Thursday, October 27, 2016

Trump as stressor -- yet another evangelical edition

I've been arguing for a while that the evangelical movement has largely been gutted of its once central religious aspects and left with little more than a social reactionary agenda and a sharp tendency to vote Republican. This gutting did create significant tension in the movement but the rumblings were fairly quiet and attracted little outside attention until the arrival of Trump threw everything into high relief.

Eric Zorn of the Chicago Tribune lists some of the reasons why devout, Bible-toting evangelicals are having so much trouble with the GOP ticket.
During a televised interview with John Heilemann and Mark Halperin of Bloomberg Politics in August 2015, …

"Are you an Old Testament guy or a New Testament guy?" Heilemann asked.

"Probably equal," Trump said. "I think it's just incredible, the whole Bible is incredible."

Later that month at a news conference in South Carolina, he said "I am Presbyterian Protestant. I go to Marble Collegiate Church ... as often as I can, a lot."

Two problems with that. First, Marble Collegiate, on New York's 5th Avenue, is a Reformed, not Presbyterian, church. And second, though the Trump family does have a history of attending Marble, officials there quickly sent a statement to CNN saying Trump "is not an active member."

[Speaking as a lapsed Presbyterian, do you have any idea how little attendance it takes to be an active member of that denomination? If you showed up for Easter service back in 2010, you're probably still on the mailing list. -- MP]

The following month, David Brody of the Christian Broadcasting Network asked Trump on camera why it was he expressed such fondness for the Bible.

"So many things, like you know, you take, whatever you want to say, there's so many things that you can learn from it," Trump said. "Proverbs. The chapter, 'never bend to envy.' I've had that thing all of my life where people are bending to envy."

It probably won't surprise you to learn that the words "never bend to envy" do not appear in any common translations of the Bible.

Trump plunged on in, full essay-exam mode, emulating the wheel-spinning argle-bargle of a middle school student trying to fill up the blank space under a test question with halfway plausible verbiage.

"And there's just, actually, it's an incredible book, so many things you can learn from the Bible," he told Brody. "And you can lead your life — and I'm not just talking in terms of religion I'm talking in terms of leading a life even beyond a religion. There are so many brilliant things in the Bible. … The Bible is the most special thing."


That unfamiliarity showed up again in April when host Bob Lonsberry of WHAM-AM in Rochester, N.Y., broached the subject in a phone interview: "Is there a favorite Bible verse or Bible story that has informed your thinking or your character through life, sir?"

"Well, I think many," answered the would-be exegete-in-chief. "I mean, you know, when we get into the Bible, I think many, so many. And I tell people, look, 'An eye for an eye,' you can almost say that."

You can, sure.

But not only is "An eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth" an Old Testament verse that condones barbaric vengeance ("… hand for hand, foot for foot," it goes on, "burn for burn, wound for wound, bruise for bruise") it was also expressly repudiated by Jesus in the Sermon on the Mount: "You have heard that it was said, 'Eye for eye, and tooth for tooth.' But I tell you, do not resist an evil person. If anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to them the other cheek also" (Matthew 5:38-39).

Is Trump the first politician to exaggerate his piety in order to win favor with the American public, 70 percent of which identifies as Christian and 6 percent of which identifies as belonging to another faith tradition?

No, but he's the worst at it — the most transparent — that we've ever seen on the national stage.

Despite all to this, Trump will probably still do well with the evangelical vote, but his long-term impact on the movement remains very much an open question.

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