What’s wrong with white evangelicals

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Michael Gerson at the Connecticut Forum, September 29, 2016

Mark Silk

Michael Gerson at the Connecticut Forum, September 29, 2016

(RNS) The religious question that has dominated the fall campaign is: Why are (white) evangelicals supporting a thrice-married serial adulterer whose commitment to their issues — abortion, same-sex marriage, religious liberty — is vacillating and lukewarm?

Speaking at the Connecticut Forum Thursday evening, former George W. Bush speechwriter and evangelical pundit Michael Gerson offered a number of glum reflections on the subject.

“A proper understanding of faith,” he said, “is fundamentally at odds” with the transformation of the GOP into a European-style right-wing anti-immigrant party. “You now have a white identity politics, a white resentment policy, that is being appealed to by the Republican nominee for president.”

And: “I thought the religious right had turned the page…but the religious right in this election is back with a vengeance. This has been a terrible season for the representatives of conservative religion.”

So what is it about conservative religion in white America that explains the readiness of its adherents to overlook Trump’s lack of knowledge, experience, business ethics, temperament, and basic human decency?

The simplest answer is that Republicanism has become an article of the faith. These days, the large majority of white religious conservatives will vote for the Republican candidate whoever it is. End of story.

Or maybe not quite. Laurie Goodstein’s fine article in the New York Times makes clear that white evangelicals in Iowa are not Trump enthusiasts. Neither are white Mormons, white traditionalist Catholics, nor (I think) Orthodox Jews.

They will vote for Trump as the lesser of evils because under no circumstances will they vote for the Democrat. Theirs is a Manichaean world where the Democratic Party is the Party of Evil.

Reciting the incantation “Supreme Court, Supreme Court, Supreme Court,” they refuse to vote for a candidate who has been endorsed by conservative newspapers that haven’t endorsed a Democratic presidential candidate in living memory.

American exceptionalists have long celebrated the country’s religious communities for providing moral witness independent of secular politics. This year, the Trump candidacy has revealed many of them to be no more than partisan hacks.