Never has the hypocrisy of the leaders of the Christian Right been on greater display. I think Pope Francis’s comments implicitly questioning the faith of Donald Trump were impetuous and misguided (and I think they have been misrepresented by the media somewhat as well). The pope has no business making off-the-cuff judgments about the faith of particular American presidential candidates based on their policy proposals.
But the rush of evangelical leaders such as Jerry Falwell, Jr., and Franklin Graham to defend Trump’s faith makes me want to gag. We can be sure they will regret it, far more than Jerry Falwell, Sr., regretted defending segregation, and far more than Billy Graham regretted his warm alliance with Richard Nixon.
Do not forget that Franklin Graham openly speculated that Barack Obama – who in my view has made a far more credible profession of faith than Donald Trump – is a Muslim. These are men who – like their fathers – have attached themselves at the hip to the Republican Party, dismissing various Democratic presidential candidates as godless liberals determined to wreck Christian America. And yet they are thoroughly enamored – Falwell is outright seduced – by a man far more likely to wreck this country than any Democratic candidate in recent years.
Let’s be clear: Donald Trump is no conservative. And while he is a member of the Presbyterian Church (USA), he has openly bragged about his adulterous affairs, routinely slanders his opponents, and demagogically panders to the worst prejudices in an angry American public. Even more dangerous, he has routinely declared his intention to rule by executive order without regard to constitutional processes, as Senator Ben Sasse has vigorously pointed out. If you think President Obama’s unilateralism has threatened the constitutional order, get ready for far worse with a Republican President Donald Trump.
The blindness of many among the Christian Right is on display as they rush toward Trump as their savior while failing to grasp that he poses a far greater danger to the United States than any candidate in the Democratic Party (just read this comment thread). I sincerely hope Republicans can rally around an alternative before it is too late.
At First Things Richard Mouw joins in on the criticism of Jerry Falwell, Jr., who praised Donald Trump as “one of the greatest visionaries of our time” who “lives a life of helping others . . . as Jesus taught in the New Testament.” Mouw agrees with Southern Baptist leader Russell Moore that Falwell’s comments about Trump politicize the gospel. As Moore tweeted, “Politics driving the gospel rather than the other way around is the third temptation of Christ. He overcame it. Will we?”
What is interesting about Mouw’s piece is that he admits that in the past Calvinists have sometimes failed to overcome that third temptation of Christ. Even more interesting is that he points to Abraham Kuyper as a helpful corrective to this tendency. For those who are used to placing Kuyper in stark opposition to Reformed two kingdoms theology, Mouw’s brief description might begin to free them of that misguided tendency. Kuyper believed all of life falls under the lordship of Christ, of course, as did the classic Reformed two kingdoms tradition, but he also argued that Christ’s lordship calls for the sort of politics that embrace a democratic religious pluralism, as have some more recent Reformed two kingdoms advocates.
Mr. Trump promised his Liberty audience that if elected he will “protect Christianity.” People who love the Christian faith certainly could do with some protection these days. But the religious freedom we long for has to come as part of a larger movement for justice that generates a more comprehensive vision for a pluralistic society. It is in the service of that broader vision that we can avoid, as Russell Moore nicely put it, a pattern of “politics driving the gospel rather than the other way around.” If Jerry Falwell, Jr. wants some theological help in understanding that vision, I have a 19th century Calvinist whom I can recommend on the subject.
Falwell is not the only conservative Mouw might have criticized for politicizing the faith. Senator Ted Cruz apparently declared to his followers, “If we awaken and energize the body of Christ – if Christians and people of faith come out and vote their values – we will win and we will turn the country around.” “I want to tell everyone to get ready, strap on the full armor of God, get ready for the attacks that are coming.”
Christians should be very wary of candidates who identify their campaigns so closely with the purposes of God and the gospel faith, just as they should be wary of candidates who needlessly alienate Muslims and those who practice other faiths. Mouw is correct. Justice is nothing if not comprehensive in its vision for a pluralistic society.
You can read the rest of Mouw’s piece here.
Why is crime declining in the United States, especially violent crime (38% decline since 1992)? For years Christian Right warriors like Jerry Falwell pointed to rising crime rates as the direct result of America’s abandonment of God and Christianity. Do falling crime rates suggest that America is becoming more faithful to God?
What makes the statistics all the more surprising is that crime has continued to fall in the difficult economic years since 2008, defying expectations and predictions. Liberals should be just as surprised as Christian conservatives. Is it possible that increasing income and economic hope is not the only way to reduce crime?
The Economist notes the various theories:
Everything from the removal of lead from petrol to the increased prescription of psychiatric drugs has been credited with the decline. A controversial theory proposed in 2001 by two academics, Steven Levitt (of “Freakonomics” fame) and John Donohue, which attributed half the previous decade’s drop in crime to the legalisation of abortion in the 1970s, still has fans. Today there is growing interest in the role of video games and social-media technologies in providing young men, who are responsible for the lion’s share of violent crimes, with alternative ways to spend their time.
Other analysts look to structural or demographic explanations. Jack Levin, a criminology professor at Northeastern University in Boston, acknowledges the success of policing strategies, but notes that an ageing society like the United States should expect to experience less violent crime. Immigration also matters, he says: studies have repeatedly shown that cities with large immigrant populations experience lower rates of violent crime.
Then there is the awkward issue of incarceration. America continues to lock up a scandalously large number of its people: around 1% of the adult population is behind bars at any time. But, says Mr Levin, “the relationship between the incarceration rate and the violent-crime rate is not very strong.” New York has not followed the national mania for imprisonment, and yet the decline in its crime has been among the most impressive. Indeed, in states with a particular fondness for imprisoning citizens, such as California, the policy may have done more harm than good…
However we explain it, of course, this is great news for America. But it still makes one wonder, what’s going on? And what does this phenomena do to liberal theories about the relation between economics and crime, or to Christian Right theories about immorality and the decline of America?