publicly stated he didn’t need God’s forgiveness, and bragged about how as a celebrity he got away with sexually assaulting women.

    (2) Many (alleged) evangelicals excuse Trump’s almost daily assaults on decency by defending them as “off-hand remarks,” “straight shooting” or just careless speech. These kinds of excuses for a self-evidently morally unfit president are what expose the cult-like behavior of many Trump supporters — for them he can literally say or do no wrong. In this evangelical pastor’s view, it’s one thing for a Christian to support some policies of an amoral leader — as my grandmother used to say, even a blind hog can find an acorn. But it’s another to be willfully blind to Trump’s patently corrupt character, excusing it as a personality quirk, or even admiring it as being “authentic” or “politically incorrect.”

    Conclusion: There’s no reason on God’s green earth (and getting less green under Trump) why a Christian can’t BOTH support (some of) Trump’s agenda AND hold him morally accountable — because the mark of anyone truly making an honest choice between two evils is to admit (and even insist) the lesser evil you voted for is STILL evil. For any Christ-ian to do the former and neglect the latter is to bend the knee to Trump as a political idol and publicly blacken the precious Name they bear.

  • Christiane Smith

    no, they don’t ‘justify the means’ . . . . and for any Christian to assume that they do, can they not see how that invalidates ‘the good News”?