by David Gushee
The biggest religion news story of the 2016 election is erupting before our eyes. It is the continued vocal support of Donald Trump by public figures of the Christian Right brand. Secondarily, it is the rupture between these men and other conservative Christians who almost always support the GOP but have abandoned or rejected Trump’s candidacy.
This rupture pits mainly 0lder conservative white male institutional leaders like Tony Perkins, Robert Jeffress, Ralph Reed, Pat Robertson, and most visibly Jerry Falwell, Jr., against just about everyone else — other institutional leaders, like Russell Moore, popular authors, like Max Lucado, and a host of significant evangelical women, like Beth Moore. And that is not to mention the progressive evangelicals, like myself, who have opposed Mr. Trump from the beginning on policy grounds.
It also sets the #StillTrump Christians against both leadership and rank-and-file Mormons, their erstwhile allies in conservative religious politics. This raises uncomfortable questions, at least for evangelicals, about which group has the more reliable moral compass. It’s uncomfortable because many evangelicals are bewildered by Mormon theology and hardly count the group as fellow Christians.
As a witness to evangelical political engagement since the birth of the Christian Right in the late 1970s, nothing surprises me anymore. And I can offer an easy enough analysis of why the old warriors of the Christian Right are staying with Donald Trump. It comes down to three main reasons — partisanship, policy, and Hillary — and one main delusion, that a President Trump would keep his promises to the Christian Right.
Partisanship: There is no more reliable GOP voting bloc than white conservative Christians. This outcome is the product of forty years of effort to fuse the two identities — Christian, Republican — on the part of both GOP operatives and Christian Right leaders. But it also represents forty years of stated policy and values alignment between conservative white Christians and the GOP, at least on a selected range of issues.
Policy: The Christian Right has for forty years highlighted a “traditional values” policy agenda. Originally it was anti-feminist, anti-gay, and anti-abortion. The anti-feminism was the first to be (mainly) dropped, though just maybe it is surfacing again right now; the anti-gay agenda is latent and would be much more visible with a different presidential candidate, and the anti-abortion agenda is going strong. Today the religious-liberty-for- conservative-Christians agenda has rocketed up alongside the others. As long as GOP presidential candidates promise to advance at least the anti-abortion and religious-liberty agendas by appointing the right kind of judges, they gain and keep Christian Right support.
SOURCE: Religion News Service