White Evangelicals’ Deal with the Donald: A Cautionary Tale

Commentary
By Joe Kay 2-02-2018
Tony Perkins speaking at the Republican Leadership Conference in 2011 in New Orleans. Gage Skidmore / Flickr.com

I’m intrigued by how Tony Perkins is granting President Trump “a mulligan” if he had an affair with a porn star during his third marriage. Evangelicals like to cite Bible verses for their decisions, but I can’t find one describing such conduct as godly.

There is, however, a cautionary tale in the gospels about selling out for power. Matthew depicts Jesus beginning his ministry by going into the wilderness and rejecting a deal with the devil for power.

Free of any such encumbrances, Jesus then goes about advocating for the kingdom of God, a place built not upon power but on love, justice, healing, and a preferential option for the poor and the marginalized.

It’s a relevant story. Each of us is tempted to compromise on our beliefs, and we must decide what we really value.

Lately, we’ve gotten a reminder about what happens when you make a deal that compromises your professed values. The Trump-vangelical marriage is a cautionary tale for us all.

After unapologetically living a playboy lifestyle and ignoring evangelicals, Trump realized he needed them to get elected. The dealmaker slyly approached them with one: political clout in exchange for supporting his candidacy, his comments, and his conduct.

White evangelicals made their deal with the Donald.

As terms of the agreement, they can’t directly challenge anything he says or does. They're well aware that whenever anyone challenges him on anything, he attacks them on Twitter and kicks them to the curb. Deal over.

So, they defend and accept the very things they’ve rejected until now. Trump dictates the terms of this relationship, not them. He decides what’s acceptable to say and do. His values become their values, not the other way around.

They give him mulligan after mulligan after mulligan.

They have his back when he brags about forcing himself on women and grabbing them by the genitals; when he insists that very fine people march with neo-Nazis and the KKK; when he endorses a credibly accused pedophile; when he’s alleged to have an affair with a porn star shortly after his third wife gives birth to their son.

They hold their tongues over his everyday dishonesty. They stand by their man.

Some white evangelicals have broken ranks and criticized the unholy alliance, but it’s too late. It’s already been consummated. When they could have headed it off, they held their tongues and became complicit.

We know how this cautionary tale is going to end. When Trump no longer needs them, he’ll end their marriage of convenience and move on to whomever can help him next.

But the Trump-vangelicals won’t be able to move on. They’ll keep paying the price. By defending the indefensible and staying silent when their supposed values were trampled, they’ve permanently forfeited their moral ground on everything.

When you’ve weighed your words not by what God might say but by how Trump might react, you’ve sold out.

Of course, this isn’t the only time it’s happened. It’s gone on many times with many different religious leaders and many different politicians throughout history. It’s described in the gospels.

Jesus constantly calls out the religious leaders of his time who had made their deal with devil – keeping their power in exchange for doing Caesar’s bidding. Jesus calls them hypocrites and whitewashed tombs. He denounces the deal.

So must we.

The Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. is a modern-day example for us. He decided not to endorse politicians during the civil rights movement. Instead, he championed values in an uncompromising and non-partisan way.

Our faith challenges us to work for love, peace, and justice in the world, and that will involve using politics. But we can’t hitch our wagon to a politician or a political party. If we do, they’ll lead us to places we mustn’t go.

Instead, we must challenge all politicians and all leaders to do more in making sure everyone is treated as an equally beloved child of God. We must hold them accountable.

Paraphrasing the Rev. King: We must be the conscience of those who govern, not their master or servant. We must be the guide and critic of our leaders, never their apologists.

To do anything less is to sell out. And there’s no mulligan for that.

Joe Kay

Joe Kay is the associate minister at Nexus United Church of Christ, Butler County, Ohio. He also writes a weekly blog at https://joekay617.wordpress.com. His email address is listed on the blog, in case you care to contact him directly.

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