Yesterday I quoted an essay written by Amy Gannett in which she lamented the apparent longing of evangelical leaders in the United States to reject progress in the interests of returning to a familiar and cherished past and in the process abandon the younger demographic who perceive many of the changes in recent history in a positive light.

In response to Gannett’s article the author and proprietor of Daylight Atheism Adam Lee picked out one line he found deeply puzzling and disturbing. Lee explains his consternation in an essay at “Patheos” titled, “The White Supremacist Roots of Evangelicalism” (http://www.patheos.com/blogs/daylightatheism/2016/08/the-white-supremacist-roots-of-evangelicalism/)

Adam Lee is puzzled that Gannett should be surprised at Donald Trump’s rise to prominence. He takes grave exception to Gannett’s statement that Doand Trump,

somehow mysteriously to me, gained momentum and endorsements.

Lee is confounded by Gannet’s “somehow, mysteriously to me.” He explains,

Gannett is revolted and appalled by her fellow evangelicals’ embrace of Trump in spite of his undisguised racism, his casual misogyny, his roaring xenophobia, his know-nothing arrogance, and all his other disqualifying flaws. That’s how any principled voter ought to feel, so I give her credit for that. But what I want to focus on is that she thinks Trump’s victory is mysterious. She sees his emergence as inexplicable, out of nowhere – as if he were some rogue orange planet, careening into the solar system and hurling all the other celestial bodies out of their orbits.

For Lee, Gannett’s surprise indicates that she is in deep denial about the roots of her own evangelicalism:

Gannett, like many evangelicals, is in denial about the history of her own faith. Trump’s rise to prominence isn’t mysterious at all. It makes perfect sense as the culmination of the political program that evangelicals have been promoting for decades.

For Lee the history of evangelicalism and particularly its defense in the early 1970’s of tax exempt status for schools like Bob Jones University that practiced segregation, should have been enough warning that Gannett’s favoured religious expression was just poised and waiting for an ideal candidate like Donald Trump to come along and represent their fears and concerns.

Mr. Lee’s surprise stems from a lack of nuance. Like so many commentators unfamiliar with the intricacies of the religious environment in the US, he conflates the hard-line religious right with evangelicalism throwing them all into the same pot as if there were no distinction.

Lee writes,

Resistance to racial equality and other forms of civil equality was the reason that the Christian right as we know it today came into being. It’s not some recent aberration, but a founding principle of the movement.

Evangelicalism is not synonymous with right wing Christian fundamentalism. Guilt by association is not a credible stance from which to mount a helpful critique.

I may be wrong, but I doubt Amy Gannett views Bob Jones University as representative of her particular brand of Christianity. Evangelicalism is a more complex animal than Mr. Lee gives credit. There is a gentler more socially aware version of evangelicalism (see for just one example of many: https://sojo.net/).

With this caution in mind, evangelicals do however need to take seriously the challenge Mr. Lee poses and to evaluate carefully the motivations behind their political allegiances.

Lee charges that Donald Trump’s

embrace of white supremacy is just a more explicit statement of what his white evangelical audience has believed all along. His campaign slogan, “Make America Great Again,” in their ears, is a deliberate evocation of the days when they were in charge and those uppity women and minorities knew their place. Despite not being religious himself, he’s become their standard-bearer because he speaks to their sense of entitlement and their fear that they’re losing the world they thought they were owed.

It is a legitimate concern. Responsible Christians must do everything in their power to distance themselves as publicly as possible from Mr. Trump’s prejudice, mysogyny, and violent hateful rhetoric. Only when evangelicals have made it absolutely clear that Donald Trump does not speak for them and does not have their support will they have a chance of maintaining the younger gentler generation of believers they appear willing to abandon.

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