From scorning immigrants to accepting the president’s profanity, white evangelicals are proving just how flexible their values can be
The religious right’s wholesale embrace of the Republican party and of Donald J Trump, both as candidate and as president, has necessitated a rewriting of evangelical ethics. Here’s a summary, with annotations.
Lying is all right as long as it serves a higher purpose
Yes, we know all about that business about not bearing false witness in the Ten Commandments, but that was a very long time ago. Can’t we get beyond that? Truth and truthiness are overrated. After all, did it really matter that the “birther” nonsense was hokum? Not at all. It enraged those godless liberals and launched our brother in Christ Donald Trump toward the presidency.
And all those websites fact-checking our president, claiming that he told more than 2,000 lies his first year in office? Big deal. He’s also pro-life, and he’s trying to root out transgender folks in the military, so cut the guy some slack. Besides, that same website that tracks lying concluded that Barack Obama told 28 lies during his two terms in office. So there. (Democrats are such hypocrites!)
It’s no problem to be married more than, well, twice
Let’s be clear here. We’re not talking about polygamy (sorry, Mitt), only serial marriages. This revision has been a long time in the making. Yes, Jesus said: “Anyone who divorces his wife and marries another commits adultery, and whoever marries a woman divorced from her husband commits adultery.” Through the 1970s, we evangelicals ostracized anyone who was divorced, let alone divorced and remarried. But then we decided to ditch a family man (and fellow evangelical) in favor of a divorced and remarried Hollywood actor in 1980. Once that barrier was breached, we concluded that, hey, if two marriages are okay, why not three?
Immigrants are scum
We grant that Jesus said something about welcoming the stranger and feeding the hungry. And Leviticus says: “The alien who resides with you shall be to you as the citizen among you; you shall love the alien as yourself.” But our careful study of scriptural texts has led us to conclude that the almighty had Norwegians in mind, not Mexicans or Salvadorans.
Vulgarity is a sign of strength and resolve
The president’s scatological comments about Haiti and African nations provided a welcome relief to the rhetoric of those coddling the so-called Dreamers. As Robert Jeffress, pastor of First Baptist Church in Dallas, noted, Brother Trump was “right on target”.
White lives matter (much more than others)
Our political movement began in the late 1970s in opposition to desegregation (although our sleight of hand to persuade everyone we organized to outlaw abortion was nothing short of, well, miraculous). On racial matters we’re also indebted to our colleague Tony Perkins of the Family Research Council, who did business with David Duke, longtime leader of the Ku Klux Klan, way back in 1996.
Perkins also addressed the Council of Conservative Citizens, the “uptown Klan”, when he was a state representative in Louisiana. Therefore, we had no problem whatsoever with Steve Bannon or with the president’s statement blaming the violence in Charlottesville on “many sides,” both the white supremacists and those demonstrating against them. We took the Brother Trump at his word when he declared that the ranks of white supremacists and neo-Nazis included “some very fine people”. That’s why none of us criticized him. Besides, he wants to jettison the Johnson amendment to allow us to campaign from the pulpit while retaining our tax exemptions.
There’s no harm in spending time with porn stars
Once again, we have a precedent: David Vitter, the Republican senator from Louisiana and outspoken champion of “family values” whose phone number appeared in the date book of a Washington madam – and who continued to enjoy our support. Regarding that messy situation with Stormy Daniels, think of the opportunities for the president to share what Franklin Graham calls his “concern for Christian values”. We’re confident that as details emerge, we’ll learn that the Brother Trump was discussing his theological perspectives on human depravity and the second coming.
It’s all right for adults to date children
We’re not yet prepared to embrace pedophilia, but we see nothing wrong with a 30-something attorney trolling the local shopping mall for teenage dates. After all, didn’t Jesus say, “suffer the little children to come unto me”? Roy Moore was simply being Christ-like. Besides, he opposes abortion, and he asked their mothers for permission.
The ends justify the means
Too many Americans think of evangelicals as dogmatic and uncompromising, so we’re eager to demonstrate that when it comes to ethical standards we can indeed be flexible. Very flexible.
- Randall Balmer is the John Phillips Professor in Religion at Dartmouth College and the author of Evangelicalism in America.
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