Trump’s Christian Apologists Are Unchristian

Interesting public opinion research findings:

Ed Stetzer is grappling with a moral crisis. Stetzer, the director of the Billy Graham Center at Wheaton College, is preaching the Gospel to his fellow Christians. And they’re not listening. “White evangelicals are highly motivated to support President Donald Trump around the issue of immigration,” Stetzer, a Trump critic, wrote in Vox on the morning of the midterms. The next day, after reading exit polls, Stetzer lamented that the president’s scare talk about migrants had proved once again to be a winner with white evangelicals. “I’d hoped it wouldn’t be,” Stetzer told NPR. “But it was.”

Stetzer and other evangelical leaders are in the business of saving souls. But today, the souls in peril are in their own flock. Nationalism, tribalism, and a corrupt, ruthless Republican president are reviving old demons and summoning new ones. The “family values” concerns of 10, 20, or 30 years ago—homosexuality, premarital sex, women in the military—have been overtaken by a different set of moral issues, often derided by the right as “social justice.” On these emerging issues, white evangelical Protestants—for simplicity’s sake, I’ll call them WEPs—are, more than any other religious constituency, standing on the wrong side. The problem isn’t that they’re imposing their morality on others. The problem is that what they’re imposing isn’t morality. It’s wickedness.

This isn’t true of all white evangelicals, much less all Christians. It would be false and reckless to condemn all WEPs, just as it’s false and reckless to condemn all Muslims or Jews. The people doing the best work against perversions of Islam are Muslims, and the people doing the best work against perversions of evangelical Christianity are evangelicals like Stetzer. I’ve met some of them through the Faith Angle Forum, a project of the Ethics and Public Policy Center. At a conference last week, I sat with them as we studied surveys of religious voters. Stetzer is right to worry. The numbers are bad.

WEPs are one of Trump’s most loyal constituencies. Eighty-one percent of them voted for him in 2016. That’s 20 percentage points higher than Trump’s vote share among any other religious group. It’s higher than the percentage of WEPs who voted for George W. Bush, John McCain, or Mitt Romney. The wide gap between WEPs and other faith communities in support for Trump persists to this day. Every other group, on balance, views Trump unfavorably. WEPs, by a ratio of 2 to 1, view him favorably.

Many Americans reject Trump because of his meanness, his misogyny, his ethnic demagoguery, and his squalid and abusive personal behavior. But most WEPs don’t. In a September poll for the Public Religion Research Institute, two-thirds of white Catholics and white mainline Protestants agreed that Trump had “damaged the dignity of the presidency.” Most WEPs said he hadn’t. In an ABC News/Washington Post survey taken in August, most whites agreed that Trump was guilty of a crime if it was true that he had directed his then-lawyer Michael Cohen to “influence the 2016 election by arranging to pay off two women who said they had affairs with Trump.” Trump’s core constituency, white men without a college degree, also agreed. But most WEPs didn’t.

To accommodate Trump, white evangelicals have retreated from moral judgment of him.
In 2011, a PRRI survey asked whether “an elected official who commits an immoral act in their personal life can still behave ethically and fulfill their duties in their public and professional life.” At that point, two years into Barack Obama’s presidency, only 30 percent of WEPs said yes. But in October 2016, after the release of Trump’s infamous Access Hollywood tape, 72 percent of WEPs said yes. The reversal among WEPs was twice as big as similar shifts among Catholics and white mainline Protestants. In a May poll commissioned by the Billy Graham Center, nearly half of black evangelicals said personal character had influenced their voting decisions in the 2016 presidential election. Fewer than 30 percent of white evangelicals said the same.

Many WEPs haven’t just surrendered moral judgment. They’ve abdicated social responsibility. Compared with other whites, they’re more resistant to federal spending on poor people. The charitable explanation for this gap is that white evangelicals are skeptical about federal spending, not about helping the poor. But even when survey questions focus on help, not on spending, they’re unmoved. The BGC poll asked respondents to choose, from a list of 12 issues and traits, which was most important in determining how they voted in 2016. Among black and Hispanic evangelicals, a candidate’s “ability to help those in need” was the second or third most commonly named factor. Among white evangelicals, it ranked almost dead last.

WEPs are also reluctant to acknowledge racism. The September PRRI poll asked whether recent police shootings of black men were “isolated incidents” or “part of a broader pattern of how police treat African Americans.” Seventy-one percent of WEPs said such killings were isolated incidents, compared with 63 percent of white Catholics and 59 percent of white mainline Protestants. In the BGC survey, 59 percent of non-evangelical whites agreed with the statement, “I am disturbed by comments President Trump has made about minorities.” But a plurality of white evangelicals disagreed with it.

Trump’s connection with WEPs on racial issues goes deeper than indifference. It’s based on shared identity. In the words of Christian essayist Michael Gerson, evangelicals have degenerated into an “anxious minority,” defining themselves as “an interest group in need of protection and preferences.” Stetzer, based on his analysis of survey data, finds that race and ethnicity, not faith, are driving much of this process. Many white evangelicals see their religion not as a universal calling but as a heritage that sets them apart. They fear people of other creeds, colors, and languages.

The conventional explanation for Trump’s support among WEPs is that they like what he gives them on social policy: conservative judges, opposition to abortion, and a bulwark against transgender rights. But that doesn’t explain why they’ve supported Trump more than they supported Bush, McCain, or Romney. If anything, you’d expect them to support Trump less, given his history of accepting gays and abortion rights.

The mystery dissolves when you look more closely at their priorities. In the BGC survey, when white evangelicals were asked to name all the factors that influenced their votes in 2016, fewer than half mentioned abortion or the Supreme Court. Their top issues were the economy, health care, national security, and immigration. The biggest gap between pro-Trump evangelicals and other evangelicals, when they were pressed to name the most important voting issue, was on immigration. That issue was more important to Trump supporters in the BGC survey, and it’s a big winner for Trump among WEPs in other polls. “White evangelicals overwhelmingly back more hardline positions on immigration, with three-fourths wanting a reduction in legal immigration,” Stetzer reports.

The enthusiasm for Trump’s hard line on immigration isn’t just about terrorism or enforcing laws. It’s about fear of immigrants per se. In the Pew Research Center’s 2014 Religious Landscape Study, non-evangelical Republicans and Republican leaners said, by a margin of 35 percentage points, that “a growing population of immigrants” was “a change for the worse,” not for the better. Among Republicans who identified themselves as evangelical or born-again, the margin rose to 48 points. In a survey taken after the 2016 election, 50 percent of white evangelicals, compared with 33 percent of white non-evangelicals, agreed that “immigrants hurt the economy.” The 2018 PRRI survey asked whether “the growing number of newcomers from other countries … strengthens American society” or “threatens traditional American customs and values.” Only one religious group said the newcomers were a threat. You guessed it: WEPs.

Muslims, in particular, are a target of white evangelical suspicion. In a February 2017 Pew survey, WEPs were more likely than white Catholics or white mainline Protestants to worry about Islamic violence in the United States. Most WEPs, unlike members of other religious groups, said they believed that among U.S. Muslims, there was a great deal or a fair amount of support for extremism. Fifty percent of white Catholics and white mainline Protestants endorsed Trump’s executive order to “prevent people from seven majority-Muslim countries from entering the U.S.” Among WEPs, 76 percent endorsed it. The 2018 PRRI poll found a similar discrepancy.

Initially, when Stetzer diagnosed race and ethnicity as sources of the white evangelical backlash against immigration, he was talking about gaps between white and nonwhite evangelicals on poll questions that were open to interpretation. But PRRI, in its 2018 survey, proved that race and ethnicity were factors. The survey informed respondents that “by 2045, African Americans, Latinos, Asians, and other mixed racial and ethnic groups will together be a majority of the population.” Then came the query: “Do you think the likely impact of this coming demographic change will be mostly positive or mostly negative?” After listening to this question, most white Catholics and most white mainline Protestants said the change would be positive. Most WEPs said it would be negative. A PRRI/Atlantic poll taken in June found the same result.

In his warning on Election Day, Stetzer faced the bitter truth: “It is hard not to conclude that far too many white evangelicals are motivated by racial anxiety and xenophobia.”

Trump has signaled, through references to Norway, Haiti, and Africa, that he wants to let more whites and fewer nonwhites into the United States. He has advocated political violence and war crimes, and he has tried to consolidate power by firing or attempting to fire officials who investigate him. As he works to corrupt the country, there’s reason to worry that WEPs will stick with him. The BGC survey offered respondents this statement: “When a political leader is making important decisions I support, I should also support the leader when they say or do things I disagree with.” Non-evangelical whites overwhelmingly rejected the statement, but a plurality of white evangelicals endorsed it. In the September PRRI survey, 19 percent of white Catholics and 22 percent of white mainline Protestants said there was nothing Trump could do to lose their support. Among WEPs, the number was 25 percent.

Trump has already proved, by breaking up immigrant families explicitly to frighten other families, that more than a third of WEPs will stand with him, and others will stay neutral, as he attacks basic values. In a PRRI poll taken in June, 74 percent of Catholics and 60 percent of white mainline Protestants said they opposed “an immigration border policy that separates children from their parents and charges parents as criminals when they enter the country without permission.” Only 51 percent of WEPs said they opposed that policy; 36 percent supported it.

Some analysts are skeptical that Trump has a particular hold on WEPs. At the Faith Angle Forum, Alan Cooperman, the director of religion research at the Pew Research Center, argued that what attracts white evangelicals to Trump is their Republican partisanship, not their faith. That’s a good point, and a lot of data support it. But in some ways, it’s a restatement of the problem. Christianity says you should love the stranger, respect families, honor your wife, and treat all people as children of God. WEPs, more than any other constituency, are choosing to ignore those values at the ballot box.

I take two lessons from these studies of white evangelicals. One is that the “Christian right,” as represented by Trump apologists, has betrayed Christianity. Trump presents a new, or in some cases newly revived, set of moral issues. Theft, open bigotry, race-baiting, explicit discrimination, boastful misogyny, sexual abuse of minors, the promotion of political violence, and the deliberate killing of innocent people are now on the table. Jerry Falwell Jr., Robert Jeffress, Franklin Graham, and others who stand with Trump in these fights should no longer be taken seriously as spokesmen for a faith. They’re purveyors of evil.

The other lesson is not to condemn all evangelicals. Like other faith communities, they have moral sickness in their ranks, and they’re working to heal it. For every Falwell, there’s a Stetzer, a Gerson, a Michael Cromartie. Evangelicals specialize in reflection, reform, and revival. There’s nothing wrong with evangelicalism that can’t be cured by what’s right with it.

The first step is to puncture the racial bubble around WEPs. That’s what Stetzer learned in his research: Perspectives that white evangelicals need to hear can be found in evangelicals of other colors. “White evangelicals would do well to turn off cable news and listen to their sisters and brothers in the increasingly diverse pews of evangelical churches,” Stetzer wrote in his Election Day message. By connecting with others who look different but share a common faith, white evangelicals will learn to reject Trump’s message “that our love for others is conditioned by country, race, or ethnicity.” They will come to “see this culture of fear of others for what it is: un-Christian.”

Source: Trump’s Christian Apologists Are Unchristian

Impact of Trump’s immigration vision comes into focus in Washington

Good overview. Most interesting point is possible role evangelicals may play in opposing some of the Trump administration measures (after having been silent on so many other issues) as well as how this will play in the mid-terms:

America is heading for a moment of reckoning as the results of more than a year’s worth of hardline Trump administration immigration measures pile up, raising questions fundamental to the character of the nation itself.

A shock-and-awe sequence of policy moves and legal gambits, many by Attorney General Jeff Sessions, may elevate immigration past the Russia investigation and the accelerating economy into an issue with the capacity to shape the midterm elections. It also is spurring congressional leaders from the President’s party — who did not want another immigration fight this year — to vote and go on the record on what is often a politically perilous subject.
The moves in many cases are the logical culmination of a presidential campaign rooted in Donald Trump’s willingness to demagogue immigration controversies in order to inflame his conservative voting base. They are the product of 17 months of work by Sessions, and White House immigration czar Stephen Miller, that is starting to fundamentally change the immigration system and America’s treatment of many people who come from abroad, with or without authorization.
To many Trump voters, the rapid pace of change will be seen as a validation of the vote they cast for the President back in 2016. Trump made a case that previous Republican and Democratic leaders had failed to enforce immigration laws and made an implicit argument that the nature of American culture and society were under threat from an influx of newcomers.
But news coverage of children being taken from parents who had crossed the border illegally and the increasing human and economic implications of the administration’s assault on legal immigration are beginning to merge into political arguments about tough Trump stances.
“I just go back to week one of the Trump administration — those first two-three executive orders that the President signed — they were the foundation on which everything that we are seeing being executed right now is built,” said Ali Noorani, executive director of the National Immigration Forum, a nonprofit advocacy organization for immigrants and immigration. “All those things are coming to a head right now.”
Increasingly there is debate not just about the policy implications of the administration’s actions, but also whether they square with the humanitarian and moral standards that America has historically set for itself — even among some evangelicals who strongly back the President.

Crackdown

In recent days, the administration has acted aggressively to enact its tough immigration agenda and the human consequences of Trump’s earlier executive orders become increasingly clear.
Sessions has cracked down on rules on asylum, potentially reducing claims by the thousands by deciding that victims of domestic and gang violence are not eligible for protection.
The Justice Department said late last Friday that it would not defend the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program in a Texas lawsuit, potentially opening an eventual path to a Supreme Court ruling on the fate of young undocumented immigrants brought to the US as kids.
Sessions has also pressured judges to increase their workloads to accelerate the pace of deportations.
The Department of Health and Human Services has said that some military bases in Texas are being assessed as possible holding centers for unaccompanied migrant children.
At the southern border, an undocumented immigrant from Honduras sobbed as she said federal officials had taken her infant daughter as she breastfed her, highlighting the administration’s policy mandating the separation of families who cross the border illegally.
The Department of Homeland Security is vigorously cutting the numbers of people from 10 nations, including El Salvador and Haiti, who live and work in the United States under the Temporary Protected Status covering nations hit by famine, war or national disasters. In May, nearly 90,000 Hondurans lost their status, meaning they could be forced to go back home.
Then there are multiple, but less visible, ways that the Trump administration is trying to curb legal immigration: lowering refugee admissions, targeting H1-B visas for skilled foreign workers and introducing more restrictions and red tape for other classes of entry permits.
All in all, the flurry of activity adds up to another set of promises kept for Trump that he can lay before his most loyal voters as he pleads with them to go to the polls in November to stave off a Democratic wave that could crimp his room to maneuver as President.

Capitol Hill imbroglio

But there are growing signs that the emotive immigration debate and the questions it raises about American values do not automatically add up to a big win for the President.
An imbroglio in the House of Representatives over an attempt by moderate Republicans to force a vote on securing protections for DACA recipients shows how some GOP lawmakers fear the hardline administration positions could damage them as they fight for re-election.
A Republican leadership compromise could allow conservatives to vote on a tough immigration bill but also proposes a compromise measure that Trump could support if it honors his four policy pillars: a solution for DACA recipients, border security financing and changes to border protocol, and ending parts of family based migration and the visa lottery.
The President’s demands probably mean the bill still will not be able to pass the Senate and is most likely to end up underlining Congress’s failure to act meaningfully on immigration.
But the fact that the Republican leadership is willing to hold votes on such a toxic issue months before Election Day is a testament to how immigration is barging its way up the political agenda.
The one thing that could break the logjam is a concentrated intervention by the President. And Miller was on Capitol Hill Wednesday and told Republicans the White House is open to the compromise package. Still, the President has vowed to fix the DACA issue and to throw his weight behind legislation before only to fail to live up to his promise.
Democrats, meanwhile, are emboldened, viewing the increasingly visible humanitarian consequences of the Trump administration’s policies as an opening to broaden an assault on the President and enliven their own base voters.
Our moral compass has gone astray and I will continue to speak out against this injustice until the administration realizes this is not who we should be as Americans,” said Democratic Rep. Joaquin Castro of Texas, referring to the asylum rules and treatment of children crossing the border.
At a weekly Democratic leadership meeting, House Democratic Caucus Chairman Joe Crowley of New York painted a picture of children being ripped from their mothers’ arms at the border.
“If that is not psychological torture, I don’t know what is,” Crowley said, branding the policy an “abomination” and an “indelible mark on the soul of our nation.”

Dissent from evangelicals

There was also rising criticism for the implications of the administration’s immigration push from unusual quarters.
Evangelist Franklin Graham, who is close to Trump, slammed the separation of parents and children who had crossed the border illegally.
“It’s disgraceful, it’s terrible to see families ripped apart, and I don’t support that one bit,” said Graham on CBN News on Wednesday, blaming politicians over 30 years for failing to act.
Hours earlier another key evangelical voice, the Southern Baptist Convention, passed a resolution calling on the government to implement a “just and compassionate path” to legal status for undocumented immigrants once borders had been secured.
It also declared that any form of “nativism, mistreatment, or exploitation is inconsistent with the gospel of Jesus Christ” in a statement that could be seen as criticism of some of the sentiments that have helped Trump’s immigration policies prosper.
All this is a long way from a backlash against the administration’s approach, and it is not clear if it will open a seam of opposition in the evangelical bloc, which was a vital component of Trump’s winning coalition in 2016.
But Noorani argued that in the end, shifting sentiments of more moderate Trump voters and independents could be as important in molding the politics surrounding the administration’s immigration policies as the strong mobilization they whip up on the left.
“We surmised and we predicted that over time it would be the Trump voters at the end of the day who were going to start asking the most important questions,” he said.

Source: Impact of Trump’s immigration vision comes into focus in Washington

Conservative Christians Grapple With Whether ‘Religious Freedom’ Includes Muslims : NPR

A real test for US evangelicals in terms of their advocacy and their interpretation of religious freedom:

…. Southern Baptist leader Russell Moore warned that letting the government restrict Muslims could lead to restrictions on Christians. He believes Christianity is the only true faith, and people must choose it freely.

“Sometimes we have really hard decisions to make — this isn’t one of those things,” Moore said. “What it means to be a Baptist is to support soul freedom for everybody.”

Moore leads the Southern Baptist Convention’s Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission, which recently signed on to a legal brief supporting the right of a group of Muslims in New Jersey to build a mosque. His answer was met with enthusiastic applause — but he has also faced criticism from some fellow conservatives, including Wofford.

On a recent Sunday morning, after a fire-and-brimstone sermon, Wofford said he believes the U.S. Constitution protects all religions, including Islam. But Wofford doesn’t believe Southern Baptist leaders, who draw their salaries from dues paid by local congregations, should be advocating for the rights of Muslims.

“So what I am actually doing if I support and defend the rights of people to construct places of false worship, I am helping them go to hell. And I do not want to help people go to hell,” Wofford said.

Some Christian groups dedicated to defending religious freedom argue for equal treatment for all faiths, out of the principle that discriminating against one religion could threaten them all.

“It’s a double-edged sword,” said Matt Staver, founder and chairman of Liberty Council, which focuses on religious freedom litigation on behalf of Christians but has also represented at least one Jewish client.

“Religious freedom is for all of us or it’s for none of us,” Staver said. “If we want to pick and choose, what’s the standard? And if it’s only that might makes right, then that means it’s a political struggle and whoever is the ruling class at any particular time, they’re the ones that have their say.”

In a tense presidential election year, such debates have a tendency to become political. After the meeting with Trump in New York last week, several evangelical leaders held a press conference, where they praised Trump’s promise to protect religious liberty.

Asked how that pledge applies to Muslims, conservative columnist Ken Blackwell responded that he favors freedom for all faiths, but his primary concern is the rights of Christians.

“I was more interested in hearing Donald Trump say that he was willing and ready to defend religious liberty not just for Christians, but including for Christians, in the public square,” he said.

Pressed on Trump’s call to temporarily ban Muslim immigration — a proposal that has appeared to shift over time, but which Trump has yet to explain in detail — Blackwell said that issue will be part of an ongoing “conversation” between Trump and evangelical leaders. He said many conservative Christians see the real estate developer as more favorable to their concerns about religious freedom and other issues than his Democratic rival, Hillary Clinton.

“We’re not going to, in fact, throw him overboard” over the Muslim ban issue, Blackwell said.

Source: Conservative Christians Grapple With Whether ‘Religious Freedom’ Includes Muslims : NPR

Can America’s political discourse get any cruder? Neil Macdonald

Interesting if uncomfortable parallel Neil Macdonald makes between the religious extremists in the Iranian revolution and the US evangelicals:

In fact, Palin’s speech reminded me of another one I attended, years ago, in Tehran during my time as CBC’s Middle East correspondent.

Mohammed Khatami, the reformer, had been elected president of Iran, and you could taste the craving for change in the city’s mountain air.

On a whim, I decided to attend a Friday sermon by Ayatollah Taghi Mesbah Yazdi, probably the most hardline cleric in the theocracy.

He scorned the reformers and called down divine judgment on them, and exhorted the crowd to go and impose the will of the people.

It was a speech filled with hatred and religious bigotry and nativism, and the crowd absorbed it with the same sort of ecstasy U.S. conservatives evidently experience at Republican rallies nowadays.

I spoke to several people as they exited the sermon; most were rural, uneducated, and were bused in for the event. In cosmopolitan Tehran, Yazdi wouldn’t likely have been able to fill a big classroom, let alone pack in thousands of panting zealots.

‘You’re fired’

Sarah Palin, likewise, feels most comfortable outside America’s big cities, talking to the white evangelical Christians she calls “real Americans,” as opposed to the ethnic stew of the more permissive, homosexual-tolerating, non-God-fearing souls who populate the coastal population centres.

…Watching Palin and Trump, it was impossible not to wonder, once again, how America, a country that has achieved such excellence, and has so often shown the world a better way, descended into a political discourse that demonizes enlightened thought and glamorizes mean-spirited, lowbrow crudeness.

And something else occurred, a notion I’ve always shied away from because I find jingoism distasteful: None of this stuff would go anywhere in Canada. It would draw snickers and derision, not cheers.

The only reason I can cite for this difference in national attitudes is religion. Not the quiet, old-line religiosity whose adherents believe worship is a private matter, best practised in church.

I’m referring to the messianic, aggressive religion of certain evangelical Christian sects, which believe that even other streams of Christianity, never mind other faiths, are false, and that their job is not just to spread the word of God but to impose it, and that the best way to do that is to run the government.

That sort of religion happily ignores inconvenient facts and contradictions, and has always been ripe for the con job pulled by the Republican elite: promise to end atheistic permissiveness, then get into office and implement an economic agenda most friendly to Manhattan billionaires like Trump and multi-millionaires like Palin. (She recently put her 8,000 square-foot Arizona compound up for sale for $2.5 million.)

To be fair, this loopy form of religio-political fantasy is particular to the Republicans, and lots of religious Americans find it offensive to rational thought.

But it should not be dismissed, as clownish as its heroes can seem.

Think about Iran: Yazdi and his fellow hardliners triumphed. The reformers were shut down and jailed. The urban elites were cowed. It can happen.

Source: Can America’s political discourse get any cruder? – World – CBC News