IF WE LEARNED nothing else from the 2016 election cycle, we certainly learned this: the religious right is morally bankrupt—utterly and profoundly so.
You don’t have to look far to see proof of this, but one of the chief exhibits is Richard Land, formerly a lobbyist for the Southern Baptist Convention and now president of Southern Evangelical Seminary in Charlotte, North Carolina.
Land has barely been able to contain himself since the election. As part of an ongoing and rather pathetic campaign to keep his name in the media, Land (or, more accurately, some poor soul who serves as his press agent) has put forth a steady stream of press releases. In late December he issued one claiming that people were saying “Merry Christmas” again, and it was all due to the election of Donald Trump.
“The whole tone has shifted in this country since November 8,” Land gushed in his release. “In fact, just a few days after the election, I had several people say to me, ‘Merry Christmas! Wow, it’s OK to say that now!’”
I don’t know the people Land hangs out with, but I have to wonder if they were really reluctant to wish him Merry Christmas during the Obama years. Did they think something would happen to them if they did? If so, Land must have a lot of paranoid pals. Put simply, no advocate of church-state separation cares one whit about the type of holiday greeting Land receives from his friends.
But there’s a real issue lurking beneath the surface of Land’s triumphalism, and it’s an uncomfortable one—or it should be for Land, anyway. His decision to climb into bed with Trump demonstrates the paucity of moral values he and his cronies so often claim to champion.
Land, Ralph Reed, Tony Perkins, Jerry Falwell Jr., and others have adopted a kind of post-Christ Christianity; it’s a shell of that faith without its founder. And Trump is the perfect emissary for them. He’s everything the gospels say Jesus was not—crass, boorish, narcissistic, and full of anger.
Immature, vain, power-hungry, and incredibly thin-skinned, Trump’s the kind of guy who throws a tantrum because photos of the National Mall clearly show that fewer people attended his inauguration than President Barack Obama’s in 2009. Yet the mogul of New York City and the prince of reality TV showcased his negotiating skills by expertly playing right-wing evangelicals like Land and his gang. They didn’t need much spinning and sold their integrity for the promise of another Antonin Scalia on the Supreme Court.
Ironically, the people who so loudly proclaim the truth of their faith as an absolute moral standard have now embraced the post-truth candidate. (For more on this, see my J/F 2016 column, “Humanists and the Rise of ‘Post-Truth America.”)
Post-truth is stretched to the point where now they would have us believe that a thrice-married casino magnate who boasts about sexually assaulting women, ridicules disabled people, and who is, by all measures, biblically illiterate, is capable of leading a moral revival.
It’s telling that Trump’s spiritual advisor is Paula White, an avaricious TV preacher whose “prosperity gospel” is a get-rich-quick scheme covered by a patina of faith so thin the merest scratch exposes the rot underneath. (Who gets rich under White’s theology? Well, White for starters.)
This rattling church bus will crash, of course, because it has no brakes, and its driver, Trump, has no idea what he’s doing and may in fact not be sane. Trump may surround himself with a bevy of far-right factotums, but at the end of the day, the man lacks the temperament, patience, intelligence, and simple decency to lead the free world. No amount of false piety or lies can mask his shortcomings.
When the inevitable collision comes, Land and his fellow theocrats will likely console themselves with thoughts of a nativity scene that someone managed to erect on the marble stairs of a courthouse somewhere for three days in mid-December. They’ll likely have little to say to the LGBTQ people who’ve been relegated to second-class citizenship, the women who’ve been denied access to birth control, and the parents whose child’s public school is losing money to a voucher plan.
Having made a political pact with a man whose campaign was anchored in division, fear, hate, rage, insults, and lies, religious right leaders must now deal with the consequences. They probably don’t care, but the rest of us do—and we are watching.
Some of those who are watching may surprise you. Yes, many people are resisting deportation to “post-truth America,” and among them is Jon Fea, who teaches American history at Messiah College in Mechanicsburg, Pennsylvania. As its name implies, Messiah is a Christian institution, and Fea is one of a handful of evangelicals who have dared to rebuke their coreligionists for making this Faustian bargain.
“Trump’s claims about the size of the crowds at his inauguration and widespread voter fraud are simply not true,” Fea wrote in a recent column for Religion News Service. “Either he is woefully misinformed, has allowed his narcissistic personality to get in the way of the facts, or is deliberately trying to deceive the American people. All three are probably true.”
Pointing out that “Christians believe that lying is a sinful practice,” Fea added, “The last time I checked, Christians stood for things that are true. With this in mind, why don’t I hear a massive chorus of evangelical Christians—especially the 81 percent of Christians who voted for Trump—calling the POTUS to task?”
Humanists might disagree with Fea’s assertion that Christians stand for things that are true. Plenty of them these days, it seems, have put truth aside in their quest for political power.
It’s appalling—and that’s why humanists must join principled believers like Fea in calling out the hypocrites of the religious right. Let’s begin by reminding them, at every opportunity, that they have no right to judge us. We will no longer tolerate being lectured on righteous behavior by a pack of self-proclaimed moral majoritarians who’ve been led into a moral sewer by Trump.
The leadership of the religious right had precious little moral authority prior to the rise of Trump. What tiny bit was left evaporated when they decided to march with him and take up residence in post-truth America.