The False Moral Superiority of Progressive Evangelicals in the Trump Era

President Trump waves before delivering a commencement address at Liberty University in May. (Reuters photo: Yuri Gripas)
Left-wing Christians should be more humble.

There’s an emerging narrative in progressive and mainstream-media circles that white Evangelicals — and only white Evangelicals — have uniquely betrayed their faith and their fellow believers by voting en masse for Donald Trump. Evangelical votes cast for Trump represent nothing more or less than the grave moral error of choosing politics over God. Evangelical votes cast for Hillary Clinton? Well, they were merely an attempt to embrace social justice.

Consider these recent articles, indicting white Evangelicals for the act of supporting Trump over Clinton. Here’s a piece from Religion Dispatches that describes Evangelicals of color as “betrayed at the polls”:

So while white evangelicals captured the election, they may have lost their fellow believers, the very people who could keep their churches, denominations and institutions from the attrition that has many Christian institutions and leaders genuinely worried for the future. These days, evangelicals of color are talking next steps. Their endeavors run the gamut, but the ones gaining steam include leaving evangelicalism altogether, reframing the evangelical world as a mission field as opposed to a place for spiritual nourishment, creating ethnic safe spaces or staying firmly planted in evangelical community to combat racism from within. It’s too early to tell which will prevail, but the urgency and organization happening within communities of color point to a fundamental shift in the evangelical landscape.

In the Financial Times, Gary Silverman purports to describe how the “Bible Belt lost God and found Trump,” while in reality hiding behind an “expert” to make the old allegation that Republican Evangelicals are obsessed with sexual issues:

Church is less compelling. Marriage is less important. Reading from a severely abridged Bible, their political concerns have narrowed down to abortion and issues revolving around homosexuality. Their faith, he says, has been put in a president who embodies an unholy trinity of materialism, hedonism, and narcissism. Trump’s victory, in this sense, is less an expression of the old-time religion than evidence of a move away from it.

Lost in these pieces is any acknowledgment of the terrible choice Evangelicals of all colors faced in 2016. The election wasn’t a battle between light and darkness; it was a battle between darkness and darkness. Only the blindest progressive could fail to recognize Clinton’s own “unholy trinity” of narcissism, corruption, and deception.

While there were some Evangelical leaders who tried vainly to cast Trump in virtuous terms, the more intelligent (and ultimately persuasive) defense was simply that he was the “lesser of two evils,” a person who — despite his many flaws — at least wasn’t actively opposed to the Evangelical community. Clinton made zero effort to court white Evangelicals. In fact, she took the opposite approach, actively courting progressive communities most hostile to religious freedom, including communities that seek to financially cripple faith-based educational institutions, force people of faith to pay for abortions, and eliminate their rights of conscience.

In such circumstances, it’s fair for Trump-supporting Evangelicals to look at their Hillary-supporting counterparts and ask, “Who betrayed whom?”

Furthermore, it is simply laughable to claim that it is Evangelicals who are obsessed with abortion and LGBT issues. After all, with each new turn of the sexual revolution, leftist radicals declare that wholesale adaptation to the new sexual ethics must be a precondition for full inclusion and participation in government, education, media, and increasingly the economy itself.

White Evangelicals have no need to apologize for choosing Donald Trump over Hillary Clinton.

It’s also a bit ironic to accuse Evangelicals of departing from true biblical Christianity when the evidence for their departure — the supposed obsession with abortion and homosexuality — touches specifically on issues clearly and unequivocally addressed in both the Old and New Testaments. It’s certainly true that the Bible speaks to many, many other issues, too, but if there is a case that supporting Clinton was more biblically-sound than supporting Trump, these writers don’t make it.

What’s more, it’s just not true that Evangelicals are obsessed with sexual morality above all else. With their dollars and their time, they are far, far more supportive of the poor than they are of conservative politics. In 2015, Rob Schwarzwalder and Pat Fagan published an analysis showing the staggering disparity between spending on foreign charity and spending on politics. For example, American churches provided $13 billion in overseas relief and development funds. Evangelical organizations that “provide food, medical care, education, adoption services, orphan care, post-prison assistance, substance abuse help and other critical services at home and abroad” spent “more than $9.2 billion in relief assistance. By contrast, Scwarzwalder and Fagan estimated the combined budget for federal, state, and local Evangelical culture-war organizations at a mere $270 million.

None of this, however, addresses the thorny issue of race. There, too, though, the Left can’t claim the moral high ground. Indeed, there is not now on the national scene any distinct political movement that’s offering meaningful solutions to America’s lingering and persistent racial problems. If Evangelicals moved left on racial issues, they wouldn’t be joining a movement that’s “healing” anything; they’d just find themselves allied with increasingly intolerant post-Christian racial radicals.

Black Lives Matter increasingly dominates leftist racial politics, and progressive Evangelicals have often wrapped both their arms around that movement, which is committed to “disrupting the western-prescribed nuclear family” and celebrates convicted cop-killers and murderous dictators. Evangelicals white and black should reject its destructive rage.

Christians are learning to navigate an increasingly post-Christian culture and an even more post-Christian politics. They’re far from blameless in either development, but this much is true: White Evangelicals have no need to apologize for choosing Donald Trump over Hillary Clinton — especially since the church-going among them formed the backbone of Trump’s primary-season opposition.

The true political and moral test of any movement comes not in how it handles a surprise election contest but in how it fights the battles to come. Will progressive Evangelicals attempt to moderate an increasingly secular and radical Democratic party? Will conservative Evangelicals attempt to hold a Trump administration and a post-Trump GOP to any reasonable standard of conduct, or will they remain the cheapest date in politics simply because the GOP pledges not to actively attack religious freedom or actively celebrate Planned Parenthood? We don’t yet know those answers, and we may not know them for some time. Meanwhile, progressives should try a dose of the humility they urge on the Right. Their political champions also have feet of clay.


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