Calvin College Chimes

Opinion: Modern evangelicalism is at odds with historic Christianity

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Christianity has always stood against the venomous rhetoric and bigotry of dangerous demagogues, even if their politics seemed favorable to Christian leaders. Simply put, the Christian faith doesn’t endorse unrepentant reprobates; Christ ate with sinners but never encouraged them in their sins. But current White American evangelicalism doesn’t seem to understand this, pointing to the increasingly attractive conclusion that evangelicalism, the largest Christian tradition in the United States, is at odds with historic Christianity.

Take, for example, St. Ambrose, one of the great church fathers. Ambrose barred Emperor Theodosius from attending mass because he ordered a massacre of over 7,000 Thessalonians. It would have been easier, and even politically rewarding, for Ambrose to perform mass in the presence of Theodosius. After all, who denies an emperor?

Ambrose, a pillar of Western theology, rejected the murderous politics of an unethical emperor. He was unwilling to let politics dictate his faith. American evangelicals exchange this conviction for favorable politics. To put this conversation into perspective: there is a chance America will put a sexual offender on the Supreme Court — well, a second if anyone is counting — and many evangelicals don’t seem to care.

According to a collective poll by NPR/PBS NewsHour/Marist, 48 percent of white evangelicals said they would still support Kavanaugh’s appointment even if the allegations proved true. This means that 48 percent of white evangelicals are willing to support a rapist as long as they like the rapist’s politics. This poll doesn’t stand in isolation. Another poll by NPR found that 72 percent of white evangelicals agreed that “an elected official who commits an immoral act in their personal life can still behave ethically and fulfill their duties.”

Evangelicals, as a whole, are willing to support rapists for public office, while Ambrose refused to serve the eucharist to a murderer? Evangelicals and Ambrose seem to be of two different faiths.

Kavanaugh might be a rapist, yet he captured the evangelical base. The 2016 Republican nominee for the Alabama Senate race, Roy Moore, sexually assaulted women, including minors. And Trump, belligerently racist, cozied up to neo-Nazis after the events in Charlottesville, N.C. But, with few notable exceptions, these three men won over the conservative Christian, often evangelical, base.

No, not all people who support Trump are racists. But they support one. And when you support racists, you enable racism; and when you support rapists, spoiler-alert, you enable rape.

It’s not Christian to support amoral leaders, and if evangelicals continue to do so, either evangelicalism needs to change or Christianity needs to distinguish itself from the movement.

I’m not saying these people supporting unethical politicians aren’t Christians. But I’m saying that they aren’t being Christian, at least not in regard to the leaders they endorse.

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