About That Mulligan: The Religious Right’s Longstanding Hypocrisy

What Bible Are They Studying?

For the past year and a half, many people have tried to understand  the “family values” Evangelicals who support Trump. That discussion has ramped up since Tony Perkins, leader of the Family Research Council, told Politico that Trump gets a “mulligan,” or do-over, on his past moral transgressions, because he’s willing to stand up to the religious right’s enemies.

One recent analysis of that arguably unholy relationship came via Michelle Goldberg at the New York Times. She began by reminding readers that this seeming departure from New Testament exhortations of love and mercy isn’t anything new.

In 1958, the Baptist preacher Jerry Falwell, who would go on to found the Moral Majority, gave a sermon titled “Segregation or Integration: Which?” He inveighed against the Supreme Court’s anti-segregation decision in Brown v. Board of Education, arguing that facilities for blacks and whites should remain separate.

“When God has drawn a line of distinction, we should not attempt to cross that line,” he wrote, warning that integration “will destroy our race eventually.”

He went on to establish what would become Liberty University–as an all-white school.

Goldberg noted the Evangelical community’s later willingness to support Ronald Reagan despite his divorce, although prior to Reagan’s emergence on the scene, a candidate’s divorce had been an absolute bar to the Christian vote.  Access and influence, evidently, are more important than theology. (You might even say they trump theology.)

Given this history, it is not surprising that the contemporary leaders of the religious right are blasé about reports that Trump cheated on his third wife with a porn star shortly after the birth of his youngest child, then paid her to be quiet. Despite his louche personal life, Trump, the racist patriarch promising cultural revenge, doesn’t threaten the religious right’s traditional values. He embodies them.

Earnest evangelicals, of course, are appalled.

As Michael Gerson–himself an Evangelical Christian– wrote in The Washington Post, the “Christians” who support Trump and ignore behaviors previously considered very unChristian are “associating evangelicalism with bigotry, selfishness and deception. They are playing a grubby political game for the highest of stakes: the reputation of their faith.”

Goldberg also notes the (unpersuasive) contortions of contemporary Evangelicals who are trying to distinguish between their former pro-segregation resistance to Brown v. Board of Education and their current support for anti-LGBTQ activists who don’t want to bake cakes or otherwise do business with same-sex couples. The latter are described by their co-religionists as “sincere Christians” whose religious liberties are being trampled by civil rights laws, and she makes the obvious point:

it seems absurd to ask secular people to respect the religious right’s beliefs about sex and marriage — and thus tolerate a degree of anti-gay discrimination — while the movement’s leaders treat their own sexual standards as flexible and conditional. Christian conservatives may believe strongly in their own righteousness. But from the outside, it looks as if their movement was never really about morality at all.

I’d say that’s a fair conclusion.

Of course, Goldberg and those she cites aren’t the only ones who are trying to understand the fervent Evangelical embrace of a repellant man who embodies everything they claim to abhor.

Among the various explanations I’ve come across, my own favorite is this one that I only recently saw: They believe Trump will use nuclear weapons and destroy the world–and that will bring on the long-awaited Rapture.

At least the Rapture is part of their theology, unlike porn stars…

[Originally published at SheilaKennedy.net on February 2, 2018]

Sheila Kennedy is a former high school English teacher, former lawyer, former Republican, former Executive Director of Indiana’s ACLU, former columnist for the Indianapolis Star, and former young person. She is currently an (increasingly cranky) old person, a Professor of Law and Public Policy at Indiana University Purdue University in Indianapolis, and Director of IUPUI’s Center for Civic Literacy. She writes for the Indianapolis Business Journal, PA Times, and the Indiana Word, and blogs at www.sheilakennedy.net. For those who are interested in more detail, links to an abbreviated CV and academic publications can be found on her blog, along with links to her books..

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