It’s no secret that President Trump and the Republican Party’s capitulation to him at the expense of long-held principles and simple decency have distressed many who spent decades in the party. Some have thrown up their hands in disgust; other consider themselves “Republicans in exile.” (Tom Nichols writes, “I actively want to see the Republicans defeated — soundly — in 2018 (and in 2020, if the president is not primaried out of his seat). Where I was once unaffiliated but quietly cheering on conservatives, I am now a member of a party I want to see cast into the political wilderness for a few years — or longer, if that’s what it takes to break the fever.”) To say that it has been disorienting for many conservative opponents of Trump (whether in permanent or temporary exile) would be to understate how bizarre it feels to many to now be cheering on liberals who defend the rule of law and rooting for Republicans to get clobbered in November.
However, political discombobulation is nothing compared with the dilemma of people of faith who see not only a party but also a faith community gone bonkers. For anti-Trump Republicans, the president has hijacked their party; for evangelical anti-Trumpers, the “values voter” crowd is sullying their church.
Peter Wehner, of the Ethics and Public Policy Center, movingly tells us:
What bothers me is that to a watching world, they see these self-proclaimed evangelical leaders speaking and they think, “Is this what it represents? Is this what it means?” There is so much hypocrisy here. And there’s an entire story to be told about giving grace and redemption to a broken world, and helping bring healing in people’s lives, individually and in the life of a country; and that you can lift people’s eyes, in the words of the Psalmists, to look to the hills above.
That is something to me that’s quite real, and so when you have these people who themselves are making professions of faith, and calling themselves preeminently evangelical leaders, with this clown show going on, and this rank hypocrisy – using arguments that they themselves condemned during the Clinton years, and now flipping it around – this is bad, and there has to be a counter-narrative. And in the end people of faith who have a different view of what it stands for, I just think have to speak up… But finally, people themselves, who have a different view of what this means, have to, in their own lives, offer an alternative to it, and in the end hope that that story is one that will be more compelling than this one.
This raises several issues. First, it is easy — because members of the Trump evangelical cadre are so loud and such media hounds — to think that all evangelicals excuse and support Trump. This is false, and several prominent evangelical leaders have been courageous in standing up to the president and their fellow evangelicals. Those outside the evangelical community (Right Turn included) should not tar all evangelicals, but rather, show support and empathy for those who may be ostracized in their church and social circles. Second, it behooves the media to press Trump apologists who fancy themselves as leaders of “values voters” why they continue to give Trump “cover” to behave and speak in outrageous ways. Third, we should not get sucked into a downward spiral of whataboutism (“But Hillary …” Who cares? She lost.) or nihilism (All politicians are bad guys. Yeah, but some are worse than others. A lot worse.).
We trust that the self-styled “faith leaders” who acted as apologists for Trump will not be treated well by history. They’ve not only helped create the Trumpian brand of politics (cruel, crude, xenophobic, polarized) but damaged the reputation of their religious movements. And the latter is a shame, since sincere people of faith have much to contribute — reminding us of the principles of religious freedom for all (not just Christians), decency toward immigrants and the worth of every person.