Michael Gerson: Evangelicals reshaped in Trump's image

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It has always struck me as strange that a narrative about genocide — Noah and the ark — should be employed as a children's story. As the other boys and girls in Sunday school focused on the cuteness of the rescued animals, I remember thinking about the mass of humanity desperately clawing to get into Noah's boat. This exposed an early tendency to see the glass half empty — particularly when it contained so many floating corpses.

Fresh off the boat, according to the biblical account, Noah plants a vineyard, gets drunk and lies naked in his tent. This is a source of consternation to Noah's sons, who don't want to see the dark side, much less the backside, of their father. So they cover him with a handy duvet.

I thought of drunk, naked Noah while reading the Public Religion Research Institute's 2019 American Values Survey. In its pages, white evangelical Protestants (WEPs) are fully disrobed. And it is an embarrassing sight.

Republicans who are WEPs are the most likely group to say that immigrants are invading America and changing its culture. More than 90 percent of WEPs favor more restrictive immigration policies. They support the policy of family separation at the border more strongly than other religious groups, and more strongly than Americans as a whole.

How have we come to this point? The answer is simple enough. Rather than shaping President Trump's agenda in Christian ways, they have been reshaped into the image of Trump himself. Or, more accurately, they have become involved in a political throuple with Trump and Fox News, in which each feeds the grievances and conspiracy thinking of the others.

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The result has properly been called cult-like. According to the PRRI poll, nearly two-thirds of WEPs deny that Trump has damaged the dignity of his office. Ponder that a moment. Well over half of this group is willing to deny a blindingly obvious, entirely irrefutable, manifestly clear reality because it is perceived as being critical of their leader. Thirty-one percent say there is almost nothing that Trump could do to forfeit their approval. This is preemptive permission for any violation of the moral law or the constitutional order. It is not support; it is obeisance.

An extraordinary 99 percent of white evangelical Protestants oppose the impeachment and removal of the president — which probably puts me in the smallest political minority I have ever had the honor of occupying.

If Donald Trump survives the impeachment process, and somehow wins a second term, many explanations will be offered. One will be because evangelicals lost their taste for character, and gave their blessing to corruption. And this grand act of hypocrisy would mark them for a generation.

The reform of evangelicalism is probably the work of men and women of a rising generation, who have significantly different views and values from their elders. About two-thirds of young white evangelicals believe that immigrants strengthen the country.

It is in the order of things that a younger generation should challenge the views and values of its parents. It is a source of cynicism and social disruption when an older generation betrays civilizing values in full sight of its children. Many evangelical leaders now lie drunk, naked and exposed.

Michael Gerson is an op-ed columnist for The Washington Post. The opinions expressed by columnists do not necessarily reflect the views of the Brattleboro Reformer.


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