Christian fundamentalism weakens strength in politics
In the last days of March, a scandal engulfed the Alabama State Capitol when Governor Robert Bentley fired his best cop, who then turned around and accused the governor of having an extramarital affair. . The engines of the controversy have jumped into high gear with the release of a salacious audio cassette, in which the Governor is heard telling his listener how much he loves her and loves touching her breasts.
Despite all the inevitable hand turmoil and headlines, however, accusations of Bentley’s romantic flirtation with a former staff member – long-standing rumors in Alabama political circles and apparently confirmed when his 50-year-old wife took off. filed for divorce in 2015 – are unlikely to harm his political position. Nothing to see here, folks.
Except this: the disgrace of Bentley – a church-going moralist who beats the Bible – is just one more gaping hole in the mantle of holiness that has given the Christian right a special place in it. American politics over the past 40 years. While you still occasionally hear campaign rhetoric claiming to espouse Christian values, fundamentalist Christianity – at least as a powerful voting bloc – is pretty much a spent force in GOP politics.
If you have any doubts about it, just take a look at the current presidential field of the GOP, which is led by narcissistic, unscriptural, and three-time-married hedonist Donald Trump. Ted Cruz bet his presidential candidacy on his good faith as a true believer in the fundamentalist tension of Christianity, which emphasizes church attendance, public prayer, and a narrow moral code (at least for public consumption). But in the primary contests so far, Trump has at least stood up to staunch conservatives.
It’s the one thing about Trump’s baffling rise that prompts me to say a few hallelujahs. I am not mourning the demise of fundamentalist Christianity as a dominant force; its adherents have done little to advance moral or ethical values.
With a few rare exceptions, they do not promote social justice, work to eradicate poverty, or campaign for compassion towards “the stranger” – immigrants. Instead, they tried to impose their petty and rigid religious beliefs on public policy, misinterpreting the U.S. Constitution and disregarding the civic foundations of a pluralist democracy.
Their enthusiasm for Trump underscores what has always been true about this group: they have strong nationalist and authoritarian impulses; they are xenophobes; they are opposed to social change. There is also a strong flush of racism among some white fundamentalist Christians.
It helps to remember the early days of the late Jerry Falwell, who founded the Moral Majority in 1979 and arranged a marriage of convenience with the Republican Party. As pastor of Thomas Road Baptist Church in Lynchburg, Va., He spoke out against the 1954 Supreme Court ruling that disintegrated public schools and denounced Reverend Martin Luther King Jr. as a ” subversive communist ”.
Falwell abandoned this rhetoric after becoming a national figure, but he did not abandon his right-wing views on race. Its foray into national politics began when the federal government decided to revoke the tax-exempt status of private white-only schools – the “separate academies” – which arose as a result of the desegregation of public schools. Falwell had started his own seg academy in Virginia.
Given the animating passions of Falwell supporters, it’s no surprise that so many conservative Christians have made a smooth transition to Trump. They had already been flexible on their principles, as long as their politicians continued to support the policies that were really important to them. These include contempt for the poor, mistrust of Muslims and a nationalist rhetoric that emphasizes domination on the world stage.
Bentley got close enough to that line that he was unlikely to pay the price for his alleged affair. (For the record, Bentley said, unconvincingly, that he had no “physical” relationship with the former staff member.)
For example, the governor supported the state’s extremely harsh law targeting illegal workers, even though it originally included a provision (since struck down by a federal court) criminalizing the “transportation” of an undocumented immigrant. Some critics have pointed out that this could punish a good Christian who offers to drive an immigrant to church.
Neither Bentley nor his supporters cared a bit.
Cynthia Tucker won the Pulitzer Prize for commentary in 2007. She can be contacted at [email protected]