An Evangelical Crack-Up?

What is going to happen to American Evangelicalism in the wake of the Roy Moore defeat? Christianity Today editor Mark Galli, in an editorial, says nothing good.Excerpts:

No matter the outcome of today’s special election in Alabama for a coveted US Senate seat, there is already one loser: Christian faith. When it comes to either matters of life and death or personal commitments of the human heart, no one will believe a word we say, perhaps for a generation. Christianity’s integrity is severely tarnished.

.. The Christian leaders who have excused, ignored, or justified his unscrupulous behavior and his indecent rhetoric have only given credence to their critics who accuse them of hypocrisy.

.. David Brody, a correspondent for the Christian Broadcasting Network, has noted the desperation and urgency felt throughout much of conservative Christianity. “The way evangelicals see the world, the culture is not only slipping away—it’s slipping away in all caps, with four exclamation points after that. It’s going to you-know-what in a handbasket.” The logic is then inexorable: “Where does that leave evangelicals? It leaves them with a choice. Do they sacrifice a little bit of that ethical guideline they’ve used in the past in exchange for what they believe is saving the culture?”

.. If evangelical means that, it has serious ramifications for the work of Christians and churches.”

That notion is bewildering to evangelical leaders who see Mr. Trump as their champion. They say that Mr. Trump has given them more access than any president in recent memory, and has done more to advance their agenda, by appointing judges who are likely to rule against abortion and gay rights; by channeling government funds to private religious schools; by recognizing Jerusalem as the capital of Israel; and by calling for the elimination of the Johnson Amendment, which prohibits churches and charitable groups from endorsing political candidates.

.. “I believe that God answered our prayers in a way we didn’t expect, for a person we didn’t even necessarily like,” said Stephen E. Strang, author of “God and Donald Trump” and founder of Charisma Media, a Christian publishing house.

Christians believe in redemption and forgiveness, so they’re willing to give Donald Trump a chance,” said Mr. Strang, who is a member of the president’s informal council of evangelical advisers. “If he turns out to be a lecher like Bill Clinton, or dishonest in some kind of way, in a way that’s proven, you’ll see the support fade as quick as it came.”

Mr. Strang said that those who talk about Mr. Trump tarnishing the evangelical brand “are not really believers — they’re not with us, anyway.”

.. You cannot underestimate the impact of being raised to think that morality was so important that impeachment was justified, and then see the very same people who instilled that belief in you to jump into bed with Donald Trump–a man just as morally debauched as Clinton, but without the advantage of competency or even enough of a sense of decency to know that his lecherous behavior isn’t something to brag about.

.. The key problem is in, as Galli says it, “the desperation and urgency felt throughout much of conservative Christianity.” The New Testament tells us repeatedly, in many different ways and through the examples of the apostles, that Christians should not fear or worry — and certainly not feel desperation! — even in the face of persecution. I was glad to see that he addressed the proper scriptural ways of dealing with such situations: turning the other cheek, forgiving, and doing good to our enemies.

Christians who rationalize compromising our testimony out of desperation are simply not trusting the one they claim to follow.

.. for the first time I can remember, the appearance of Danielite and Johannine apocalyptic imagery in both sermons and discussions on the left. (This isn’t entirely unwelcome, and I think it’s totally appropriate about environmental stewardship, but I am more interested in seeing the left pull the right out of their foxhole than in the left digging our own.)

..  “evangelical” seems to have been co-opted as a political label and makes no distinction between a theological disposition and a cultural identifier. It seems, anymore, to simply mean “non-mainline Protestants,”

.. The older Evangelicals are treading on dangerous ground and alienating their next generation by putting political power over living by Christ’s example.

 

.. The fault line in the schism is whether one takes a culture war-dominionist posture or faithful minority counterculture posture. This fault line — which also divides Christian generations — has lain hidden for a while, but Trump has exposed it, because the dominionists think they can use the Strongman for their own purposes and, maybe, by being his chaplaincy, even make a true believer of him.

The counterculturalists — usually younger evangelicals — think that’s a delusional misreading both of Trump and of the actual standing of Christianity in our nation, and that in the meantime going all-in with this Administration means shredding theological clarity and moral credibility.

.. In terms of Trump he is politician and in a rare moment of listening to his advisers, Paul Manafort was right that Mike Pence was correct choice for VP to ensure the evangelical vote came out for him.

.. But as they explain it, it was because of the supreme court, lesser of two evils, etc. Fine. I get that. What I don’t get is people trying to make Trump out to be the last best hope for the evangelical church.

.. In this sense, Trump and Roy Moore are in the tradition of the Emperor Constantine, whose interest in Christianity was purely for its use as a political tool. Ever since Constantine, there have always been Machiavellian leaders who used the Church for their own cynical purposes, and there will always be such leaders.

.. I suspect “evangelicals” were among the many “Christians” a few years ago who professed to see no contradiction between Christianity and the ideas of Ayn Rand. In other words, many self-identified “evangelicals” are really just identifying their cultural background, not their theology. (And they don’t know their theology.)

 .. However, I think that evagelicals were already hated by elite culture

.. “There is no way we can please them, they are going to hate us no matter what. We might as well support the bad ass who will fight for us, or at least not ramp up the persecution of elite culture against us.”

.. This strategy will also most likely fail, since Trump is likely to fail, and horribly. But I understand the despair and desperation that motivates it.

.. I’m one such libertarian, who recently left the PCA for the ECUSA. I felt that the social conservatives were becoming a professional liability for me. If I agreed with them, that would be fine. But I don’t. I don’t believe in criminalizing early-term abortion and I’m fine with civil same-sex marriage. And I’m not willing to suffer socially for views that I don’t hold and that IMO represent bad policy. 

 

The Wall Street Journal’s Trump problem

Dozens have left the paper in the past year and interviews with current and ex-staffers show outrage over pressure from management to normalize Trump

.. “Instead of clearing the air about the legitimate concerns of editors and reporters about balanced coverage of Trump, Baker led off with a 20-minute scolding about how we were indeed covering Trump correctly, and anybody who disputed that was wrong and wrong-headed,” a recently departed Journal staffer told the Guardian. “That pretty much took the air out of the room. I and most of my colleagues were disgusted by his performance.”

.. Concerns about the way in which the paper was covering Trump spilled over into public view earlier this year, when newsroom emails began leaking out showing Baker criticizing his staffers for language he deemed unfair.

.. Political editors and reporters find themselves either directly stymied by Gerry’s interference or shave the edges off their stories in advance to try to please him (and, by extension, Murdoch).”

.. Meanwhile longtime observers like Sarah Ellison, a former Journal reporter and author of the book War at the Wall Street Journal about Murdoch’s takeover of the paper, is not entirely surprised to see what has happened to Murdoch’s paper under Trump.

This is the most access he has had to a sitting president ever – that is something he’s tried to do and has done in other countries particularly with British prime ministers,” Ellison said. “He’s choosing his own personal access over having any journalistic clout.”

.. With Trump in the White House, he and the Australian-born media mogul have grown closer than ever, with Murdoch topping the New York Times’ list of the president’s outside advisers.

.. Trump liked Baker’s handling of the debate, especially compared to that of Fox News’ Megyn Kelly, who had grilled Trump on his treatment of women at an earlier debate in August. During Baker’s debate, the future president largely evaded tough questioning and enjoyed more airtime than anyone else on stage. “He was unbelievably charming afterwards,” Baker said of Trump at the time. “He came up to me and said, ‘That was an extraordinarily elegant debate. You handled it incredibly well.’”

.. After Trump’s surprise victory in November, Baker landed Trump’s first post-election interview. And he wrote a column in the Spectator, the conservative British magazine, deriding US publications for pro-Hillary Clinton bias, accusing them of having “lovingly compiled their historic ‘first woman president’ editions.”

In early January 2017, Baker upped the ante, publicly expressing reluctance to accuse Trump of “lying” amid a bout of national media soul-searching over how to cover the incoming president’s false statements, and lashing out at critics in a column mocking a “fit of Trump-induced pearl-clutching among the journalistic elite”.

If we are to use the term ‘lie’ in our reporting, then we have to be confident about the subject’s state of knowledge and his moral intent,” Baker explained of his approach.

.. staffers leaked a memo to BuzzFeed in which Baker asked them to stop using the “very loaded” description of countries included in Trump’s travel ban as “majority-Muslim,” and suggested they use wording that hewed closer to White House talking points instead.

.. the full transcript revealed a number of lines embarrassing for Trump that the paper had ignored, from Trump’s inquiry about Scottish independence – “What would they do with the British Open if they ever got out? They’d no longer have the British Open” – to his claim that the head of the Boy Scouts had called him to say he had delivered “the greatest speech that was ever made to them” the day before. (The Boy Scouts denied that.)

.. said of countries with large populations: “You call places like Malaysia, Indonesia, and you say, you know, how many people do you have? And it’s pretty amazing how many people they have.”

.. The full transcript also showed that the Journal’s White House reporters were sidelined during the interview by Baker, who dominated the questioning, speaking familiarly with Ivanka Trump about their children and a party they had both attended in the Hamptons in New York.

.. Baker highlighted what he viewed as the Journal’s best recent work, with lengthy lists of stories singled out for praise.

None of them were critical of Trump, and his top examples were not reported news but pieces of commentary flattering to Trump’s worldview

.. When he did mention reporting, he seemed more interested in highlighting soft-focus pieces on lunch trends that he noted performed well online, rather than anything about the president.

.. conservative exceptionalism of Baker, who still sometimes writes opinion columns – as he did after Brexit and the US election – in addition to his duties as the paper’s top editor.

.. “The Times and the Post have decided we’re in a unique historical moment, and a different tone or stance are required,” a current Journal staffer told the Guardian. “The Journal is not adopting that attitude.”

.. 48 Journal employees had accepted buyouts ..

.. The departures include two top White House reporters, well-respected political and policy reporters, veteran foreign correspondents, and virtually the entire national security team, some of whom were poached by the Washington Post.

.. his preferences are internalized by reporters who avoid pitching stories they expect he won’t like or who tone down language in their copy before turning it in.

.. “The main way he influenced the coverage in a political way was not by saying you can’t write about X subject,” one former staffer said. “It was more that there were certain stories that could get into the paper very easily and other stories you knew would be a fight.”

.. Others said reporters, in the DC bureau especially, have had to fight to get their harder-hitting Trump stories published, if they get published at all. “Almost everyone in the newsroom has a story about their story or a story of a colleague’s getting killed,” said a reporter. “That happens in all newspapers, but the killings run in one direction.”

.. a direct attack on the New York Times for suggesting that Hillary Clinton had the election sewn up. “On November 9, readers woke up to the difference between a New York newspaper and an American newspaper,” the ad for the Wall Street Journal said.

.. “It was really striking how any time we were writing something about News Corp they would go over it very carefully,” he told the Guardian. “With the New York Times they’d say we weren’t being hard enough on them.”

.. “The whole culture of the Journal for decades has been to be fair and accurate but also convey analysis and perspective and meaning,” another ex-Journal person said. “Gerry’s saying ‘just report the facts’, but there’s a difference between journalism and stenography.”

The Press Should Skip the White House Briefings

Did any group of fired employees cause more mischief for their employers, over so little, than the discharged staff of the White House Travel Office? They spurred the first Clinton “-gate” — Travelgate. The travel staff followed a path blazed by Mark Felt, the F.B.I. official who did not get the big promotion that he coveted and, as a source called Deep Throat, helped bring down Richard Nixon’s presidency.

How to speak Christian truth to political power

Moore was one of the few prominent evangelicals this election season to remain an outspoken critic of Donald Trump throughout the presidential campaign. He challenged the candidate on issues that seemed fairly obvious to any practicing Christian (the serial lying, immoral business practices, questionable sexual ethics, etc.) in surprising contrast to many others on the religious right who ignored or even made excuses for the candidate’s behavior.

.. The criticism being leveled at Moore by his religious counterparts says more about what the evangelical establishment mistakenly values today than it does about anything that Moore has done wrong. And it misunderstands the true role that Christians could — and should — play in the public square under a president who is likely to be dismissive of their cause.

.. So what is it that Moore said that these ostensible moral leaders don’t agree with? The statement that “if character matters, character matters”?

.. Perhaps it was that he pointed out how it was “a scandal and a disgrace” that when the sexually predatory “Access Hollywood” tapes were released, virtually all of the reaffirmations of support for Trump came from religious conservative leaders.

 .. access is now the end goal of Christians in Washington.
.. Christian leaders who think that having access means that they’ll be taken seriously when it comes to policymaking have been disappointed, including during the tenures of self-declared Christian presidents like the evangelical George W. Bush or Barack Obama.

.. But where Christian leaders should be seeking influence, especially in a rapidly secularizing society in which their views seem ever more countercultural, is in trying to remain a respected moral voice worth engaging with — not by setting aside their most distinctive values in a grab for shifting political power. The most persuasive religious leaders will be those who, like Russell Moore, remain distinguishable from everyone else. Attacking the most principled among themselves is an attack on Christians’ best chance for survival in the public square.