13 August 2020

The Spiritual Danger of Donald Trump:

30 Evangelical Christians on Justice, Truth, and Moral Integrity. (Ronald J. Sider, editor; Cascade Books, 2020.)

Randall Balmer, one of those thirty contributors, states flatly:

"After a long and lingering illness, evangelicalism died on November 8, 2016."

He goes on:

On that day, 81 percent of white American evangelicals who for decades claimed to be concerned about "family values" registered their votes for a twice-divorced, thrice-married, self-confessed sexual predator whose understanding of the faith is so truncated that he can't even fake religious literacy.

Was this death actually worth grieving? Balmer, historian of American religion at Dartmouth College, outlines the history of American evangelical Christianity with special attention to its abiding preoccupation with social improvement: abolition of slavery, equality for women, education for all classes of people, peace, temperance, prison reform, and a testimony against the abuses of capitalism. All in all, it's a legacy worth preserving -- and extending.

Balmer also puts into perspective the argument that I most often hear among my own contacts in the evangelical movement: the top priority of Trump's evangelical fan club is opposition to abortion, which supposedly makes all their tolerance of Trump's failings worthwhile. Balmer writes,

The standard, albeit false, narrative is that evangelical concerns over legalized abortion prompted evangelicals' political engagement in the 1970s. This abortion myth, however, collapses under closer scrutiny. Evangelicals considered abortion a "Catholic issue" in the 1970s; the Southern Baptist Convention called for the legalization of abortion in 1971, and evangelical leaders, including W.A. Criswell of First Baptist Church in Dallas, applauded the Roe v. Wade decision of 1973.

It was the formation of Reagan's alliance with the Religious Right, and the need for that movement to defend causes beyond segregated education, that brought abortion into the circle of concern. (Frank Schaeffer's book Crazy for God, reviewed here, describes how his parents played a central role in adopting abortion as a headliner for this alliance.) What are  the chances that this alliance can be broken and the movement restored to its former gospel integrity? Balmer doesn't have much confidence: evangelicals, who lack liturgical and hierarchical scaffolding,

... are too susceptible to the cult of personality, and the unholy alliance between white evangelicals and the hard-right precincts of the Republican Party has calcified over the past four decades. But if I were to search for glimmers of hope, I'd look to evangelical women and to younger evangelicals willing to challenge the shibboleths of their elders and reclaim the faith.

So far, I've sampled just one of the thirty advertised voices in this book. Balmer provides a historical context; others provide biblical, theological, legal/constitutional, and public policy dimensions. For example, Ron Sider examines the implications of Donald Trump's performance in the COVID-19 crisis. Other authors address racism, misogyny, the demonization of immigrants, the misappropriation of Bonhoeffer's legacy, hostility to environmental concerns, and the flagrant use of falsehoods in the Trump movement. Chris Thurman summarizes the roles of five prominent evangelicals who go beyond supporting Trump -- they publicly insult Christians who criticize him.

With thirty contributors covering much of the same territory, some aspects of the current spiritual crisis represented by the Trump movement are touched on more than once. However, I also appreciated several insights I'd not heard before. For example, Napp Nazworth's chapter, "Race-Baiter, Misogynist, and Fool," includes an interesting Bible study on the word "fool" -- using that word according to biblical understanding rather than as an all-purpose epithet. He applies it to the president, and considers the biblical warnings about not associating with fools. (He also examines the other New Testament meaning of "fool," as in "fools for Christ," and "folly to the Greeks.") 

In addition to his own contributions, editor Sider closes the book with an afterword that includes this plea: that we Christians engage biblically in a way that attracts, rather than repels, the non-Christians who are watching.

In one sense, this book is necessarily dated. (Ron Sider's discussion of Trump and COVID-19 addresses the situation as of April 7. As bad as things looked then, they're now much worse.) Many of the contributors wrote their chapters with the 2020 U.S. presidential election in mind, and of course that election is now less than three months away. However, as a case study of biblical/political conversation among diverse evangelical voices, and later as an invaluable time capsule for Christians of the future, I'm sure the book will be useful far beyond its sell-by date.

I'm serving as a U.S. 2020 Census enumerator this year, so I was immediately interested in this article on people who don't want to answer Census questions. (So far I've been pleasantly surprised.)

Paul Louis Metzger on race, biology, and psychology.

Almost half of the UK's nonprofit organizations addressing global poverty will be forced to close within a year, according to the Small Independent Development Charities Network.

Bulletin: Heather Cox Richardson's daily letter summarizes today's should-be-stunning revelations of misdeeds from the target figure of Ron Sider's book.

The late Magic Slim in Brazil. Sometimes nobody else will do.


Bill Samuel said...

The Census issue is a major one. It is highly unlikely that we have anything close fo a complete census count when the enumeration process ends on September 30. As indicated by the different response rates shown in the article you cite, the results will be skewed in a way that particularly undercounts young people, the poor, and minorities.

This will have very major consequences. Many government funding programs use census figures, so this could result in decreased funding for important human needs. It will have a major impact on Congressional redistricting. Areas with larger numbers of the segments of the population with higher response rates will be over-represented, and the others under-represented. I predict that the Republicans will regain control of the House of Representatives in the 2022 election due to this skewing.

Johan Maurer said...

Hello, Bill! Thanks for your comment.