Christmas time is perfect for reflecting on your faults and extending forgiveness to those with whom you disagree….
… unless you’re a Trump-backing evangelical.
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Just as Trump has captured the Republican Party, he now has captured the white evangelical movement. Supporting Trump is now an article of faith among conservative evangelicals. If you don’t, you’re not really a believer.
That’s the takeaway from the fallout over the Christianity Today editorial saying Trump deserved to be impeached. The attacks on the magazine by religious right leaders like Franklin Graham (whose father founded the magazine) and Jerry Falwell Jr. show that loyalty to Trump is the primary requirement for being an evangelical.
The latest example is the case of the Christian Post, another evangelical publication. In response to the Christianity Today editorial, the Post ran its own editorial two days before Christmas that wasn’t exactly a monument to the spirit of the season. The editorial raged against “government elites” and “fellow travelers.”
Perhaps most noteworthy was the disdain that the publication showed for what it called the “‘moral’ pronouncement” that it said was made “from a self-appointed Mount Olympus.” The lack of respect for a fellow Christian magazine’s grappling with a major issue was stunning — and quite Trump-like.
The magazine’s departure from civility led one of its editors, Napp Nazworth, to resign. “We’ve never sounded like that before,” Nazworth told CNN. “That’s not the types of positions we take in the past.” He likened the “odd sort of conspiratorial thinking” in the editorial to something you’d see on Breitbart News.
The ongoing controversy confirms a trend that has been happening for some time. People think that your religion influences your politics. In fact, it may be just the opposite. Your politics may determine what your religion (if any) is.
Michele Margolis, an assistant professor of political science at the University of Pennsylvania, laid that theory out in her 2018 book, From Politics to the Pews: How Partisanship and the Political Environment Shape Religious Identity. As Margolis summarized in an op-ed for The New York Times last year, “We don’t just take cues about politics from our pastors and priests; we take cues about religion from our politicians.”
In essence, people solidify their political beliefs before their religious ones. When they turn to religion, they seek the faith that most conforms with their secular beliefs.
In the case of conservative evangelicals, this creates a self-reinforcing loop driven by politics. Trump’s policies come first. Faith justifies them. Challenges to the policies become challenges to faith — and to God himself. That’s how the religious right has worked itself up into a belief that they are engaged in a holy war.
By now, it’s clear that nothing that Trump can do won’t be sanctified as being in the service of God by the vast majority of white evangelicals. The few who disagree will be relegated to the ecclesiastical equivalent of Never Trumper status. They speak their conscience at their own peril — kind of the lesson that religion was supposed to teach in the first place.