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The Loser of the Election

According to Mark Galli's editorial Tuesday in Christianity Today, the biggest loser in Alabama's special election is not Roy Moore and the Republicans, but the Christian faith. The election, says Galli, shines a spotlight on an issue that has been "festering for a year and a half", ever since evangelicals flocked en masse to the Trump campaign.

Regarding support for Trump, Galli says:

The Christian leaders who have excused, ignored, or justified his unscrupulous behavior and his indecent rhetoric have only given credence to their critics who accuse them of hypocrisy.

On the other hand, Galli can't help but blame everyone else for evangelical voters' lack of discernment.

Meanwhile the easy willingness of moderate and progressive Christians to cast aspersions on their conservative brothers and sisters has made many wonder about our claim that Jesus Christ can bring diverse people together as no other can.

Galli argues that moderate and liberal Christians should instead spend time trying to understand where our conservative brothers and sisters are coming from. Galli notes that secular researchers have already been doing this sort of analysis, and wonders why Christians can't follow suit.

UC Berkley sociologist Arlie Russell Hochschild’s Strangers in Their Own Land: Anger and Mourning on the American Right strives to understand Tea Party advocates in Louisiana, most of whom are evangelical Christians. And law professor Joan Williams’s White Working Class: Overcoming Class Cluelessness in America unpacks the class dimensions of much of our political divide. And then there is Jonathan Haidt’s The Righteous Mind: Why Good People Are Divided by Politics and Religion, which demonstrates the moral ground of advocates left and right. None of these writers could be mistaken for a conservative, but they each at least attempt to be charitable and fair-minded in trying to understand the views of those with whom they disagree.

But there is a glaring flaw in Galli's reasoning: he doesn't seem to realize just how many moderate or liberal Christians are former conservative evangelicals who just couldn't live with the hypocrisy anymore. From Shane Claiborne to Rachel Held Evans, from Nadia Bolz-Weber to Fred Clark, many Christians not only understand where conservative evangelicals are coming from, but have actually been a part of that movement and have walked away from it. I myself took that journey many years ago.

And what we've seen since leaving it is that conservative Christianity as a whole has only gotten more stridently political and less spiritually minded in recent years, especially since 2016. Even Galli admits this shift.

As recently as 2011, PRRI found that only 30 percent of white evangelicals believed “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.” But by late 2016, when Donald Trump was running for president, that number had risen sharply to 72 percent—the biggest shift of any US religious group.

No further understanding is necessary. It is clear what drives conservative evangelicals.The biggest factors are all cultural and political, and not related to the Christian faith. Conservative Christians have lost sight of the gospel. Galli fails to understand the graveness of this drift, and argues that the criticism of it is the greater sin.

They call these conservatives idolaters for seeking after political power. They call them homophobes for wanting Christian bakers to legally follow their conscience. They call them racists and Islamophobes for wanting secure borders. These moderates and liberal evangelicals are so disturbed by the political beliefs of their brothers and sisters that many say they don’t even want to be associated with them anymore; they seem to view these brothers and sisters in Christ as tax collectors and sinners.

Galli's response misses the whole point. It's not simply that we're merely disturbed by the politics of conservative Christians; it's that they have such egregiously un-Christian politics and still claim to speak for Christ. Galli wants to sit on the fence and claim everyone equally is a hypocrite. And, sure, there is the occasional left-wing Christian who tries to claim the Bible supports liberal political causes. (I've criticized some of them both here and in my previous blog.) But the bulk of the criticism of the religious right is aimed at how they subsume their spirituality into their lust for political power.

Galli, however, can't see beyond his own commitment to religious conservatism. ("They are right, of course, about moral decline in America," he says.) As a result, he misdiagnoses the disease.

The problem with many Christian conservatives is this: They believe they can help the country become godly again by electing people whose godliness is seriously questioned by the very people they want to influence.

No.The problem with Christian conservatives is this: They believe they can help the country become godly again by adjusting the balance of the Supreme Court, foisting pseudoscience on the public schools, complaining about Starbucks holiday cups, and refusing to bake wedding cakes. They believe they can help the country become godly again by demonizing people for their race, religion, or sexual orientation.

The result of the evangelicals' latest faustian bargain is a president elected on a blatantly racist platform, and a nation where the KKK, neo-Nazis, and other white supremacists are suddenly empowered and emboldened. This goes well beyond "electing people whose godliness is seriously questioned"; conservative Christians have actually had a profoundly negative moral influence on the nation.

In his conclusion, Galli offers an olive branch, of sorts.

The way forward is unclear. For to love one’s neighbor in a democratic society means that Christians must participate in the public square to seek the common good. We cannot forsake our political duty, and that duty will lead believers in different directions. It’s just that when we do engage in politics, we so often end up doing and saying things that make us sound and act like we don’t care about the very values we champion. Perhaps the first step is for Christians Left and Right, when they stand up to champion a cause, to stop saying "Thus says the Lord" and "Lord, I thank you that you have not made me like these other Christians," but frame their politics with, "Lord, have mercy on me a sinner."

Although that's not a bad idea, it's much too timid. Perhaps a better approach would be to recognize that in a diverse pluralistic society, we have a responsibility to ensure that all groups—especially those who have been marginalized—are welcome to participate in the public square. And despite what evangelical Christians might imagine, they are not among the marginalized. If conservative Christians really wanted to demonstrate God's love in action, they would bake cakes for gay weddings, break bread with their Muslim neighbors, welcome strangers and aliens who might not speak English.

But we all know that isn't going to happen. Amy Courts, another refugee from evangelicalism, says it best:

So to evangelicalism I will say for the very last time: SCREW YOU every way from Sunday and twice on Wednesday. May your vestiges burn, may your pillars crumble in dust. You mock God. And God will not be mocked.

And to all the evangelicals out there still trying to rescue evangelicalism from the brood of vipers?

Give it up. Give it up. Give it up.

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