BILL BERKOWITZ FOR BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT
Over the years, there have been numerous examples of powerful, popular and hypocritical Religious Right leaders and televangelists. Who can forget the Rev. Jimmy Swaggart balling on television, after his dalliances with prostitutes was exposed? Or televangelist Jim Bakker serving prison time for fleecing his flock out of millions of dollars, and enjoying his own brand of sexual peccadilloes? Or the Rev. Ted Haggard, the former head of the National Association of Evangelicals and founder and pastor of New Life Church in Colorado Springs, Colorado, who was caught up in a sex and drugs scandal? Those scandalous incidents, pale in comparison to today's evangelical leaders whose unbridled support for Donald Trump, takes hypocrisy to a much deeper level.
In his quest to become America's number one preacher, Franklin Graham, the son of the evangelist Billy Graham, has instead become one of the most unhinged leaders on the Religious Right. "Never in my lifetime have we had a Potus willing to take such a strong outspoken stand for the Christian faith like Donald Trump," Graham tweeted. Dallas pastor Robert Jeffress, an early and outspoken supporter of Trump, sees Trump as God's messenger: "God intervened in our election and out Donald Trump in the Oval Office for a great purpose." And, of course there's Liberty University's Jerry Falwell, Jr., another early and unwavering supporter of the thrice-married, pussy grabbing president.
Why do Graham, Jeffress, Falwell, Jr., and other conservative evangelicals have no qualms about embracing Trump?
It can't be about Trump's personal religious commitment, since he basically has none. It can't be Trump's commitment to feeding the poor, caring for the sick, and defending human rights for all people, because the president isn't interested in any of that. And neither apparently are the current crop of conservative evangelical leaders.
To paraphrase Rod Tidwell, played by Cuba Gooding, Jr., in the film "Jerry Maguire," "Show me political power!"
As Amy Sullivan wrote in a recent column in The New York Times headlined A Very Merry War on Christmas, "What critics" of the hypocrisy of these leaders "don't recognize is that the nationalistic, race-baiting, fear-mongering form of politics enthusiastically practiced by Mr. Trump and Roy Moore in Alabama is central to a new strain of American evangelicalism."
These leaders are embracing what Sullivan calls "Fox evangelicalism." Sullivan, a contributing editor for Time magazine where she writes for Swampland, the magazine's political blog, the author of The Party Faithful, and the host of the podcast, "Impolite Company," points out that "Fox evangelicals don't back Mr. Trump despite their beliefs, but because of them."
Since the advent of the New Right in the late 1970s, there has been a concerted, and ultimately highly successful, effort to merge conservative politics with conservative evangelicalism. Recognizing the growth of religious right organizations such as the Moral Majority, Christian Coalition, Family Research Council, the American Family Association, and Focus on the Family, and others, conservative institutions such as the Heritage Foundation, the American Enterprise Institute began adopting key items of the conservative evangelical agenda. Economic conservatives recognized the power of the ground game that religious right organizations had at their disposal.
While it began as a relationship of political convenience, over the past forty-plus years, it has morphed into a full-fledged marriage.
Interestingly, as times have changed evangelicalism has changed as well. And with Trump in the White House, conservative evangelicals are buying into white nationalism, xenophobia, with what Sullivan describes as "the barest veneer of religiosity."
"Christmas is back, better and bigger than ever before," Trump bellowed to adoring crowds in Florida and Utah.
The so-called War on Christmas is only one example of Trump carrying a message that Christians in America are under attack by the liberal establishment, a message that conservative Christians embrace. This "homegrown Fox News cause," has allowed Trump to be seen "as the defender of the Christian holiday." And for that, conservative evangelical Christians are eternally grateful.
The results of this particular battle, writes Sullivan, is that "the War on Christmas has moved one of the holiest Christian days out of the church and into the secular realm."
"The regular Fox News viewer, whether or not he is a churchgoer, takes in a steady stream of messages that conflate being white and conservative and evangelical with being American," Sullivan pointed out.
Sullivan reported that a survey by LifeWay Research, a Christian organization, found that "while one-quarter of Americans consider themselves 'evangelical,' less than half that group actually holds traditional evangelical beliefs. For others, 'evangelical' effectively functions as a cultural label, unmoored from theological meaning."
Evangelical thinking about God and faith has expanded to incorporate blatant white nationalism, anti-immigration, and guns as their own holy trinity.
Sullivan posited that "Fear and distrust of outsiders – in conflict with numerous biblical teaching to 'welcome the stranger' – also explain Fox evangelicals' strong support for the Trump administration's efforts to bar refugees and restrict travel to the United States from several majority-Muslim nations."
Pastors attempting to counter-act Fox evangelism have little time to spread their messages in comparison to the time Fox evangelicals spend watching Fox. Jonathan Martin, described by Sullivan as "an Oklahoma pastor and popular evangelical writer, told her that "Now the Bible's increasingly irrelevant. It's just 'us versus them.'"