The myth of political evangelism

Published 11:01 pm Wednesday, March 23, 2016

In the American political arena, the relationship between “evangelicals” and religion has always been tenuous.

Although they were not called “evangelicals” during the antebellum period, they nevertheless hoisted their philosophical insistence upon the propriety of slavery and the inferiority of Africans on the Bible.

Conveniently omitting to address the morality of human bondage, they relied, for example, upon Paul’s letters to the Ephesians 6:5 (“Servants, be obedient to them that are your masters according to the flesh, with fear and trembling”) and to Titus 2:9 (“Exhort servants to be obedient unto their own masters, and to lease them well in all things”). Changing the word “servants” in the King James Version to “slaves” in more contemporary versions was also convenient, if not intended, to justify the ownership of other people – not that any of the versions contorts the scripture to suggest a biblical mandate to buy and sell flesh.

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In any case, so persistent were slave holders in characterizing their enterprise as the will of God that even the enslaved began to believe it. Perhaps the most notorious (and still surviving) claim that Christ himself affirms racial supremacy is the omnipresent cross that periodically burns on the lawns of African American homeowners.

Later, evangelicals turned their attention (slightly) to the termination of pregnancies. Especially following the U.S. Supreme Court’s ruling in Roe v. Wade, they mounted a religion-based campaign to overturn the decision. Ignoring the fact that the word “abortion” is not in the Bible, the same group insisted that the Supreme Court’s partial reliance on privacy interests is wrong because the word “privacy” is not in the Constitution. Ignoring the fact that suicide is, by definition, the taking of a life, evangelicals (except for some Catholics) impose no ill judgment or penalty upon the memory or the family of those who kill themselves.

The most current evangelical battle in politics is that group’s opposition to the very beings of members of the lesbian, bi-sexual, gay and trans-sexual communities. Evangelicals oppose their personhood and devote substantial resources to preventing them from enjoying many of the privileges of citizenship guaranteed to all Americans in our founding documents.

Their cup of hypocrisy runneth over. While brandishing Leviticus 18:22, which labels as an “abomination” the act of a man lying down “with mankind, as with womankind,” they overlook – and in some cases glorify – the commission of other acts forbidden in preceding and succeeding verses. For no other forbidden act have evangelicals mounted a movement. To address a man’s patronizing of a prostitute (i.e., a woman “put apart for her uncleanness”), legislatures – populated in the main by Christians – wink and nod by classifying violations as misdemeanors. Affirming their selective disregard of Moses (the consensual author of Leviticus), Christian mayors, city councils, and police officers enforce the laws overwhelmingly against the female sellers of services, instead of the presumably more Christian male buyers. The Christian populace whom they serve proffers no objection to this state of affairs.

For all of these reasons, it is not surprising that, among the Republican candidates for president, Donald Trump is overwhelmingly supported by “evangelicals.” Despite their railing against Islam, Hispanic immigrants, abortion and same-sex relationships, they are vigorously and vociferously worshiping at the billionaire’s altar of sexism, racism, mocking of the disabled, profanity, incitement to violence, and facilitation of violence.

How can this be? The truth is that, for the past several decades, “evangelism” has been a universal tarpaulin used to cover and conceal, at best, nakedly partisan political views, and, at worst, bias and prejudice. Notice the sheer multitude of adherents to a presidential candidate who makes fun of other people and the intensity of their cheers when he exhorts them to “punch [someone] in the mouth.” Their loyalty is ample proof that, for them, evangelism is merely one of the many coats in their closets, worn when the sun shines on their homogenous gardens, but shorn when clouds threaten to unleash diversity and equality for all.

Recent developments, including unprovoked violence and references to Auschwitz and Africa, confirm that conclusion. Though anecdotal, these incidents strongly suggest that, for many Trump followers, “evangelical” is not an eponym for their morality or their behavior.

In the end, the Bible has very little to do with either.

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