Holy Hypocrites: The Religious Right And The Rise Of Trump
Rob Boston printable version print page     Bookmark and Share
Wed Mar 02, 2016 at 10:34:09 AM EST

For political junkies, the Super Tuesday results offered a sumptuous repast.

Former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) continue to duel for the Democratic nomination, although Clinton appears to be pulling away. On the Republican side, U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) remained alive with victories in Texas, Oklahoma and Alaska. U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) looks to be on life support after winning only in Minnesota. Ohio Gov. John Kasich failed to carry a single state but has not dropped out. Ben Carson is an afterthought.

The night belonged to real estate developer and reality TV star Donald Trump, who prevailed in seven states. Trump scored victories in several Bible Belt states - Alabama, Tennessee, Arkansas and Georgia. Trump also won in Virginia, not a Deep South state but one where conservative evangelicals dominate the GOP.

Trump's Dixie victories indicate that he is doing quite well among the Religious Right. Several political analysts have commented on this as well. George Zornick of The Nation noted this morning that Trump's base consists of Tea Party activists, but he's splitting the right-wing evangelical vote with Cruz.

That wasn't supposed to happen. Yet it is happening, despite the fact that major Religious Right groups like the American Family Association (AFA) are working to derail Trump, seeing him as likely to lose against Clinton. As we noted earlier this week, the AFA issued a voter guide that described Trump as a "moderate," a term that in Religious Right parlance equates with "serial killer."

Tony Perkins, president of the Family Research Council (FRC), the largest Religious Right organization in the country, has endorsed Cruz. Russell Moore, president of the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention, can't understand why so many of his co-religionists have come down with a case of Trumpmania.

The Christian Post, a website popular among conservative evangelicals, took the unusual step of issuing an editorial blasting Trump. The editorial's headline was not subtle: "Donald Trump Is a Scam. Evangelical Voters Should Back Away," it read.

Right-wing evangelicals were supposed to vote for Cruz. Not enough of them are. They have deserted him for a coarse, thrice-married businessman who, despite his recent tendency to thump the Bible, rarely attends church and couldn't name a favorite Bible verse.

What's going on here?

I've been attending the FRC's annual "Values Voter Summit" for the past 10 years, and I have a theory. I've noticed how more and more these gatherings sound like Heritage Foundation briefings with a little prayer thrown in. (In fact, the Heritage Foundation has served as a co-sponsor of the Summit in the past.)

At the Summit, one hears a lot of talk about health-care reform. Attendees, many of whom are over 65 and undoubtedly relying on Medicare, virulently despise "Obamacare." One hears constant calls to do something about illegal immigration. Taxes, especially the estate tax, are assailed, as is the all-purpose bogeyman of "Big Government." Attendees demand a hawkish, jingoistic foreign policy anchored in "American Exceptionalism." Muslims are bashed with impunity.

Sure, some speakers do assail abortion, marriage equality and the alleged attack on "religious liberty." But there are huge portions of the Summit that have absolutely nothing to do with Christianity. The name of Jesus Christ is rarely invoked. Ronald Reagan's is constantly. The Summit often seems to have more in common with the philosophy of Ayn Rand, an atheist, than the founder of Christianity.

Many followers of the Religious Right are tired of what they see as lukewarm candidates such as U.S. Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) and former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney. They want a fire-breather who promises to build giant walls at the southern border, cut taxes, promote bootstrap capitalism, stomp on the Muslims and halt the march of the social welfare state.

Deep inside themselves, many of these activists surely realize that Trump's newfound religiosity must be a convenient pose, but they don't care. There has always been an authoritarian strain in the Religious Right, a longing for a strong, even quasi-dictatorial, leader who will keep feminists, multiculturalists, secularists and "progressives" in their place. Trump looks like he can deliver, so he is their man.

Undoubtedly, some people in the Religious Right simply lack political sophistication and reasoning skills and have actually fallen for Trump's spiel. Others, a larger group, I think, are just hypocrites. Their view is, "Who cares if he means it as long as he delivers?"

In any case, the rise of Trump among those who claim to be holier than thou and who sneeringly look down on the rest of us from atop their moral high horses says something about the Religious Right. And what it says isn't good.

Many or most of the conservative evangelical / fundamentalist Protestant churches function along very clear lines of authority, often to the point of hero-worshipping the pastor as the Big Man / alpha "personality" of the congregation, rather than a teacher. The concept of listening to what may be good advice and then testing and working it out for oneself is not valued.

by NancyP on Wed Mar 02, 2016 at 11:29:50 AM EST
Even in the more moderate churches, "working it out for oneself" was discouraged.  The closest I came to that - and it was a revelation at the time, let me tell you - was when I was given a book on church history and told "decide for yourself".  Of course, the history was biased...

I didn't realize that until quite a few years later.  The same old "Christians GOOD, Pagans/Others BAD!" nonsense.  Some of it was accurate (such as some of the internal conflicts), but for the most part contradicted by other sources.

I've heard it said that the main difference between the fundamentalist churches and the RC church is that the RC church has only one Pope, while in the fundamentalist churches each pastor IS a Pope - with infallibility and on a virtual throne.  The idea of disagreeing with your pastor was... anathema and could get you excommunicated, shunned, publicly punished and humiliated, or a combination thereof (been there).  Even disagreeing with a big-name pastor from a different church (and worse, proving from their own Bible that he didn't know what he was talking about) would get you punished on the sly by your own church, even though it was in an entirely different city and not officially connected with that pastor.

I've come to the conclusion that only the most liberal of the churches actually would accept "working it out for oneself" - and thinking for yourself, well, for us that required that we LEAVE the churches and Christianity altogether.

by ArchaeoBob on Wed Mar 02, 2016 at 01:00:20 PM EST

Trump is a bigot, and spouts what they've had preached at them, so it's familiar territory (and thus comfortable).  In the south (actually the entire US), racism is still very much alive and well, and the racist bigots resent not being able to express their vile attitudes in public.  (Ditto for those bigoted against the poor, the disabled, etc..)  From my observation (there are a LOT of bigots in this hellhole), they LIKE hearing someone saying what they fear to say.

He also talks much as many of the churches do regarding people who are poor or suffering - that they brought it on themselves by their personal failings (the churches insist that it is their SINS that made them poor/suffering - ignoring the very sins of the rich that the historic "Jesus" railed against and which CAUSE poverty).  I also think Trump feeds their greed by giving them the false hope that they can emulate him somehow.  There IS the American fable that if you work hard and smart, you'll get rich.  People don't know about the relationship between wealth and dishonesty, as shown by research at Berkeley and other places.  They haven't learned to think critically and to see through the lies that are so prevalent in the more conservative churches (especially the fundamentalist ones).

I do agree that he also represents a strong authority person - and it is likely that they find that preferable because it's what they're used to.  I think he reminds them of their pastors in some way.  They forget that someone like Trump is just as likely to take away THEIR cherished freedoms, as making life more hellish for the people they hate and look down on.

by ArchaeoBob on Wed Mar 02, 2016 at 01:18:24 PM EST

an authoritarian who will protect their "values" by persecuting those who don't share them, impose a cruel, punitive social policy and base their foreign policy on vicious, dangerous warmongering, I am baffled as to why they aren't coalescing behind Ted Cruz, whose evangelical posturing (and I personally believe it is posturing and he doesn't mean a word he says) is far more polished and convincing.

Certainly, Cruz is much more consistent. I have conservative friends backing Cruz who believe Trump is a close liberal, and I can understand how they arrive at that conclusion: Trump is breathtakingly inconsistent on every policy except hating "The Other." Who knows where he stands REALLY on issues like abortion or taxes? He has said the rich should pay more -- a position that's an anathema to conservatives. All we can really say for sure is that he feeds the resentment of white people, especially white males, who feel some other group has "stolen" the privilege that is rightly theirs.

by anastasia p on Sun Mar 06, 2016 at 12:02:17 PM EST

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