The righteousness of the perfect shall direct his way: but the wicked shall fall by his own wickedness. The righteousness of the upright shall deliver them: but transgressors shall be taken in their own naughtiness. When a wicked man dieth, his expectation shall perish: and the hope of unjust men perisheth. The righteous is delivered out of trouble, and the wicked cometh in his stead. An hypocrite with his mouth destroyeth his neighbour: but through knowledge shall the just be delivered. When it goeth well with the righteous, the city rejoiceth: and when the wicked perish, there is shouting. By the blessing of the upright the city is exalted: but it is overthrown by the mouth of the wicked. He that is void of wisdom despiseth his neighbour: but a man of understanding holdeth his peace. A talebearer revealeth secrets: but he that is of a faithful spirit concealeth the matter. Where no counsel is, the people fall: but in the multitude of counsellors there is safety. He that is surety for a stranger shall smart for it: and he that hateth suretiship is sure.
— Proverbs 11:5-15
I personally have faith that Joe Biden will make a great president. He has the contacts in Washington to hopefully get things done. Of course, it will be easier if both Democratic candidates win their run-off races in Georgia. However, the first few months will undoubtedly be difficult because he will enter the presidency in the middle of an ever-worsening pandemic and replace a president who refuses to concede or allow for Biden’s transition team to move forward. Republicans are claiming that Trump has the right to move through the court system to delegitimize the election. They claim, “What harm could it do?” The symbolism of a graceful concession is more important than the nuts and bolts of the handoff, especially for a president-elect with Biden’s vast experience, though especially in this pandemic, the nuts and bolts do matter. Hebrews 11:1 defines faith as “the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.” Trump is petulantly weakening a divided nation’s faith in its hoped-for and unseen foundational ideals—and of all the terrible things this awful man has done to our country, this could be the worst.
What America is now experiencing is a massive failure of character—a nationwide blackout of integrity—among elected Republicans. From the president, a graceless and deceptive insistence on victory after a loss that was not even close. From congressional Republicans, a broad willingness to conspire in President Trump’s lies and slander the electoral system without considering the public good. Only a few have stood up against Republican peer pressure of contempt for the constitutional order. How could such a thing happen in the Republican Party? It is not an anomaly. It is the culmination of Trump’s influence among Republicans and White evangelical Christians in particular. Their primary justification for supporting Trump—that the president’s character should be ignored in favor of his policies—has become a serious danger to the republic. Trump never even presented the pretense of good character. His revolt against the establishment was always a revolt against the ethical ground rules by which the establishment played. When he mocked a reporter with a disability, urged violence at his rallies, or attacked a Gold Star family, Republicans accepted it as part of the Trump package. And some of his most impassioned defenses came from White evangelicals.
We have a serious problem in this country, and at the heart of that is White evangelicals. Evangelicalism has four distinctive aspects to their faith: conversionism (being “born again”), Biblicism (belief in biblical inerrancy and/or infallibility), crucicentrism (the belief that Christ died as a substitute for sinful humanity), and activism (includes preaching and social action). Two of these have become incredibly dangerous because of their interpretation by evangelicals: Biblicism and activism. Under Biblicism, they ignore all discussion of the Bible begin filled with allegory and metaphors. They believe it is entirely literal. The most significant problem with this is that they ignore the original language and meaning of the Bible, and they pick and choose what parts of the Bible they want to follow and which they would like to ignore. One example is the use of the word “homosexual” in the New Testament. The term “homosexual” is of modern origin, and it wasn’t until about a hundred years ago that it was first used. There is no word in biblical Greek or Hebrew that is equivalent to the English word homosexual. The 1946 Revised Standard Version (RSV) of the Bible was the first translation to use the word homosexual. However, evangelicals latched on to this translation’s use of homosexual for terms that were never meant to mean homosexual as we understand it today. Romans 1:24-27, 1 Corinthians 6:9, and 1 Timothy 1:10 are all used to condemn the LGBTQ+ community. However, these verses referred to temple prostitutes, male prostitutes, and pederasts, respectively. Yet, even though Jesus explicitly condemns divorce in Matthew 5:32 and Luke 16:18, White evangelicals are more likely than the average American to leave a marriage, with 17.2 percent being currently divorced. Despite their strong pro-family values, evangelical Christians have higher than average divorce rates being more likely to be divorced than Americans who claim no religion. White evangelicals also use these beliefs to excuse their discrimination against racial and sexual minorities.
White evangelicals were once seen as America’s pious and moral authority but have now become the least strict chaperone of Trump’s corruption. Under the president’s influence, White evangelicals went from the group most likely to believe personal morality matters in a politician to the least likely group. “We’re not electing a pastor in chief,” explained Jerry Falwell Jr., the disgraced former president of Liberty University. Robert Jeffress, the pastor of the Islamophobic, anti-Semitic, racist, and anti-LGBTQ+ First Baptist Dallas, argued that “outward policies” should matter more than “personal piety.” Ralph Reed of the Faith and Freedom Coalition made his case for Trump’s reelection based on conservative deliverables. “There has never been anyone,” Reed said, “who has defended us and who has fought for us, who we have loved more than Donald J. Trump.” This is politics at its most transactional. Trump was being hired by evangelicals to do a job — to defend their institutions, implement pro-life policies, and appoint conservative judges. The character of the president was irrelevant so long as he kept his part of the bargain. Which, sadly, Trump mostly did.
But now we know what a president without character looks like amid a governing crisis. We see a dishonest president, spinning lie after lie about the electoral system. We see a selfish president incapable of preferring any duty above his own narrow interests. We see a reckless president, undermining the transition between administrations and exposing the country to risk. We see a vain president unable to responsibly process an electoral loss. We see a corrupt president, willing to abuse federal power to serve his own ends. We see a spiteful president, taking revenge against officials who have resisted him. We see a faithless president, indifferent to constitutional principles and his oath of office. There is nothing in Donald Trump that Jesus might find redeemable. If you made a list of everything that Jesus taught, you could make a list of Trump’s character and see the opposite of everything Jesus wanted for humanity.
Two lessons can be drawn from the Republican failure of moral judgment. First, democracy is an inherently ethical enterprise. Yes, politics has a transactional element. But those transactions take place within a system of rules that depend on voluntary obedience. Our electoral system and our presidential transition process have flaws and holes that an unprincipled leader can exploit, which is a good reason to prefer principled leaders. And second, U.S. politics would be better off if White evangelicals consistently applied their moral tradition to public life. Not only Christians, of course, can stand for integrity. But consider what would happen if White evangelicals insisted on supporting honest, compassionate, decent, civil, self-controlled men and women for office. The alternative is our current reality, in which evangelicals have often been a malicious and malignant influence in U.S. politics.
White evangelicals are only 15 percent of the population, but their share of the electorate was 28 percent, making them a disproportionately vocal and influential group within American politics. White evangelicals have, in effect, skewed the electorate by masking the rise of a young, multiracial, and mostly secular voting population. Unfortunately, the White evangelicals’ overperformance also shows why the racist appeal Trump made in this campaign was effective. White evangelicals were fired up like no other group by Trump’s encouragement of white supremacy. Pre-election, 90 percent said they would vote, and nearly half of those voting for Trump said virtually nothing he could do would shake their approval. There was little evidence of differences among White evangelicals by gender, generation, or education. The good news might be that they are, as a group, dying out (median age in the late 50s), and their views are hardly recognizable to many other Americans. Majorities of White evangelical Protestants don’t see the pandemic as a critical issue (they’re less likely than others to wear masks), believe society has become too “soft and feminine,” oppose same-sex marriage, think Trump was called by God to lead, and don’t believe he encouraged white supremacist groups.
The unholy alliance of White evangelicals and Donald Trump is what a purely transactional politics has actually delivered — a lawless leader resisting a rightful electoral outcome. He is endangering American national security by causing chaos and instability in the United States at a time when our economy is on the brink, and a pandemic is raging stronger every day. The only adequate response, as President-elect Joe Biden seems to realize, is a politics of character. Let’s hope that politicians on both sides of the aisle realize they must work with Biden to heal the soul of the nation.