A couple of days ago I watched in mild shock a CNN interview with Franklin Graham as he tried to defend his support and that of other evangelicals of Donald Trump. I have also I had seen other evangelical leaders on TV stumble through their explanations of the unexplainable. However, as I watched the Graham interview I was thinking to myself, isn’t he the son and successor of late Billy Graham, for whom my wife, a good Southern Baptist and professed progressive, had so much respect.
Perhaps I wasn’t paying close attention, but I can’t recall Billy Graham ever saying anything political so I guess I had trouble believing that the words I was hearing were actually coming out of his son’s mouth. However, a quick Google search verified that Franklin Graham is Billy Graham’s son and that he is now President and CEO Billy Graham Ministries. I also learned from those articles that Franklin is no stranger to controversial remarks including some where he showed disdain for Muslims and Buddhist, seemed to question whether Barack Obama is Christian, and implied that God made Trump President. They say that the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree, but I believe that after it falls it can roll a long way downhill.
The Graham interview caused me to reconsider the inconceivable spectacle of people who consider themselves good Christians trying to defend their support a totally immoral person like Trump. However, the arguments which that Graham used are not new to me. Earlier in the year I engaged in an on-line discussion on this subject with an acquaintance of mine who has become almost cultish in her religious fever over the last few years. I witnessed firsthand as she twisted herself into a pretzel trying to use religious concepts to rationalize her unconditional support for the habitual liar and immoral egotist who currently occupies the White House.
When confronted with one of Trump’s numerous moral failings such as his multiple sexual assaults on women, usually the first defense of Trump enablers is, “Well, he said that never happen.” Let’s remember that this is a man never admits he that has done anything wrong and that he is a habitual liar. On another level It’s amazing that they will try to defend someone like Trump who was caught bragging about how he assaulted women, but denies he ever did it (though 19 women have come forward), while at the same time condemning those who have fessed up and showed contrition.
When that defense fails and the subject Trump cavorting with a porn actress enters the conversation, the response becomes, “Well, that was a long time ago before he became president; he’s not the same man today,” and “Christianity is all about forgiveness”. Oh really? I’ll bet Melania doesn’t see it that way. The man is 71 years old! People who have known him for many years say he hasn’t changed one bit. Has he ever given any indication that he has evolved into a better human being? Has he admitted his moral mistakes? Has he even once showed any contrition? Aren’t admission and contrition required for forgiveness? Trump’s inauguration wasn’t some kind of spiritual cleansing ceremony which filtered out the man’s immoral tendencies and absolved him of all sin.
When pressed further as to why they as Christians in particular are defending Trump, Evangelicals will often answer. “Well we are all sinners.” Well, maybe so, but we aren’t talking about telling little white lies here or saying uncharitable things about someone who cut you off in traffic. How many good Christians do you know have sexually assaulted numerous women and/or chased a porn star around their hotel room in their tidy whities? How many have a history of continually cheating their business partners? How people in their circle of friends are habitual liars.
The bottom line is that evangelicals, these “good Christians”, and their leaders continue to defend a man who for all practical is the antithesis of Jesus. They wouldn’t associate with Trump if he was used car salesman named James Jones and lived next door. So why are they willing to continually rationalize their allegiance to Trump when they must know they look like the worst kind hypocrites? They must know that everyone else is convinced that if Barack Obama had been accused of just one of Trump’s many indiscretions, they would be consumed by shrill and unending howls of outrage.
The answer to that question lies in another commonly defense of their support of Trump that goes something like this: “God sometimes uses bad people to work his will.” That statement contains a tiny grain of truth. Remember, they believe that they alone understand the will of God. So what that statement really means is that they are willing to invest in Trump despite the fact that they revulsed by the kind of person he is only because they are interested in what he can do for them.
Remember that like all religious fundamentalists, evangelicals are typically very conservative and they have a tendency to believe that theirs is the only true religion. As a result, many of them believe they are entitled to force their version of morality on everyone else by attempting to incorporate the teachings of their religion into civil and criminal law. This is a trait they share with conservative fundamentalists of other very conservative religious groups such as the sects of Muslims who believe enforcing in Saria Law.
What is overlooked is that in the past religious fundamentalists were very successful in this effort. In the not so distant past, many local laws forced businesses to close on Sunday. There were many counties when the sale of alcohol was forbidden, and of course for a few years there was nationwide probation. In many locations Christian prayers were offered up by teachers and pupils and at the commencement of secular events. Many states had strict anti-abortion laws. In the first half of the twentieth century religious reasons used to justify segregation, and much earlier, even slavery. Though out the history of the United States The 1st Amendment which mandates the separation of church and state was enforced only in the narrowest of terms. Now the the situation has changed.
Fundamentalist Christians are losing their ability to force others to obey their moral concepts by using the force of law; it scares them and they don’t like it one bit. In addition, the vast majority of evangelicals who are still supporting Trump are white protestants, many of whom are all also very concerned about the forces threatening the ethnic and cultural dominance of the descendants of light skinned Europeans in this country. When a candidate who claimed to be a populist promised to address all of their most heartfelt concerns appeared on the scene, of course they were drawn to him despite his personal disqualifications.
Trump promised to fill the judicial system and the Supreme Court with judges who have very conservative positions on prayer in school, on abortion, and on other issues where fundamentalist Christians might want to force their version of morality on others. He also promised to forcibly remove from the country all of those brown illegal immigrants and to rig the legal immigration system to favor immigrants from countries where the people look more like them.
Of course, evangelicals understand that their support of this very flawed man makes them look like hypocrites, but they think that it is obviously worth the price. In addition, many are not venturing into unknown territory; many conservative evangelicals have been hypocrites their entire lives. While their professed savior flatly stated in their bible – Mathew 25:40: “Verily I say unto you, Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me.” – many of them have supported regressive tax systems and selfish public policies which do not support our most vulnerable citizens. Evangelicals may support private charities, which do a lot of good, but are insufficient to lift the heavy weight of poverty in this country. However, they are usually against allowing state and federal governments to use their taxes to more effectively address the problem.
In conclusion, I believe that evangelicals know that they are being hypocrites in their support of Trump, but it’s worth it to them. They just hate being called on it.