Just hours before the 2018 midterm elections, my mind is focused on the 11 Jewish brothers and sisters who were murdered at the Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh on Oct. 27. It was a horrific tragedy, and one that reinforces just how far the U.S. has strayed from our core values. And so as Americans across the country get ready to head to the polls on Tuesday, I think it is time for those of us who call ourselves Christians to stand up. And most importantly, to speak up against the hate being spewed by the president of the United States, a man who was wholeheartedly endorsed by white evangelical Christians in 2016.
The disturbing reality is that many of the people enthusiastically engaging in divisive rhetoric right now are people who also call themselves followers of Christ. This rhetoric is often cloaked in a desire to “Make America Great Again” or to “protect Christian values” or “Christian heritage.” But all of these are code words, sadly, for protecting whiteness in America. And an honest review of the “Christians” espousing such division, or worse justifying it, are almost all white, male and over 40. They invariably fear that, like Justice Brett Kavanaugh, their sons are under attack from radical feminists, leftists, dangerous immigrants and people of color.
Fact: In 2016, white evangelicals (some 81 percent, according to Pew) lined up squarely behind President Donald Trump during the 2016 campaign. That support has not changed much in the past two years, with leaders like Franklin Graham and Jerry Falwell, Jr., defending Trump and attacking those who speak out against him.
These evangelical leaders were equally vocal during Kavanaugh's Supreme Court confirmation hearings, showing no empathy or compassion for the woman who testified that she had been sexually assaulted by the judge as a teenager. As a Christian woman, I have watched Trump's increasingly cruel attacks on migrant families with disgust. He suggested that soldiers deployed to the border would be authorized to shoot children throwing rocks. My social media feed now sickens me, as I watch so-called Christians defend the indefensible.
Through it all, established white female evangelicals have been largely silent, with some exceptions. Beth Moore, a bold Texan with a loyal following of millions of Christian women across the globe, has been unafraid to challenge the evangelical church's good ol' boys' club. Other powerful women like Joyce Meyers, Lisa Bevere, Sheilah Walsh and Christine Caine have been less outspoken.
The younger generation gives me hope, however. I was heartened by reports that some white, female Christian voters in Texas, the bastion of white Christian evangelical power, are now supporting Democratic Senate candidate Beto O’Rourke. “When I look at [Ted] Cruz, I think he sees Republican politics. When I look at Beto, I think he sees vulnerable people who need to be supported,” one woman told The New York Times’ Elizabeth Dias.
It’s great that this segment of the church community is pushing back. But middle-aged white men are still the power brokers in southern Baptist and evangelical movements. They hold the power and they preach in the pulpits (as is the case in the black church). And, just as importantly, the women who are married to these men and who fill their churches sit quietly in their pews.
What modern day evangelicals like Falwell and others have done is to legitimize the white, male patriarchy as the status quo.
This dynamic makes no sense to me as a lifelong Christian, someone who believes that you cannot say you love Jesus but hate his people. You cannot say you love America, but not love your fellow Americans. What modern day evangelicals like Falwell and others have done is legitimize the patriarchy as the status quo: In this system, white men can break the rules, they can cheat, lie, evade taxes, have affairs and still be deemed God’s chosen one.
That’s bogus. And it’s not at all what these same Christian leaders said about President Barack Obama, who was a devoted family man and who attended church services every week.
Trump knows this. That’s why he feels so comfortable railing against refugees and black football players, or openly aligning himself with a Congressman who assaulted a reporter. Trump knows that these attacks will resonate with his base; he also knows that Christian leaders will not condemn them. They are complicit in his chorus of hate, willfully ignoring Christ’s core admonitions to “love thy neighbor as thyself” and to “feed the poor, care for the sick and least among you.”
This hypocrisy mirrors the hypocrisy of many colonial Christians in the 17th and 18th centuries. These men and women originally called themselves puritans, but their children and grandchildren would build a nation on the backs of slaves. Despite a national creed that spoke of equality and freedom, men were the masters of this burgeoning universe. And we can still see vestiges of this philosophy in the evangelical movement today.
So, what’s the bottom line? Polls leading up to election day this past week show a gender gap in favor of the Democrats. It looks like educated and independent white women, some of whom who doubtlessly voted for Republicans in 2016, may be turning back towards the Democrats. I believe this phenomenon has little to do with economics, or healthcare — it has to do with women being sick and tired of men like Trump.
Not all evangelical Christians are alike, and luckily it seems like younger women in particular are starting to see the light. Candidates like Beto O’Rourke, politicians who sincerely try to follow the teachings of Jesus, may be able to appeal to these conservatives. And if they can do this, we may be witnessing the beginning of an important demographic shift. Older, white evangelicals are living in the past. If conservative Christians can’t figure out a way to return to their biblical roots, their time at the top may be coming to an end — and with it the candidates they have unquestioningly supported.