Evangelicals in Denial

Evangelical leaders sing praises to an administration that has done nothing for them.

Evangelical leaders have achieved full submission to the dictates of the Republican Party. The ministers on Donald Trump’s prayer and advisory council have lately raised their voices in praise of the President’s son-in-law Jared Kushner and against the allegations that he may have helped the administration collude with Russia.

Setting aside the plausibility of the accusations against Kushner for the moment, one must ask why a council of evangelical advisors care at all about the character of an administration official. What has Kushner done to champion the hopes of these faith leaders? From all accounts, he met with them and was nice to them. “I’ve never known him not to take seriously any question or issue we’ve raised with him,” says Jack Graham. For Samuel Rodriguez he is “a great gift” and “an ever present help in time of need.”

Hm. Just what has the Trump administration done to help evangelicals needs? The nomination of Neil Gorsuch was a good sign as his record on religious liberty is heartening, but the man is an Episcopalian and hardly a crusading Pro-Lifer, and his legacy is no sure thing. Conservative Supreme Court appointees often disappoint on social issues. Moreover, Gorsuch is not Donald Trump, so crediting the President with the justice’s legacy is giving too much credit. Nominating a conservative justice is a past promise fulfilled. Evangelicals ought to ask what Trump has done for them lately.

The answer is: not much. His big executive order regarding religious liberty was to repeal the Johnson Amendment, a move no serious religious leader has asked the President to make. The impartial observer might surmise that Trump’s interest was to clear the way for his evangelical partisans to support him more directly and they seem to have obliged without any quid pro quo. The White House has not addressed abortion. It has not proposed any legislation that might curtail the Human Rights Campaign’s assault on religious conscience. Trump has not even said anything about these issues. Worse, the administration has hung an inhumane and restrictive border policy around his supporters’ necks that targets very vulnerable people from war-torn countries. The “travel ban” has undermined and wrecked the work of major evangelical humanitarian organizations that specialize in refugee resettlement, most notably World Relief, who laid off some 140 employees and closed an office as a result of Trump’s executive order. When Barack Obama threatened Christian nonprofits and colleges by refusing to give them religious liberty exemptions under the Affordable Care Act, these leaders howled. But now that the actions of our current President have actually shuttered some of those institutions, there has been little outcry from their corner. But hey, Kushner seems like a great guy.

So what, if not policy victories or voicing their concerns from the White House, is motivating these pastors to stick their necks out to burnish the character of one of Trump’s advisors and prejudge the conclusions of a special investigation against him? From what I can tell, the group seems to be working for nothing. I hope I am wrong. I sincerely hope they are not just doing the bidding of a fickle, cantankerous executive in order to stay in his inner circle of favor. But if it’s access they are playing for, then it’s access to a group of people who are supremely indifferent to religious concerns.

If we’ve learned anything from the last few months, Trump is a man who demands escalating, tragicomic acts of fealty in order to remain on his good side. Evangelicals shilling for Kushner doesn’t quite reach the level of epic humiliations suffered by Sean Spicer during his time as White House Press Secretary, but it is still a strange act that seems to serve the Trump administration far more than the interests of evangelicals. This is concerning for the future of evangelicals in the party. If GOP leaders see how easy it is to get evangelicals to support them, then we can all look forward to a future of dhimmitude, not influence, in the Republican Party. Besides, what does Kushner’s sterling character matter next to his father-in-law’s? We are still waiting on the Evangelical Advisory Board’s full statement on it.

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