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An evangelical reckoning

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Anyone who reads my blog knows I’m not a fan of evangelicals. Nearly 40 years ago I realized how radical, irrational, hateful and anti-American they are—in their vicious homophobia, in their scientific ignorance, in their white supremacy, in their intolerance of other religions. When Trump came on the scene, with his sociopathic narcissism and obvious contempt for Christianity, there began in this country a much-needed debate: how could evangelicals support a self-professed sexual predator who had been divorced multiple times, who bullied his subordinates, cheated his vendors, and lied pathologically? The question was asked over and over, and yet, even as the evidence piled up of Trump’s amorality, we saw evangelical leaders like Franklin Graham, Jerry Falwell Jr. and James Dobson never waver in their support. As disreputable as evangelicism already was (with all its sexual scandals), it fell even further into the gutter of Trump muck.

After last week’s Incitement of Insurrection by Trump, his family and his surrogates, the debate among evangelicals has had new life breathed into it. This article, from public radio station KQED’s website, is about an interview with a well-known evangelical, who seems finally to have realized what a grave mistake he made in supporting Trump. His name is Ed Stetzer, and he’s head of the Billy Graham Center at Wheaton College—yes, the same Billy Graham who was the father of the notorious Trump stooge, Franklin Graham.

In an interview with National Public Radio, Stetzer confesses that evangelical support of Trump is the height of hypocrisy. “We just need to be honest…A lot of people sold out their beliefs.” What were those beliefs? Stetzer isn’t talking about Graham’s catechismic beliefs (anti-abortion, anti-gay, Biblical infallibility, the Trinity, etc.). No, he’s talking about Graham’s broader views on human decency and morality. Here are some quotes of Billy Graham, courtesy of the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association:

“The world needs moral leadership that respects the rights of all men and women—rights that God designed for our benefit.”

“Jesus said, “You will know the truth and the truth will set you free” (John 8:32). When we live by the truth, we possess integrity.”

“Many people ask, what is integrity?…I believe integrity can be restored to a society one person at a time. The choice belongs to each of us.”

Billy Graham is no longer alive, but what would he think of what Trump did last Wednesday? Would he call that “moral leadership”? Would he call Trump’s denial of the election result “living by the truth”? Would he claim that Donald J. Trump has “integrity”?

Stetzer, the evangelical, knows that no honest evangelical can possibly support Trump. “How did we get here?” he asks, referring to the solid wall of evangelical support for a low, dishonest president. “How were we so easily fooled by conspiracy theories? Our allegiance is to King Jesus, not to what boasting political leader might come next.”

Stetzer confesses that over the last four years he hasn’t always been comfortable with Trump, but he never came out publicly against him—until now. “The storming of the Capitol, the desecration of our halls of democracy,” he says, “has shocked and stunned a lot of people and how President Trump has engaged in riling up crowds to accomplish these things.” Wednesday, Jan. 6, 2021—a date that will live in infamy—was the last straw for Stetzer. He knows that Trump’s claim that the election was rigged is totally bogus, and he’s urging preachers, in their Sunday sermons, to explain to their flocks that Trump is a serial liar, that Joe Biden won, and that Republican politicians who parrot Trump’s lies are themselves lying. “Jesus says ‘I am the way, the truth and the life.’ So Jesus literally identifies himself as the truth, therefore if there ever should be a people who care about the truth it should be people who call themselves followers of Jesus.”

Well, good for Ed Stetzer. I’m glad he finally came around. But where was he three years ago, two years ago, one year ago, six months ago? Trump was the exact same monster then as he is now. We all saw it, most of us Americans who weren’t blind, deaf and dumb. I would argue that Stetzer saw it, too. But he pretended he didn’t. He was so enamored of super-Christian judges like Coney Barrett and Kavanaugh that he was willing to see “King Jesus” crucified a second time, on the Cross of Trump.

Stetzer is going to have to live with his decisions, the same way that Insurrrectionists like Ted Cruz and Josh Hawley are going to have to live with theirs. At least, Stetzer can comfort himself in the knowledge that he eventually came along: late repentance isn’t as good as early repentance, but at least it’s repentance. Cruz, Hawley and all the rest of the Congressional Republicans who still mouth the Big Lie have not yet repented. As Ricky Ricardo might say, they have a lot of ‘splainin’ to do, both here on Earth and in the Heaven they claim to believe in.

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