Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump speaks to supporters in Charleston, W.Va., on May 5, 2016. Photo courtesy of REUTERS/Chris Tilley/File Photo

Tyrannical tendencies are not just the purview of the right

(RNS) Almost daily I receive emails from evangelical Christians asking how to vote in November.

One candidate is disqualified because of full-throated support of abortion on demand. The other candidate embodies values antithetical to Christian teaching. These emailers will not vote for Clinton, but they cannot vote for Trump.

In addition, many worry about the long-term sustainability of our democracy, an issue that’s not unique to evangelicals.

“In terms of our liberal democracy and constitutional order, Trump is an extinction-level event,” says liberal pundit Andrew Sullivan in a widely shared cover story for New York Magazine.

Because our society has disregarded the ancient wisdom of Plato and Socrates and disassembled the guardrails the Founding Fathers set in place to keep democracy from degenerating into tyranny, Sullivan worries that we are primed for a tyrant to seize the moment. And Trump is the devil that could undo our democracy.

Sullivan calls on all citizens to resist Trump, no matter their political persuasion. He says it’s the duty of patriotic Republicans to unite with the Trump resistance and “be prepared to sacrifice one election in order to save their party and their country.”

Sullivan cringes at the tyrannical tendencies he observes on the right. Evangelicals are just as concerned about the totalitarian impulses and soft despotism of the left.

Sullivan applauds the Founding Fathers for their guardrails intended to keep democracy “from the tyranny of the majority and the passions of the mob.”

Evangelicals have been warning about the disappearance of these guardrails for decades now, most notably in the actions of a Supreme Court that regularly invents rights rather than interprets the Constitution.

The Obergefell ruling Sullivan cheered last June is a shocking example -- a redefinition of humanity’s central institution. As Chief Justice John Roberts wrote in his dissent: “The majority’s decision is an act of will, not legal judgment. … The Court invalidates the marriage laws of more than half the States and orders the transformation of a social institution that has formed the basis of human society for millennia. … Just who do we think we are?”

Justice Antonin Scalia agreed: “A system of government that makes the People subordinate to a committee of nine unelected lawyers does not deserve to be called a democracy.”

To his credit, Sullivan recognizes dangers on both sides. He sympathizes with white working-class citizens who are fed up with having “their morals roundly mocked, their religion deemed primitive, and their economic prospects decimated, now find their very gender and race, indeed the very way they talk about reality, described as a kind of problem for the nation to overcome.” He also admits the intolerance of many liberals, including the gay left “for whom the word magnanimity seems unknown.”

But Sullivan’s solution of sacrificing one election for the good of the country is too easy.

Evangelicals are faced with voting for a man whose values are at many points directly opposed to that of Christianity, or voting for a woman who will continue the path of oppressive “progress” that seeks to legally redefine the nature of humanity, gender and marriage and then marginalize and suppress any dissent from the new moral dogmas.

As Nicholas Kristof pointed out in The New York Times, liberal intolerance makes it increasingly difficult for evangelical Christians to exercise their faith in society, and routinely bars them from certain positions or roles.

In the same op-ed, George Yancey, an African-American professor, says his Christianity presents a much bigger hurdle to overcome in the academy than his race does. The groupthink that has seized power in so many halls of the elite and culture-shaping institutions runs roughshod over religious liberty, something so foreign to many in the media that “religious liberty” must have scare quotes, as if it is only a mask for ignorant bigotry.

Andrew Sullivan may be right that our democracy has never been so ripe for tyranny. But evangelicals worry that tyrannical dangers lurk in the corners of both the right and the left.

Choosing a candidate is like picking the kind of poison you want your democracy to die from. And that’s why this November, before spending a few moments in the voting booth, evangelicals may be spending a lot of time in prayer.

(Trevin Wax is managing editor of The Gospel Project and author of multiple books, including “Clear Winter Nights: A Journey Into Truth, Doubt and What Comes After”)


  1. Your use of the phrase “abortion on demand” is both misleading and offensive. One does not say such of any other particular medical procedure or good/service. To do so denigrates women and implies they are being “uppity” and do not deserve to be taken seriously. The news media struggles to claim they are providing “balanced” coverage of such issues but the bottom line is one side believes big government is needed to say what others may do regarding their own bodies. Sometimes it’s better to just call a spade a spade. I suspect that gender gap this November will turn into a chasm, and quite rightfully so.

  2. Another hit piece by Trevin Wax. A literal shill for the Southern Baptist Convention.

    “most notably in the actions of a Supreme Court that regularly invents rights rather than interprets the Constitution.”

    This is an offensive and factually incorrect statement. I guess it is to imply that judicial review and interpretation of the constitution along the structure of a common law legal system is not the function of the Supreme Court. Being so quick to attack the Supreme Court, Mr. Wax probably like the proponents of gay marriage bans cannot cough up rational and secular purposes behind such bans. So he naturally cries sour grapes and attacks the entire system of the court. Relying on nonsense fiction “original intent”. Which has nothing to do with actual interpretations of the Constitution nor application of the Equal Protection Clause of the 14th Amendment.

    If upholding the concept of equal protection under the law and striking down a law which specifically discriminated against a class of people is somehow Mr. Wax’s concept of “tyrannical tendencies”, he should really educate himself on the subject of civil liberties or STHU on the subject as his opinions on the matter are obviously skewed to the point of ridiculousness.

    “religious liberty” must have scare quotes, as if it is only a mask for ignorant bigotry.

    The way it is used by someone like Yancy and yourself, it needs to be in scare quotes because what is advocated has nothing to do with religious liberty and everything to do with trying to legally excuse discrimination.

  3. Ironically, Baptist culture is much of the cause of the political predicament you portray. In seeking to avoid harassment, early leaders of the then nascent Baptists supported the polytheistic religious freedom philosophy of Jefferson, helping it to a position of dominance. We now have a nation with no moral foundation because it formally rejects the reality of One True God. We hypocritically expect “moral leadership,” in a political system that rejects any moral absolutes. We have modern day baptist leaders who continue to promote polytheistic religious freedom allowing it to maintain its dominance, instead of proclaiming the explicit command of our Lord, to have no other gods before Him. They are politicians in sheep’s clothing.

  4. Thank you for demonstrating that Christians like yourself have no regard for democracy, religious freedom or for the lives of anyone outside your little narrow sectarian interests. Now I do not have pretend you are someone whose views are respectful of the system and way of life which has served so many so well. The only difference between yourself and cretinous barbarians like ISIS is access to heavy weaponry. Any pretense that your views reflect morals, decency or humanity is entirely illusory.

  5. Allowing people to enjoy the same rights and security that you do is not “oppressive” progress. It’s just simply progress. As far as I have been able to tell the only folks I’ve ever heard prophesying the end of this great nation are members of the religious right. At 43 years old I can remember hearing that our democracy would not survive Carter. Then we would not survive Clinton. God would wipe us out if we elected Obama. Now I’m hearing the same about Hillary Clinton, except the Christian Right isn’t crazy about a three time married casino owner who isn’t giving them the attention they’re used to from a Republican.
    Looks folks, a four year presidential administration is a mere drop of water in an ocean of time. Give to Caesar what is Ceasar’s and give to God what is God’s and everything will be ok.

  6. So, according to Wax, it is tyranny against the sanctity of Christian dominion when the courts extend rights, such as marriage, to millions of people who have heretofore been excluded for no legitimate reason whatsoever. And I assume that, according to Wax, it was NOT tyranny when gay people had been classified as criminals for having sexual relations, but it WAS tyranny when the Supreme Court overturned all remaining state so-called sodomy laws in 2003.

  7. Sullivan cringes at the tyrannical tendencies he observes on the right. Evangelicals are just as concerned about the totalitarian impulses and soft despotism of the left.

    This article is the rallying cry of a social warrior from the Right–and, in fact, a large part of the reason why the political right is in the predicament it’s in. If you’ve been told for years that Democrats are evil–and you think the Left is about to get its jackboot on your throat–you want an SOB in your corner who will stand for the things you stand for.

  8. you may have no moral foundation. Mine is just fine. However, your lack of respect for people’s sincerely held religious beliefs is why I am certain that the only enemies of religious freedom are religionists.

    As for having no other gods before him, apparently your god is just fine with other gods, and admits their existence. He just doesn’t want them to come first. Okay.If you had the slightest understanding of why you reject all gods but your own, you might understand why I reject yours as well.

  9. Bang on. I was going to say just this, but lacked the patience.

  10. Bang on.
    What I was going to say, but in spades. Tyranny is making sure that all people are treated equally.
    Only in baptist land.

  11. “No other gods before Me” does not refer to priority, as you suggest, but to proximity. An alternate translation is “you shall have no other gods in my Presence.”

    A sample of what God thinks about other “gods:”

    Deuteronomy 6:14-15 “You shall not follow other gods, any of the gods of the peoples who surround you, for the Lord your God in the midst of you is a jealous God; otherwise the anger of the Lord your God will be kindled against you, and He will wipe you off the face of the earth.”

  12. Consider, “the system and way of life which has served so many so well” as you say, is unraveling at the seams. Christ tells us a house divided cannot stand, and on its trajectory, this house will not be around much longer. The ever increasing splintering of our nation is the result of swallowing Jefferson’s religious freedom fallacy. It is the result of having other gods in his Presence. True national health and welfare will only be found by reuniting in Him alone. It will require rejecting Jefferson’s fallacy as Scripture does, and as many of our founding fathers did also.

  13. Well people who have no appreciation of peaceful free democratic society seldom see its strengths and usually wrongfully think it is collapsing in favor of some inane brain-dead boring form of authoritarianism. In a democracy one should not fear difference of opinion and rigorous conflict. It is when everyone comes together, usually out of fear, when bad things happen. One does not sell rights away because they feel safe, but because they think they are buying security. They are always wrong.

    You are not offering anything worth considering. Christians like yourself are no better than any other god(s) worshiper with a ego to flex. Nothing but delusional types with miniscule puds trying to act all big. Frankly, if you don’t like the idea of sharing existence with people and ideas different than your own. Feel free to leave. I can even take up a collection for the ticket to wherever the heck is not here. I certainly could do without people like yourself and bovine stench of your writing.

  14. And you missed the best passage in Deuteronomy by a few chapters, where your God demands that you slay all of the unbelievers in your midst.

    In any case, he is still admitting that there are other gods, that he is not the only one. And he is still admitting to being very insecure, and jealous. Not a great admission for the guy that created everything. He sounds almost as insecure as so many of his followers.

  15. I understand Iran is lovely this time of year.

  16. Yes, holy writ acknowledges the reality of many gods. Here’s one: “Their destiny is destruction, their god is their stomach, and their glory is in their shame. Their mind is set on earthly things.” Many know this god.

    As for you casting insults at your Creator, you demonstrate why he has justly prepared a place for the eternal destruction of his confirmed enemies. We are told angels that sinned he cast into hell and holds them in chains under darkness until Judgment Day. You should be grateful he has provided better things for you. It is as hardened, defiant criminals that God confronts us, not as innocent ones groping for Him in the dark. We are willfully blind and seek “to suppress the truth in unrighteousness.” Nevertheless, it is written “while we were God’s enemies, we were reconciled to him through the death of his Son.”

    Consider that your earthly continuance is dependent on every single heartbeat which your “insecure” Creator benevolently provides for you. It would be a tragedy to take for granted His patience and love toward you displayed in each and every beat.

  17. Well, you’ve bought the whole story. I hope it makes you happy, but it sounds like it has just made you abject and afraid.
    Personally, I would prefer my gods to be nicer people, not tyrants over the heart, mind, and spirit.
    But I also think that people create their gods in their own image.

  18. Way to change the subject.

    I don’t believe your God is my creator, but if he wants to be respected, maybe he should start acting respectably. And that goes double for his followers. And claiming that the creator of the infinite universe has an enemy in little old me is beyond laughable. It makes his sound as insecure as so many of his followers seem to be.

    Which brings us right back to where we started.

  19. And the religion that would be in charge probably just be, well, I don’t know, hum, yours?

    What you fail to see, is that if there is a splintering of society, which has not yet been established, and you don’t define it in any case, is that there is a very high probability that it is your insistence that everyone should live under the civil authority of your faith that is responsible for it. You’ve declared your wars on gay people, evolution, Muslims, women, climate change and a host of others.

    Projection seems to be what so many religious conservatives do.

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