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RENÉE GRAHAM

The hypocrisy of white evangelicals

Bryan Oller/Associated Press/File

Former US Senator Rick Santorum spoke with James Dobson in 2012.

By Globe Columnist 

WHEN THEN-PRESIDENT Bill Clinton lied in 1998 about an affair with White House intern Monica Lewinsky, Christian extremist James Dobson declared it was “foolish to believe that a person who lacks honesty and moral integrity is qualified to lead a nation and the world!” Under Clinton, Dobson, founder of Focus on the Family, warned that America was facing “a profound moral crisis.”

Fast-forward two decades. We’re chest deep in a profound moral crisis, and every other kind of crisis you dare imagine. Yet, like most of his fellow evangelicals, Dobson is as silent as a church mouse about the White House’s current occupant, a man who breaks at least three of the Ten Commandments every day.

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Never underestimate the hypocrisy of white evangelicals.

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With his multiple marriages and affairs, penchant for grandiose lies, and general indifference to normal adult behavior, President Trump should represent what white evangelicals claim to despise. Instead, he received 81 percent of their vote, and their support is unfailing. It’s easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than to find any evangelical handwringing about whether Trump’s moral turpitude renders him unfit to govern.

With a 77 percent approval rating among evangelicals, Trump has no constituency that is more loyal. It has even come to this: In defense of the president, a Texas pastor recently called Ronald Reagan “a twice-married Hollywood actor who was a known womanizer in Hollywood.”

Robert Jeffress, a Trump pal and leader of a Baptist megachurch, was making the point that it’s not the first time evangelicals have supported, as president, a man who falls short of the glory.

“We’re not under any illusion that we were voting for an altar boy when we voted for President Trump,” said Jeffress on Fox News. “We knew about his past. And by the way, none of us has a perfect past. We voted for him because of his policies.”

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In short, Trump could say he likes messiahs who weren’t crucified, and his support among white evangelicals likely wouldn’t budge.

That’s because they’ve always had their eyes on the prize, and that prize isn’t everlasting life. It’s Trump reshaping the Supreme Court, and its terrifying potential to rescind women’s reproductive autonomy, erode LGBTQ rights, and endorse discriminatory “religious freedom” laws.

As far as individual behavior goes, evangelicals object only to those whose personal lives threaten what they view as America’s destiny as a white Christian theocracy. Trump, meanwhile, can do whatever he wants to whomever he wants. So long as he keeps his promise to nominate right-wing ideologues to the high court, white evangelicals will never question their deal with the devil in chief.

Earlier this year, Tony Perkins, of the ultraconservative Family Research Council, told Politico that Trump has been given “a mulligan” — a golfing term for a do-over — for his troubling behavior. His reasoning was simple. Evangelicals “were tired of being kicked around by Barack Obama and his leftists,” he said. “And I think they are finally glad that there’s somebody on the playground that is willing to punch the bully.”

In Perkins’s muddled mind, the bullies to whom he’s referring are historically marginalized groups with the audacity to demand their basic human rights.

White evangelicals want to control women’s bodies, use religion as an excuse for discriminatory laws, and shove LGBTQ people back into the closet. Trump, they believe, will deliver them.

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Speaking about the choice between God and money, Matthew 6:24 says, “No one can serve two masters. Either you will hate the one and love the other, or you will be devoted to the one and despise the other.”

Subtitute president instead of money. White evangelicals may not despise God, yet their hypocrisy and unflagging devotion leave no doubt that Trump is their true master and savior.


Renée Graham can be reached at renee.graham@globe.com
Follow her on Twitter @reneeygraham.