By Rabbi Yeshaia Charles Familant
Editor’s Note: Michael Gerson recently wrote this article for the Washington Post regarding the fate of Christian Evangelicals in Trump’s America. Our religious affairs editor, Rabbi Yeshaia Charles Familant, offers this response.
It’s important to point out that Michael Gerson, having been a former speech writer for W. Bush, has somewhat conservative leanings. I say “somewhat” because his stance has shifted a bit to more liberal positions.
This excerpt from Gerson’s The Atlantic piece (April, 2018) sums it up:
“Trump supporters tend to dismiss moral scruples about his behavior as squeamishness over the president’s ‘style.’ But the problem is the distinctly non-Christian substance of his values. Trump’s unapologetic materialism—his equation of financial and social success with human achievement and worth—is a negation of Christian teaching. His tribalism and hatred for “the other” stand in direct opposition to Jesus’ radical ethic of neighbor love. Trump’s strength-worship and contempt for ‘losers’ smack more of Nietzsche than of Christ. Blessed are the proud. Blessed are the ruthless. Blessed are the shameless. Blessed are those who hunger and thirst after fame.”
Gerson keenly feels his brand of Evangelicalism is betrayed by: partisanship, ethno-populism (tribalism), political agendas, the hallmarks of present day Evangelicalism, “trump” moral and ethical principles, the cornerstone of authentic religious traditions (Judaism, Christianity, Islam etc.).
Gerson, raised in an evangelical tradition and attended the evangelical Wheaton College, includes these telling words of Harriet Beecher Stowe (nineteenth century author of “Uncle Tom’s Cabin” which energized the abolitionist movement in the northern states):
“The injudicious association of religion with politics, in the time of Cromwell,” Beecher argued, “brought upon evangelical doctrine and piety, in England, an odium which has not ceased to this day.”
Beecher Stowe was remarkably prescient regarding the unholy alliance between religion and politics with its inevitable corruption of the former. Gerson makes a damning critique of present day Evangelicalism, essentially its fall from grace by making a pact with the devil – Trump, in its present incarnation.
He puts it this way:
“In the mid-19th century, evangelicalism was the predominant religious tradition in America—a faith assured of its social position, confident in its divine calling, welcoming of progress, and hopeful about the future. Fifty years later, it was losing intellectual and social ground on every front. Twenty-five years beyond that, it had become a national joke.”
Gerson points out that Evangelicalism became threatened by the growth of scientific knowledge in just about every intellectual area – biblical criticism, the physical and social sciences, literary works. Feeling its increasing irrelevance, it retreated into a literal biblical interpretation while, at the same time, courting the seat of power.
I would add that the Evangelical’s growth in numbers – largely due to the pervasive influence of televangelists – constitute an enormous voting bloc, enticing to anyone with no moral scruples and political ambitions.
I concur with Gerson that a mutual love affair between the politically powerful and those who can keep them there can momentarily move our country into a vacuous downward spiral. It can be no surprise that those on the political or religious right leads to denial of global warming with its consequent increase in a scorched earth policy and descension into bigotry and prejudice by an exaggerated fear of the foreigner. This flies in the face of an inexorable advance towards an inclusionary pluralism and science and technology. These advances may be slowed during this brief political anomaly, but one cannot turn back the clock forever.
I would include this admonition: White supremacists, religious fundamentalists of any stripe, including Evangelicals, who compromise their own standards through alignment with the ethically-impoverished powerful and morally-bankrupt materialists will not lead them to the promised land, but to a barren wasteland.