Last night, speaking in Iowa, President-elect Donald Trump extended enthusiastic thanks to evangelicals for their aggressive support during the election. This gratitude was well-deserved, with a large percentage of evangelicals turning out in significant numbers to vote for him.
Prior to the presidential election Russell Moore, spoke at the Erasmus lectures presented by First Things magazine, where he queried somewhat dubiously, “Can the Religious Right Be Saved?” Since the election, Tony Campolo and Shane Claiborne in a New York Times article provided a categorical response: “The Evangelicalism of Old White Men Is Dead.”
Moore, president of the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission, the public-policy arm of the Southern Baptist Convention, in his presentation lamented that the religious right had sold its soul by the endorsement of Trump, given his human frailties that were highlighted during the campaign. His castigation of the religious right was believed by many to be leveled at people such as Robert Jeffress, fellow Southern Baptist pastor of First Baptist in Dallas, who enthusiastically endorsed Trump. Campolo and Claiborne made similar accusations against evangelicals, specifically aimed at their white majority.
These evaluations of the religious right, especially those by Campolo and Claiborne, are problematic on several counts.
First, voters in the real world had the choice between Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton. Choosing between a candidate who advocated protecting the lives of unborn babies and one favorable toward killing them, it is difficult to understand how opting for the former is tantamount to selling one’s soul. Rather, it seems to me that a Southern Baptist spokesman like Russell Moore in discouraging support of Trump might do some soul-searching. Claiborne and Campolo (seeking to atone for being an old white man), wrote in the Times, “Many faithful Christian did not vote for Hillary Clinton because of their commitment to a consistent pro-life agenda. True faith can never pledge allegiance to anything less than Jesus.” None of the above seem to have noticed that Jesus was not on the ballot. It is hard to imagine how they could have missed that fact, but in their judgmentalism against the evangelical majority it seems that they did.
Also troubling is the divisiveness of Campolo and Claiborne, identifying the religious right as being comprised of old white men. It seems that they have borrowed a page out of Saul Alinsky’s Rules for Radicals that has been so avidly employed by Barack Obama that advances the strategy of divide and conquer. The employment of the strategy suggests that Campolo and Claiborne not only lean left in their theology but also in their tactics. The real issue should not be age, race, or gender, but whether or not their position is biblical. This description of conservative evangelicals marginalizes the significant numbers of young, black and Hispanic, and women evangelicals who voted for Trump, another reality these critics seem to have overlooked.
Perhaps their failure to acknowledge black and Hispanic evangelicals who voted for Trump is rooted in the same perspective that liberals take in their analysis of conservatives like Clarence Thomas, concluding that he is not actually black. For Campolo and Claiborne real Black and Hispanic evangelicals are those that embrace a liberal social agenda. Conservative ones don’t count.
This brings us to the real point that Campolo and Claiborne seem to be making. They want us to believe that conservative evangelicals, white, black, Hispanic, young, old, male, or female represent relics of the past, while those agreeing with their pseudo-evangelical position and politics represent the future.
I rather think that this position and their article in the New York Times might be classified with Jill Stein and Hillary Clinton’s demand for a recount and students needing grief counseling as a result of the election. Maybe the real problem is not that conservative evangelicalism, the religious right, is on the verge of demise, but that they are.