|Pence and Franklin Graham - two modern day Pharisees.|
I try to avoid referencing the same news source more than once in a given day, but I cannot help myself given that a great column by Michael Gerson, a conservative and a former member of the George W. Bush White House appeared this afternoon in the Washington Post. Like a previous post from yesterday, the column lays the blame for Donald Trump and the damage being done to America squarely at the feet of evangelical Christians who, Gerson says have "lost their gag reflex." The column focuses on a point I made in the prior post: for the Christofascists the end justifies the means and that, therefore, lying, spreading hate, and embracing the reprehensible is justifiable if it will further the goal of Christian dominionism. The irony is that, in my view and seemingly that of Gerson, is that in the end, evangelicals will be the losers as they forfeit what little moral authority they have left and once their usefulness to Trump and the Republican Party is finished, they will be cast aside like disposable trash. In the end, whatever positive influence that Christianity may offer - and I believe it's debatable that there is any positive - will have been diminished and more will walk away in disgust. Here are column highlights:
The Rev. Billy Graham has been one of the most visible, respected and influential Christians in the world since the 1950s. But he often had a blind spot when it came to politics. Graham was President Richard Nixon’s golfing buddy and spiritual adviser. He was there to pray with Nixon after every victory or loss. . . . . In Graham’s view, Nixon was “a modest and moral man with spiritual sensitivity.” He “held such noble standards of ethicsand morality for the nation.”
Graham was in denial about Watergate until the last. When he finally read through the Watergate tape transcripts — including profanity, political corruption, lying, racism and sexism — Graham remembers becoming physically ill. He said later of Nixon: “I wonder whether I might have exaggerated his spirituality in my own mind.” Graham’s biographer William Martin quoted a close Graham associate who was more blunt: “For the life of me, I honestly believe that after all these years, Billy still has no idea of how badly Nixon snookered him.” Graham had the alibi of self-deception. But his son Franklin Graham, Jerry Falwell Jr., Robert Jeffress and President Trump’s other evangelical Christian advocates have no such excuse. They have made their political bargain with open eyes. Trump has made profanity an unavoidable part of our political culture. He is in the midst of a gathering corruption scandal that has left close aides under indictment. He tells repeated and obvious lies. He incites ethnic and racial resentment as a political strategy and was caught on tape bragging about sexual assault. Add to this something that could never be said of Nixon: the credible accusation that Trump paid hush money to a porn star to cover up an affair.
And what is Franklin Graham’s reaction? “We certainly don’t hold him up as the pastor of this nation and he is not. But I appreciate the fact that the president does have a concern for Christian values, he does have a concern to protect Christians whether it’s here at home or around the world, and I appreciate the fact that he protects religious liberty and freedom.”
“A concern for Christian values.” I imagine there is considerable presidential stroking behind such a pronouncement — the current equivalent of remembering birthdays and pineapple tea. But Graham’s argument is as crudely political as it gets. Because Trump has delivered the goods on protecting Christians, evangelicals should give him the benefit of every doubt on moral matters, even when such doubts are absurdly transparent ploys.
The level of cynicism here is startling. Some Christian leaders are surrendering the idea that character matters in public life in direct exchange for political benefits to Christians themselves. It is a political maneuver indistinguishable from those performed by business or union lobbyists every day. Only seedier. You scratch my back, I’ll wink at dehumanization and Stormy Daniels. The gag reflex is entirely gone. [T]he Trump evangelicals are out of their depth. When presented with the binary choice of Hillary Clinton or Donald Trump, I can understand a certain amount of anguish. But that is not a reason to become sycophants, cheerleaders and enablers. Politics sometimes presents difficult choices. But that is no excuse to be the most easily manipulated group in American politics.
The problem, however, runs deeper. Trump’s court evangelicals have become active participants in the moral deregulation of our political life. Never mind whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is right, whatever is of good repute. Some evangelicals are busy erasing bright lines and destroying moral landmarks. In the process, they 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.
Not long after Watergate broke, a chastened Billy Graham addressed a conference in Switzerland, warning that an evangelist should be careful not “to identify the Gospel with any one particular political program or culture,” and adding, “this has been my own danger.” The danger endures.
Evangelicals will be the death of Christianity. Given what Christianity has become under the evangelicals, that death cannot come soon enough.