David French on the Unsurprising Relationship Between Evangelicals And Trump
[guest post by Dana]
You know I’m a fan of David French. I find him to be a sharp, insightful thinker, as well as having an extraordinary understanding of man’s fallen nature and an intimate knowledge of God’s grace. Certainly, that understanding must be what keeps him from erupting at the exasperating displays of hubris, vanity, arrogance, and self-aggrandizement by our political leaders. I also respect that he isn’t compelled to reflexively defend the Republican Party or the Christian church. David French has talked about the relationship between Christians and Trump during the past five years (and we’ve discussed it too), and in a recent (Feb.2021) interview at Vox he makes some interesting points on the subject. Here are a few of his observations:
You call this moment a particularly “dangerous time for Christianity.” What makes it so dangerous?
There are a few things. I think when you see such a large segment of American Christianity, of white evangelicalism in particular, tie itself so closely to one political party and to one man, Donald Trump, you’re not exactly tying the faith to virtue. That’s obvious enough.
There’s really some fascinating research done by Ryan Burge, who is a statistician and a scholar of religion at Eastern Illinois University. He has shown how different American religious strands, whether it’s Black Christians, Mormons, atheists, Catholics, they all maintain some distance in their ideology from the party they most affiliate with. But this isn’t true for white evangelicals. It is an exact overlap. The identification between white evangelicals and the GOP is almost perfect.
That’s a problem because it means your faith is now tied to an entire array of both personalities and political positions that do not naturally flow from biblical ethics. Any time you’re going to tie faith to ideas and people who do not either personify biblical ethics or positioned to flow from biblical ethics, you’re creating a real problem. They’ve essentially politicized their faith.
But why Trump? Is he just a random but convenient vehicle for Christians? Or is there something particular about him — his celebrity, for example — that makes him a perfect fit for the modern Christian ethos?
Man, that’s a big question. Part of it is simple. White evangelicals are Republicans, and Republicans are white evangelicals, which has been the case for a long time now, and Trump was just the Republican nominee, and so he had to work incredibly hard to lose their support.
I’d say he worked pretty damn hard to do just that, David —
Right, you could say he worked hard to do that by engaging in all kinds of behaviors that are obviously un-Christian, that are contrary to Christian ethics, that are deeply harmful to other people. But that’s where it gets complicated. I tell people all the time that live in other parts of the country, in non-MAGA parts of the country, that they have to remember where white evangelicals tend to get their information about the world.
When it comes to politics, most evangelicals are not getting their information from the pulpit. I think it’s a misconception that a lot of people who are outside of the evangelical world have, that at church they’re getting a ton of politics. No, but what’s happening is a lot of Republican Christians are getting catechized in politics through conservative media, through Fox News, through talk radio. As I’ve told a lot of people, if you had the information inflow that a lot of my neighbors have [French lives in Tennessee], you’d be MAGA also. A lot of it is just a product of information that makes it not that hard to support Trump, if that’s your information flow.
The other thing is that a lot of these people genuinely believe, because of where they get their information, that the country is in some kind of emergency that justifies the extremism of Trump. They believe they need someone who’s willing to be very aggressive in taking on the left, their so-called enemies. Trump was also very shrewd about granting access to evangelical supporters and to outright grifters and opportunists. That’s a big part of what happened as well.
And then there is this spot-on observation by French who is asked whether it’s fair to say that Christians sacrificed their credibility and the substance of their faith when they embraced the GOP as a vehicle to power:
The embrace of political power carried with it a number of dangers that ultimately the church couldn’t escape. I’ve heard a number of people who’ve reflected on the beginning of the religious right and this decision to not just engage in politics, but to engage in politics through the GOP almost exclusively. You can engage in politics, and you can be intellectually independent, but to engage in politics through the GOP specifically in pursuit of political power was a big mistake…The right may have acquired political power, but the left was much more effective at achieving cultural power, and if you believe, as I do, that politics is downstream from culture, the quest for pure political power was always going to be limited. The religious right lost the culture and with it their ability to impact the world the way they envisioned.
The Trump years encapsulate this perfectly. The right went all-in on Trump. White evangelicals went all-in on Trump. They won the presidency. They won the House. They won the Senate. They had the judiciary. Is anyone going to say that the United States of America is now more fundamentally Christian in 2021 than it was in 2017? I don’t think so. Most people would say the cultural left has been empowered during these years. So the religious right got what they wanted in a lot of ways, politically speaking, but I don’t think they achieved their long-term goals by any stretch of the imagination.
I appreciate French’s unflinching look at the church, especially as so many Christians sacrificed their personal credibility and their witness by supporting and defending Trump. The problem, of course, is that the Christian right could easily deify another very flawed individual in 2024. Maybe even stick with Trump. After all, has their thinking really changed?
French also addresses masculinity in the church:
I’d say that there is a perverted version of masculinity that is common in Southern evangelical circles that rendered the church vulnerable to the Trumpian influence. I’ve seen that with my own eyes. There’s a deep-seated insecurity that exists about masculinity in the church for lots of interesting reasons, some of them related to the way the secular culture has cast a lot of aspersions on traditional masculinity as being “problematic.”
One of the things that has been so bizarre to me has been this equation of Donald Trump with virtuous masculinity. We don’t need to go into all of the details, but this is a man who evaded military service, who has serially cheated on wives, who is terribly out of shape, is so cowardly in a lot of his personal interactions, that he delegates to others the task of firing people. There’s so much that if you were going to map out who is the archetype of the masculine leader prior to Trump, he would be the opposite of that.
If I could pull something out of the Christian hat that illustrates the bizarre culmination of Trump’s influence on evangelicals and the danger of their devotion to Trump, I think it would be this crazy report about a Baptist pastor in Missouri:
Now in professional counselling, a Baptist preacher drew backlash from his congregation for a sermon he gave last month in which he told women to smarten themselves up. “Don’t ever forget this, God made (men) to look and you want them to look at you — not some hottie out there or someone on a computer screen.”
Pastor Stewart-Allen Clark said it was “really important” for men to have a beautiful woman on their arm. “Now look,” he said, “I’m not saying every woman can be the epic trophy wife of all time like Melania Trump, I’m not saying that at all,” but “you don’t need to look like a butch either.” He then advised them on makeup, hairstyles, fashion tips and sexual intimacy.
In the sermon, Clark, 55, had asked “Why is it so many times that women, after they get married, let themselves go?” He criticized them for wearing sweatpants, flip-flops and pyjamas, and not watching their weight. “Men have a need for their women to look like women,” he said.
He told his General Baptist denomination that “Most women can’t be trophy wives, but you know … maybe you’re a participation trophy.”
[Ed. I’m going to follow David French’s example of extending grace toward fellow members of the church body with whom he disagrees and exercise self-restraint by not excoriating this sniveling little pustule who made a mockery of Christ by spewing such inanities from the pulpit.]
Hello.Dana (fd537d) — 3/10/2021 @ 7:02 pm
He then advised them on makeup, hairstyles, fashion tips and sexual intimacy.
Funny. I actually prefer women who don’t wear makeup. I don’t care about hairstyles, apart from it not being too short. Fashion doesn’t move the needle for me. Sexual intimacy? That will take care of itself, and if by chance it doesn’t, I wouldn’t go to a preacher for tips.norcal (01e272) — 3/10/2021 @ 7:20 pm
Poor guy doesn’t need professional counseling. He needs a weekend in New Orleans.nk (1d9030) — 3/10/2021 @ 7:37 pm
And yet Hollywood, bastion of pretty people, is a hotbed of divorce.
I am not going to comment on the political viewpoint of fundamentalist evangelicalism. I have never been one and I have never lived in a community where that particular flavor of Christianity was particularly common. My experiences with people who are evangelical has often not been positive (Papists go to hell you know). I don’t understand fundamentalist evangelicalism at all.Nic (896fdf) — 3/10/2021 @ 7:59 pm
He has shown how different American religious strands, whether it’s Black Christians, Mormons, atheists, Catholics, they all maintain some distance in their ideology from the party they most affiliate with.
This. Harry Reid, Mitt Romney, Mike Lee, and Gladys Knight. All Mormons.
Technically, I’m a Mormon, but many would call me a MINO.norcal (01e272) — 3/10/2021 @ 8:41 pm
Jack Mormon also works.
I’ve even thought of starting my own whiskey label called Jack Mormon. There are two problems with this. First, I might get sued by the church. Second, people might think it’s non-alcoholic whiskey. We can’t have that!norcal (01e272) — 3/10/2021 @ 8:46 pm
But why Trump?
Because he was the first politician willing to throw over the hypocritical politeness that infuriated the talkradio crowd. The time was ripe for a demagogue. Too many Republican leaders seemed willing to wait forever to attempt real change, and Trump spoke to the common denominator of those that were tired of waiting.
Particularly those who were strangling in an economic system that did not serve them. It served the poor and it served the rich, but the working man was getting every sh1t end of the stick possible, and Trump said “I will be your champion.”
Gresham’s Law applies to politicians, too.Kevin M (ab1c11) — 3/10/2021 @ 8:55 pm
Jack Mormon also works.
Or sell the “coffee and cigarettes” cure for hangovers.Kevin M (ab1c11) — 3/10/2021 @ 8:57 pm
What rubbish.Dave (1bb933) — 3/10/2021 @ 9:18 pm
Paster neimoller had some words on the subject. Also do any of you know why both the southern babtist church broke off from the babtist church and the southern methodist church did he same from the methodist church.asset (e88411) — 3/10/2021 @ 11:47 pm
One method that the working man has traditionally taken to protect his economic position has been unions. Funny, though, that support for unions hasn’t been a big part of the Republican platform.
Republicans in recent years have gone all in on supporting the cultural grievances of a class of Americans. Actually taking effective steps to improve the standard of living of low and medium income workers hasn’t really been a part of it.Victor (4959fb) — 3/11/2021 @ 12:15 am
let’s be clear about this class. They’ve gone all in on the cultural grievances of working class, white, Christian men. Any grievance that isn’t shared by this group is ignored, if not treated with outright hostility and opposition.
It’s not primarily a populist or class based movement,Time123 (6e0727) — 3/11/2021 @ 4:05 am
The Evangelical angle is certainly one of wanting the biggest SOB fighting for their side…..as they largely see things as an existential struggle between the righteous and non-righteous. They want to be able to muscle society back to 1950….and who better than a bully like Trump…to at least give voice to every fear, hatred, anger, and insecurity the group harbors. So little of it has anything to do with the gospel….unless it’s the gospel of Hannity….and what cultural slight we must exaggerate. This isn’t about loving your enemy or doing for the least of these….this is about opposing liberalism and all of the cultural rot that they associate with it….and masking it in the veneer of religion.AJ_Liberty (a4ff25) — 3/11/2021 @ 5:35 am
Time123 – agreed.
As for further evidence of the support Republicans give to the working class, 25 Senate Republicans just introduced a bill to eliminate the estate tax. Currently the estate tax exempts the first 11 million of the estate. My guess is that it will be hard for them to find even one poor struggling family farmer whose family will be ruined by this onerous penalty on wealth, but I am sure they are looking even now.Victor (4959fb) — 3/11/2021 @ 9:04 am
When I think about French’s observations about white evangelicals, I also think about what Beth Moore has gone through, enough for her to sever ties from the Southern Baptists and her publisher, Lifeway.Paul Montagu (77c694) — 3/11/2021 @ 9:28 am
It still amazes that so many Christ followers aren’t seeing Trump for the man that he really is.
David French continues to express the acceptable bigotry of the left: attacking either Christians and/or white males.NJRob (eb56c3) — 3/11/2021 @ 9:37 am
Considering Catholic doctrine says the exact same thing about Protestants I’m not sure what your issue is?NJRob (eb56c3) — 3/11/2021 @ 9:39 am
Beth Moore, a Prominent Evangelical, Splits With Southern Baptists
Now, one of the most prominent white evangelical women in the United States is breaking with her longtime denomination, the Southern Baptist Convention, citing the “staggering” disorientation of seeing its leaders support Mr. Trump, and the cultural and spiritual fallout from that support.
“There comes a time when you have to say, this is not who I am,” Beth Moore, told Religion News Service in an interview published on Tuesday. “I am still a Baptist, but I can no longer identify with Southern Baptists,” she added.
Her stature in the movement poses a serious challenge for the Southern Baptist Convention, which has already been embroiled for years in debates not just about Mr. Trump, but about racism, misogyny and the handling of sexual abuse cases. Its membership is in decline.
Her departure is “tectonic in its reverberations,” said Jemar Tisby, the president of a Black Christian collective called the Witness. “Beth Moore has more influence and more cachet with Southern Baptists, especially white Southern Baptist women, than the vast majority of Southern Baptist pastors or other leaders. So her leaving is not just about one individual.”
In 2018, she published a letter to her “brothers in Christ” sharing her bruising experiences with sexism as a female leader in the conservative Christian world. On Twitter, where she now has more than 950,000 followers, she has denounced Christian nationalism, the “demonic stronghold” of white supremacy and “the sexism & misogyny that is rampant in segments of the SBC.”
Already, Ms. Moore’s departure is showing how her denomination is changing, and purifying itself into a more unyielding form of orthodoxy.
“The fact that Beth Moore joyfully promotes herself as a woman who preaches to men is only the tip of the iceberg of her problematic positions,” Tom Buck, senior pastor of First Baptist Church of Lindale, Texas, said in a post online following the news.
“I sincerely wish Mrs. Moore had repented rather than left,” he wrote. “But if she refuses to repent, I am glad she is gone from the S.B.C. Sadly, leaving the S.B.C. won’t fix what is wrong with Beth Moore.”
But for some of Ms. Moore’s fans, her departure already feels liberating.Rip Murdock (d2a2a8) — 3/11/2021 @ 9:53 am
His issues, from his comment, is that the Evangelical’s he’s met have by negative towards him because he doesn’t share their faith. Seems like a straightforward complaint.Time123 (b4d075) — 3/11/2021 @ 10:01 am
H’es beginning to scceed, according to a front page story in today’s New York Times: (according to the newspaper she hasn’t been OK with Trump since 2016, but now, they’re not ssaying what happened, but she’s lost faith in her denomination.
The New York Times is cheering on the decline of the Southern Baptist Convention.Sammy Finkelman (4227f2) — 3/11/2021 @ 10:01 am
An assertion that cannot be supported from the source material.Time123 (6e0727) — 3/11/2021 @ 10:01 am
Except what he expressed was not bigotry, and he doesn’t speak for the Left.Paul Montagu (77c694) — 3/11/2021 @ 10:07 am
A white male Christian who criticizes Donald Trump and the weirdly religious devotion to him is obviously bigoted against white male Christians!Radegunda (f4d5c0) — 3/11/2021 @ 10:34 am
@NJRob@17 It doesn’t. There was a clarification of doctrine in Vatican II. However my point was that I don’t know enough to be able to look at the evangelical community and figure out what they are thinking and/or why.Nic (896fdf) — 3/11/2021 @ 10:54 am
It’s 2021; French is irrelevant.
Spanish is more practical these days. 😉DCSCA (f4c5e5) — 3/11/2021 @ 10:59 am
Not if you want to watch Alain Delon films — though a few of his big early roles were in Italian films (where acting and speaking were often separate activities).Radegunda (f4d5c0) — 3/11/2021 @ 11:46 am
Nic, what did you mean by the above if it wasn’t that they’d been negative towards you due to your faith?Time123 (b4d075) — 3/11/2021 @ 12:07 pm
evidently vox is where you go to reach evangelicals
vox knew exactly what they wanted from french and he deliveredJF (3efb60) — 3/11/2021 @ 12:43 pm
“Except what he expressed was not bigotry, and he doesn’t speak for the Left.”
Anyone who doesn’t praise Trump is on the left, and any criticism is bigotry.Davethulhu (6ba00b) — 3/11/2021 @ 12:47 pm
@Time@27 Basically my overall point of the whole paragraph was that I don’t have a lot of experience with the evangelical community and that the experience I had had wasn’t generally positive so I couldn’t really give an opinion about what they thought and any opinion I did give would probably be at least somewhat biased. However, yes, that particular sentence was a statement that I had a negative experience due to my faith.Nic (896fdf) — 3/11/2021 @ 12:50 pm
Back during the 2015-16 primary season, I would criticize Trump on other sites and be called a leftist, a Hillary-lover, a Bernie-lover, and even un-American. The substance of the criticism was irrelevant.Radegunda (f4d5c0) — 3/11/2021 @ 1:10 pm
It’s also weird how “Republican in Name Only” has come to mean “lifelong Republicans who haven’t made Donald Trump their infallible guide on political purity.” And the term is used in that sense by the same people who talk scornfully about “purity tests.”
Until he moved a few years ago, I lived less than half an hour away from David French. When Bill Kristol anointed him as a candidate for President in 2016, I discovered nobody in Columbia, Tennessee (French’s supposed hometown) had heard of David French.DN (eb9ca3) — 3/14/2021 @ 5:36 pm
@32 Mark 6:4, NIV: “Jesus said to them, ‘A prophet is not without honor except in his own town, among his relatives and in his own home. ‘”norcal (50c207) — 3/14/2021 @ 10:25 pm