Evangelicals who choose culture over Christ

David W. Marshall

Russell Moore is the Adam Kinzinger within the Protestant Christian world. Former U.S. Rep. Kinzinger is one of two Republicans who served on the Jan. 6 House Select Committee. From his time and experience inside the Republican Party, Kinzinger saw firsthand how Donald Trump and his cult-like followers became a disastrous threat to the nation and to democracy itself.

Kinzinger, a Protestant Christian, warned that some Christian churches have become a “house of worship” to the former president. He was condemned by conservative Christian members of his family who were upset over his opposition to Trump. As the GOP ostracized Kinzinger, Moore found himself out of favor with many evangelical leaders for the same reason.

Moore is currently the editor-in-chief of Christianity Today magazine, but in his previous position as a top official for the Southern Baptist Convention, he was a frequent and outspoken critic of Trump. He later resigned from his work with the SBC due to his strong views on Trump, his opposition to an increased tolerance for White nationalism within the church, and the sexual abuse crisis among the Southern Baptist clergy.

Moore said in a recent NPR interview that Christianity is in a “crisis” due to the current state of right-wing politics. It is another example of how the subjects of race, politics, and religion are intertwined, but Moore goes as far as to imply politics can negatively control Christianity.

During the NPR interview, Moore suggested that Trump had transformed the political landscape in the U.S. to the point where some Christian conservatives openly denounce parts of their religion’s central doctrine as being too “weak” and being “liberal talking points.”

While we may point to Trump as the catalyst in making the current political environment more comfortable and acceptable for today’s conservative Christians to reject their Christian teachings out loud, it has been a rejection that has been active for centuries. Rather than align themselves with the teachings of Christ, where we are to “love thy neighbor,” the conservative social values accepted throughout the Bible Belt region of the U.S. are more aligned with the long-held belief that White Anglo-Saxon Protestants are racially and religiously superior people.

This superiority belief not only entitled them to rule but to conquer and occupy all of North America by forcefully subduing the Native Americans and “barbarian Mexicans.” Also, it’s no coincidence that the nation’s worst atrocities and domestic terror—such as slavery, the Trail of Tears, Black massacres, and Jim Crow lynching—all occurred in this same Bible Belt region of the South.

While the message “Jesus Saves” is promoted and embraced among conservative Christians, on the other hand, the social messages of how Jesus cared for the poor, oppressed, fatherless, strangers (immigrants), and widows (single moms) are rejected. The lack of investment in people’s lives and futures again aligns with conservative social values, resulting in the nation’s poorest states historically being in the South’s Bible Belt. While heart disease, obesity, homicide, and teenage pregnancy rates are among the highest in the country throughout the Bible Belt, education and college graduation rates in the Bible Belt are among the lowest.

It is not just people of color being held back, but Whites, who sometimes simply ignore their self-interest and the interests of their communities when voting. Moore and Kinzinger’s outspokenness targets Trump in ways that highlight how White evangelicals can be exploited as a powerful voting bloc. It also highlights how Trump was masterful in tapping into the dark sub-culture of the Bible Belt. Those seeking political office are aware of this fact. 

Rather than being the true moral compass, White evangelicals have given politicians too much freedom in shaping the moral narrative to suit the Republican partisan agenda and goals. It explains why the issue of “pro-life” is focused only on abortion while ignoring other critical life and death issues such as gun laws. It explains their fight for the unborn and then why the born child is not met with equal moral intensity.

The moral hypocrisy of right-wing politics didn’t start with Trump’s MAGA movement, the GOP’s Tea Party, or Jerry Falwell’s Moral Majority. We saw it with the abortion issue in the 1970s, where the “pro-life” narrative was reshaped and then driven by a Republican political strategy whose sole purpose was to woo Catholic Democrats. Former President Richard Nixon lost the U.S. presidency in his first attempt—against John F. Kennedy, who became the first-ever Catholic president. Nixon, determined not to lose the Catholic vote, exploited the deep anti-abortion sentiment among those of the Catholic faith. 

Nixon’s political strategy has proven effective for future Republican candidates since the focus turned to social culture issues as part of the Southern Strategy. The “pro-life” political narrative by candidates and elected officials didn’t start with the intent of saving lives as they claim; it was about getting votes.

David W. Marshall is the founder of the faith-based organization, TRB: The Reconciled Body, and author of the book God Bless Our Divided America. He can be reached at www.davidwmarshallauthor.com.

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