The Christianity Today Editorial on Trump: “We’re Not Like Those Evangelicals”

My sense is that evangelicalism has always been more sociologically than theologically determined, and I suppose it's appropriate that sociology is now the engine of its demolition.

Not to sound Marxist or anything, but I’m prepared to argue, using Peter Berger’s new-class thesis, that this is really about class warfare and that Trump came along at precisely the time when the class tensions between the information-economy-manipulators-of-symbolic-knowledge new class on the one hand and the entrepreneurial-class/working-class elements within evangelicalism were becoming acute.

 

It occurred to me yesterday in the context of a somewhat heated exchange with someone who is all gaga over CT-editor Mark Galli’s call for Trump’s removal from office, that all this progressive evangelical blather about Trump as a threat to “the gospel” is really coded language about other evangelicals. His fervent opposition to Trump, he said, is all about “the gospel.” When I pressed the guy about how Trump undermines “the gospel,” the conversation quickly turned to his perception that prominent Trump apologists like Franklin Graham and Jerry Falwell, Jr. are discrediting evangelical Christianity and thus making it harder to “share the gospel.” In other words, this brouhaha really isn’t so much about Donald Trump simpliciter. Rather, it’s about tensions WITHIN evangelicalism, and opposition to Trump is really a sort of “boundary posturing mechanism” (to use the sociological jargon), saying in essence that “we’re not like THOSE evangelicals.”

Of course, some will claim that that’s too psychological, an exercise in trying to read people’s minds. But given the flimsiness of the “reasons” such people cite and the shoddy thinking they evince, there has to be something else going on. For example, there’s the constant litany that Trump “violated the constitution.” Well, some pretty formidable Democrat-affiliated constitutional scholars like Jonathan Turley and Alan Dershowitz have questioned that. Closely associated with this is “abuse of power” rhetoric, but such people were generally pretty silent when the Obama administration was trying to force the Little Sisters of Mercy to buy contraceptive insurance (as I recall the SCOTUS smacked that down 9-0), or when the IRS during the Obama years was slow-walking tax exemptions for conservative organizations. There was the stonewalling of the congressional investigation into Fast and Furious, and let’s not forget the now documented spying on the Trump campaign. We didn’t hear overheated demands for impeachment then. Sounds like “selective outrage” to me!

Ironically perhaps, there’s also the “we have to be consistent” argument–many evangelicals supported the impeachment of Bill Clinton, so the argument goes, and we have to do the same in the case of Trump. But such people conveniently forget that Clinton was not impeached and subsequently disbarred for receiving oral sex from a female intern in the hallway next to the Oval Office. Rather, he was impeached because of a clear case of perjury. Then there are the “Trump is under the influence of a foreign power” and the “Trump is racist and anti-semitic” canards . . . the list of frantic alarums seems endless. Once again, there has to be something else going on!

Not to sound Marxist or anything, but I’m prepared to argue, using Peter Berger’s new-class thesis, that this is really about class warfare and that Trump came along at precisely the time when the class tensions between the information-economy-manipulators-of-symbolic-knowledge new class on the one hand and the entrepreneurial-class/working-class elements within evangelicalism were becoming acute.

So what are people to do when they find both the Trump-is-the-antichrist new-class evangelicals and the Trump-as-the-thirteenth-apostle evangelical apologists pretty risible? Are we witnessing the implosion of evangelicalism? Evangelicalism as we know it has its roots in the eighteenth century but really took shape in the nineteenth, so I guess two centuries or so was a pretty good run. My sense is that evangelicalism has always been more sociologically than theologically determined, and I suppose it’s appropriate that sociology is now the engine of its demolition.

William B Evans is the Younts Professor of Bible and Religion and Department Chair at Erskine College. This article is used with permission.