I have some experience of American evangelical fundamentalism. Years ago, I spent a year at Oregon State University in Corvallis, and became close to a number of people who were practicing evangelicals (and without going into too much detail, dated one for a significant period of time). I had never met an American evangelical Christian before, and being in a rural, almost completely white part of the state, I was suddenly surrounded by them. For the most part, it was a great experience and I am still friends with many of them today. They were kind, well meaning people who sincerely believed in a fundamentalist interpretation of their religion. Evolution was just “a theory”, creationism was as valid as science, being gay was a sin, and liberals were abortion loving, socialist elites. They were almost all Republicans and supported then president Bush without reservation.
I came to understand that these positions weren’t taken out of spite, but more out of complete lack of exposure to other ideas. They were taught by their parents and their churches to distrust liberalism, and this view was reinforced in their high schools by other friends with almost identical backgrounds. I went to church with some of my friends on a number of occasions, mostly to see what they were teaching their followers. While I disagreed with much of it, I couldn’t help but like the people I met there and admire their sense of community and devotion to something bigger than themselves. I took part in discussion groups with church members too, and again, while I thought much of it was intellectually indefensible, the intent was genuine and their desire to do good in their communities laudable.
I could not for the life of me understand how these good people could vote for someone like George Bush and Dick Cheney — oil funded war hawks who spent their political careers wrecking social programs for the poor and doing everything in their power to trash the environment. The contradiction between their personal humility and willingness to vocally support and vote for greedy millionaires with a penchant for violence in the Middle East was completely alien to me. Having grown up in the UK, my experience of Christianity was almost the exact opposite. The religious people I knew were more concerned with protecting the most vulnerable people in society, and tended to vote for political parties committed to doing the same. In fact, many of the Christians I knew in England were green party supporters and wouldn’t have ever dreamed of voting for a conservative.
That was 13 years ago, and while I thought American evangelical Christianity was a confused and contradictory movement then, its current incarnation is even more twisted and it is so far removed from anything ‘Christ’ like that I now believe it does not deserve the moniker.
White evangelical Christians came out in droves to support Donald Trump — a man who exemplifies literally everything Jesus Christ stood against. Trump is a rich braggart who has made a name for himself flaunting his wealth. He openly denigrates women, has a lurid history of sexual assault, insults minorities and holds petty grudges against anyone who speaks out against him. In no rational universe can these two completely contradictory beliefs be reconciled. If you believe that the gospels accurately depict the life of Christ, then supporting a man who calls women “pigs” and “dogs” and has spoken about grabbing them “by the pussy”, you cannot be called a Christian in any meaningful sense of the word.
“I’m going to vote for Donald Trump because I believe he’s the best qualified to be president of the United States,” said evangelical leader Jerry Falwell Jr in the wake of the leaked audio exposing Trump’s virulent misogyny.
“What about the Donald Trump of today? Is he a changed man? I think he is,” he continued.
This, you will remember, was during one of the most disgusting, divisive and racist campaigns in American political history.
“It’s time for us to come together, time for us to come together around this good man,” evangelical Christian and Vice President elect Mike Pence told Republicans after comparing his boss to Ronald Reagan. “I know that Donald Trump will be a great president of the United States of America because his heart beats with the heart of the American people.”
This good man.
This uniquely American phenomenon of equating greed, misogyny and racism with moral righteousness appears to be getting more and more pronounced. In retrospect, George W. Bush was a shining example of moral virtue when compared with Donald Trump. If modern evangelical Christianity closely associates itself with everything its basic tenets vehemently oppose, then what exactly is it anymore?
In truth, American evangelical Christianity can no longer be considered a branch of Christianity. While there are no doubt honest and well meaning people within the movement, their overwhelming allegiance to a truly monstrous politician makes a mockery of their spiritual practice. Christians who genuinely follow the teachings of Christ are horrified by Trump and his bigoted political philosophy and want nothing to do with him. Those who support Trump cannot take the teachings of Christ seriously, and therefore cannot be considered Christian. They have put their faith in money, power and fear, and as a result revealed their spiritual movement to be nothing more than a rotting, commercial enterprise that would have Jesus Christ turning in his grave.
Ben Cohen is the editor and founder of The Daily Banter. He lives in Washington DC where he does podcasts, teaches Martial Arts, and tries to be a good father. He would be extremely disturbed if you took him too seriously.