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The Evangelical Conundrum in America

The Evangelical Conundrum      Gerry O'Shea

Some readers may remember John Healy, the great County Mayo political journalist who wrote for the Irish Times in the 1960's and 70's. When he was trying to explain some very unusual political development, some story about  intriguing   actions that were not responsive to normal rational analysis, he would rhetorically invite his readers to help him to make sense of  whatever knotty issue he was dealing with by asking the memorable question: "Riddle me that!"

In the 2016 Presidential election, almost 80% of evangelicals voted for Donald Trump, a somewhat higher number than supported Mitt Romney, the Republican candidate in 2012. Their loyalty to  him  continues to be very strong  with only a slight slippage in the last year in his support among female evangelicals.

Early in the presidential campaign, Mr. Trump was  asked about his religious beliefs and whether he ever asked God for forgiveness. He took time considering  the question, an unusual occurrence for him, before responding that he couldn't recall ever doing so. Many commentators  said that this statement set him apart from Christians of all denominations.

His disquisition on how to treat women in the famous Access Hollywood tape  shook the political world and led many experienced Republicans to disavow him. It was predicted that lewd talk about how females liked to be grabbed by their genitals would surely alienate him from women from all religious backgrounds but especially from devout Christians. For evangelicals, where the preaching from every pulpit highlights  personal responsibility for one's actions, the boastful words on this tape, were viewed by many as the kiss of death for him in the election.

However, even after Mr. Trump confounded the pollsters and political experts by winning the November election, his moral lapses have continued to haunt him. His fix-it man and personal lawyer, Michael Cohen, paid a porn actress $130,000  shortly before the election for her silence about an alleged affair she had with Trump a few months after his youngest son was born.

 Imagine the reaction of evangelicals if President Obama  bribed a porn star to keep her lips sealed about an affair. They would be holding their noses in disgust as they excoriated him for betraying his high office.

Worst of all, perhaps, from the standpoint of blatant moral corruption, Trump allegedly paid two prostitutes in a hotel in Moscow to pee on the bed where President Obama and Michelle slept during a visit they made to that city when he was in the White House.

The president vociferously denies this last hellish allegation and surely should be entitled to the benefit of the doubt. However, the Washington Post  has counted over 3000 lies told by Mr. Trump since he assumed office - on average more than six a day. No modern president comes even close to this record of mendacity, so there is a big question about the credibility of his denials.

Evangelical Protestantism from its inception when Martin Luther broke with Rome 500 years ago has been tied to a strict and usually literal  interpretation of the bible. All human actions and religious opinion have to be measured  solely against biblical  standards , with no regard  for council pronouncements or church tradition.

This belief of sincere Protestants is anchored in the need for personal conversion, the commitment  to a relationship with Christ after the man or woman is "born again,"  a prerequisite individual experience for eternal salvation, according to their understanding of the bible.

Jesus in the Sermon in the Mount  presented a mandate for his followers  to welcome the outsider, to practice humility, to feed the hungry and to value meekness. He further warned that people will be judged on how they treat the poor and welcome the  stranger.

Trumpism  seems to be diametrically opposed to the spirit of the Sermon on the Mount. It glorifies wealth, despises losers and promotes economic policies that hurt the poor at every turn. The president promotes "unapologetic materialism," xenophobia and a mean-spirited America First in his version of power politics.

Pope Francis  publicly addressed Mr. Trump's negative statements towards refugees, advising the American people that opening doors to let poor people in is a much more Christian response to the refugee crisis than building walls to keep them out.

Of course, evangelicals don't look to the pope for moral guidance, but it is very difficult to come to terms with this powerful Christian group devoutly proclaiming  their adherence  to the teachings of Christ, a magnanimous  spiritual leader, while supporting a thrice-married  president who  buys the silence of some women that he had  affairs  with, who lies with a straight face every day and  who favors cutting funding for most  anti-poverty programs.

Riddle me that!


Gerry O'Shea blogs at


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