Evangelicals Are Politically Irrelevant
A plurality of evangelicals voted for Donald Trump in the Nevada caucus. 41% voted for The Donald; 26% voted for Cruz.
What exactly does evangelicals’ support for a man like Trump signify?
First, it reveals the extent to which many evangelicals have been assimilated into secularist culture. The evangelical call to confront the corruption of culture rather than to rationalize and to assimilate it has been badly weakened over decades. Many evangelicals have absorbed and imitated the celebrity and secularist political culture, swimming with the tide rather than against it.
How did the assimilation of evangelicals into the secularist word happen?
It happened much as the Hellenization of the Jews of the Diaspora occurred. Alexander the Great and his successors insisted Jews assimilate into Greek culture. Circumcision, a religious rite considered barbaric mutilation by the Greeks, was forbidden; Jewish youths were expected to compete naked in Greek games; Jewish holidays were renamed and celebration of them forbidden. Under Antiochus, the Torah was banned under threat of death, and the Sabbath was not to be observed. Much pressure was put on the Jews, who were considered an indigestible cultural subgroup as long as they retained their religious differences, to convert to Greek ways. Many did, seeing that if success was to be had in the Seleucid world, capitulation to Greek mores was necessary.
Christians in America have been under similar pressure. They have seen their children forbidden to read the bible in public schools, forced to accept “gender free” bathrooms in which ten-year-old girls are to share restroom facilities with grown men who have declared themselves women; seen their holiday celebrating the birth of Christ turned into a secularist Saturnalia; watched as their college-age youths are ordered to stomp on pictures of Jesus, and seen their children forced to study and to recite the tenets of the Muslim faith.
At work, evangelicals are under constant pressure to be silent about their faith and to stifle talk of sexual morality under threat of losing their jobs or businesses because of so-called “hate speech.” It has been easier to stay silent or to capitulate to the multicultural, secularist world view.
In large numbers, evangelicals have surrendered rather than fight.
Further, the Hellenization of American Christians has meant the shared consensus among evangelical Christians and practicing Catholics concerning Christian social values has broken down. For instance, at one time, both could be counted on to oppose abortion, stand for marriage between a man and a woman and support the traditional family. Most could be counted on to support the Constitution.
But the numbers of evangelical Christians who voted for Trump South Carolina primary and the Nevada caucus reveal those assumptions are no longer true. The moral consensus that once existed among Catholics and evangelicals has broken down due to secularist assimilation outlined above.
The trend that has hastened nearly complete assimilation of evangelicals (and other formerly orthodox Christian churches) into secularist culture is long standing, having begun a century or more ago with the erosion of two foundational Christian beliefs. One was the denial of Christ as the Son of God. Albert Schweitzer’s Quest for the Historical Jesus and similar books trashed the orthodox Christian belief Christ was more than mere man; that indeed, Jesus was and is God incarnate. Rather, Jesus was seen only as a prophet and teacher among many equal prophets and teachers.
The multiculturalist view of Jesus, plus the destruction of another core foundation for evangelical belief -- namely, the idea that the Bible is supernaturally inspired revelation from God to us -- shook to the foundations evangelicals’ belief in the authority of Christ and scripture over the affairs of men.
After huge victories over societal corruptions such as slavery, the erosion of foundational beliefs meant that evangelicals began to back off from involvement in political affairs. Attempts to regroup were largely characterized by withdrawal into what now is essentially a subculture that does not effectively confront the intellectual challenges presented by an aggressive and anti-Christian secularism promoted in the past by such authors as Bertrand Russell and H.L. Mencken -- and in the near past by people like the late Christopher Hitchens and Madalyn Murray O’Hair.
The failure to meaningfully and powerfully engage challenges to Christianity effectively resulted in a kindergarten mentality Christianity that could not hold up under the kind of withering ridicule dealt out by Clarence Darrow to William Jennings Bryan in the famous Scopes “Monkey Trial.”
Evangelicals retreated into emphases on personal piety and self-examination that largely avoided confrontation of an increasingly secularist culture. Alas, for not a few of the extreme fundamentalist variety of Christians, the speeches of politicians like Huey Long, Orval Faubus, and now Donald Trump have had a revivalist fire and brimstone Devil-may-care tone some are attracted to, regardless of the fact such politicians’ secularist faith and mores are unalterably opposed to Christian values. Anger looks like strength.
There were and are notable exceptions to the secularist trends, of course. People of renowned scholarship like J. Gresham Machen, a great thinker and founder of Westminster Seminary, a man whom even H.L. Mencken admired, did take a stand against the erosion of Christianity’s core foundations, worrying openly about issues like the corruption of public education. Calvinist theologian Francis Schaeffer attempted to confront the deterioration of Western culture; and notable writers like Alexander Solzhenitsyn also took a stand against the corruption of the West, noting the slide from Christian belief into reductionist secularist dogma. There were and are others, of course.
But such holdouts are now few, and those who do take a stand often speak in the incomprehensible language of academic theology or the subtext of narrow, hyper-denominationalism. Coupled with the prevalence of the kindergarten variety of evangelicalism among masses of Christians, the lack of meaningful and comprehensible intellectual and spiritual firepower has meant the tide of secularism has overwhelmed millions of evangelicals, including evangelical youths.
What does the assimilative trend going on in the world of evangelicals portend in the world of politics?
Essentially, shrewd political observers now understand clearly the emperor has no clothes. There is nothing to fear from the now naked “Christian voting bloc.” The stunning fragmentation of evangelicals and the ease with which they have been persuaded to vote for candidates who do not hold anything even approximate to Christian values essentially means evangelicals are not worth courting for votes. It also means any given candidate will no longer have to give even lip service to Christian values, as evangelicals have demonstrated millions of them no longer have a distinct moral voice from that of the surrounding culture.
The social issues deemed so important to Christians for decades, abortion being but one example, will no longer count in most politicians’ minds -- not when so-called people of faith by the hundreds of thousands have voted for Trump, a man who is almost rabidly pro-abortion.
Secular politicians, doubtless relieved they will no longer have to put up any pretense at holding Christian values, will see it is a far more politically savvy tactic to promote identity politics, seeking to cobble together the disaffected and the victimized. Aligning one’s self with the social values of Christian voters will be considered drinking a cup of political hemlock.
Last, and perhaps most importantly, evangelicals have demonstrated they have really absorbed the Leftist position demanding draconian separation of church and state. They have revealed they are content with their subculture; content to leave the wider cultural arena, including politics and government, in the control of secularists. Even many evangelical preachers, once megaphones against corruption of the culture, have acceded to secularism out of fear of retribution or from weakness stemming from reluctance to confront the anti-Christian trends within and without the church.
What more loudly trumpets the surrender of evangelicals to the broader cultural capitulation to the world, the flesh, and the Devil than the support for Trump given by Jerry Falwell, Jr., president of Liberty University, one of evangelicalism’s foremost institutions? Is there a more obvious and unrepentant secularist than Donald Trump?
Falwell’s complete capitulation, along with Catholics like Phyllis Schlafly who have joined the Trump secularist bandwagon, means the acceptance and reinforcement of a basic tenet of the Left; namely, that there really is to be a wall of separation between faith and the world. We leftists will take over and run the real stuff. You evangelicals can have your church rituals.
In sum, evangelicals have not only helped build the wall of separation, but they are living behind it in their own closed communities.
What the departure from former values and the support of a raging secularist means for the future of evangelicals in general is open to speculation.
But one can hazard a guess that after seeing the soft underbelly impotency of evangelicals in the realm of politics, the Left will ratchet up its attacks on Christian individuals and organizations opposing the leftist agenda. The reasoning will be something like this: What is there to fear? So many evangelicals are not that much different than us!
As Michael Novak wrote in National Review in 2002, we will see what happens as religion is increasingly pulled out from the foundations of the republic. Alexis de Tocqueville, Novak wrote, “reflected more deeply on the inherent weaknesses of democracy, stripped of religion, than anybody at the ACLU today:”
“Tocqueville began with a shocker: That the first political institution of American democracy is religion. His thesis went something like this: The premises of secular materialism do not sustain democracy, but undermine it, while the premises of Judaism and Christianity include and by inductive experience lead to democracy, uplift it, carry it over its inherent weaknesses, and sustain it.
[Because of its] own inherent tendencies, democracy tends to lower tastes and passions, to devolve into materialistic preoccupations, and to undercut its own principles by a morally indifferent relativism. Further, democracy left to itself tends to surrender liberty to the passion for security and equality, and thus to end in a new soft despotism, tied down with a thousand silken threads by a benign authority.”
What are evangelicals thinking when they rush to support a politician whose secular materialism and morally indifferent relativism does not sustain democracy but undermines it? What are they thinking when they surrender the premises of Judaism and Christianity, premises that uplift the republic, carry it over its inherent weaknesses, and sustain it?
The answer to that is that too many evangelicals are not thinking. They have forgotten what Christianity means to the security of the Republic. As de Tocqueville wrote:
“I have already said enough to put Anglo-American civilization in its true light. It is the product of two perfectly distinct elements which elsewhere have often been at war with one another but which in America it was somehow possible to incorporate into each other, forming a marvellous combination. I mean the spirit of religion and the spirit of freedom... Far from harming each other, these two apparently opposed tendencies work in harmony and seem to lend mutual support.”
In de Tocqueville’s words lie a remedy for evangelicals’ capitulation to the premises of a secular materialism that ultimately promotes tyranny rather than republicanism.
If evangelicals, along with other Christians, return to promoting both the spirit of religion and the spirit of freedom, there may yet be hope for our country.
If they once again seek to articulate a Christian world view that encompasses all aspects of society, including world of politics, they may yet have something to say.
They may even escape being ignored in the political process.
Fay Voshell holds a M.Div. from Princeton Theological Seminary, which awarded her a prize for excellence in systematic theology. She is a frequent contributor to American Thinker. Her thoughts have appeared in many online publications, including National Review, CNS, RealClearReligion, and Fox News. She may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org