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Trump’s moral and ethical camouflage

It is time for all good people to stand up and say this is not normal, this is not good, this has to stop — especially my friends and family who are evangelicals

Willem Brooke-deBock works as a professor, academic administrator, and (most importantly, he says) a teaching and learning innovator.

Marlboro

I didn’t come to Vermont as hippie, a back-to-the-lander, or as political progressive. I came to Vermont as a young man in 1983, as a born-again evangelical, with a year of Bible college under my belt, trying to find myself creatively and intellectually through higher education at Marlboro College.

Not a typical path, I know, but that path also included stop-overs and visits to many evangelical churches in the Brattleboro community, including the Community Bible Chapel, the Church of Christ, and the West Brattleboro Baptist Church.

Ultimately, my path lead me to study evangelical fundamentalism from sociological, historical, and theological perspectives and asking the question: Why did evangelicalism remain a vibrant, growing movement in American culture since the beginning of the 20th century — at the time, over 80 years?

While my personal path led me away from evangelicalism, my intellectual work could not be construed as a polemic, reductionist screed or an attack on the evangelical faith.

In fact, my outside examiner was a well-respected sociologist at Gordon College who would later become president of Westmont College, a well-known Christian liberal arts school in California.

In the end, I came away with three enduring insights that would shape my understanding of the movement for the next 30 years:

1. The right-wing political manifestation within evangelicalism was not a necessary or inevitable outcome of evangelical theology.

2. The entanglement of evangelicalism with the “new right” starting in the Reagan era was not inevitable. But it was encouraged, if not engineered, in the late 1970s and 1980s.

3. The born-again experience cannot not be simply attributed to psychological weakness, superstition, or cultural backwardness.

These ideas shaped my understanding on two levels.

I still had family and friends who were evangelical believers, and these ideas helped me maintain perspective and tempered any inclinations I had to vilify or demonize them, regardless of differences we might have.

They also shaped my understanding of the evangelical movement through the presidential administrations of George H. W. Bush, Bill Clinton, George W. Bush, and Barack Obama.

I often advocated for more tolerance from my liberal, progressive, and even radical friends and acquaintances. Evangelicals were not monsters, I would argue. They were just folks — folks who were part of the fabric of American culture.

* * *

But now, Donald Trump.

Things are different. My dander was raised when the video surfaced of the foul-mouthed, bragging candidate describing sexual assault as an entitlement.

I was immediately carried back to my days in evangelical churches, and I could simply not fathom that this behavior could be tolerated by good-hearted, Christian evangelicals.

I thought that even though I might not see eye to eye with my evangelical family and friends on a lot of things, they would agree that Trump was beyond the pale.

I was wrong.

Four out of five white Evangelicals voted for Trump. I am pretty sure that many of the 77,000 actual votes that narrowly tipped the scales in Michigan, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin were evangelicals from the kind of communities that I once called home.

I have every reason to believe that these were the folks that I often defended in my liberal and academic circles.

But now, I am calling evangelicals out.

We have a president who lies, who treats and talks about women horribly, who disregards the basic tenets of our Constitution, who employs and apparently trusts hate-mongering, white-supremacist anti-Semites, and who has compared the moral standing of the U.S.A. with Putin’s Russia.

It is time for all good people to stand up and say this is not normal, this is not good, this has to stop.

* * *

So, my evangelical neighbors: maybe you voted for Donald Trump. Maybe you didn’t. But regardless, you have a particular responsibility to speak out and to question what is happening.

Your community and, indeed, your faith has become moral and ethical camouflage for an administration that is — at best — dysfunctional and incompetent. And, as more evidence piles up, we more likely will see it as a corrupt, amoral, and dangerous regime.

Don’t get me wrong: I don’t expect you to become a liberal.

Rather, I would hope that good-hearted, faithful Christian evangelicals would start simply asking questions among themselves, in social hours after Sunday services, in Bible studies, and in friendly chats with fellow believers: Is this normal? Is this right? Is this good?

I know this is actually hard. For 40 years, if you’re an evangelical, you have been led down a path (by Jerry Falwell, Francis Schaeffer, Pat Robertson, James Dobson, and others) that has tied your identity and your faith to a particular crass, simplistic political ideology and its political machinery.

Unfortunately, those ties have turned malevolent, hateful, and decidedly un-Christian.

Perhaps there is an underlying fear for many evangelicals that by pulling at any of threads of your identity (including the political ones), you may fall away from your faith completely.

I believe that your faith and, indeed, your God is bigger than that fear.

I think you should believe that, too.

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Originally published in The Commons issue #396 (Wednesday, February 22, 2017).

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