I was a young worship leader in 1992 when Gospel singer, Sandy Patty (then spelled Patti), announced her divorce. Patty’s actions were deemed scandalous and sinful. Christian bookstores removed her albums from the shelves. Christian Disc Jockey’s stopped playing her music on the radio. One, then influential, minister was Al Menconi who said, “Because I feel so strongly about divorce I cannot recommend any Christian artist who divorces while they are in ministry. For that reason, I will not be able to recommend Sandi Patti in the near future.”
Seven years later, in 1999, when famed Gospel artist Amy Grant announced her divorce, the process started over again. She was shunned, denounced and excluded from the full privilege of membership in Christian media. She no longer received invitations to perform at Billy Graham Crusades.
Like Patty, Grant and her music was slowly replaced by the music of new and upcoming artists. They were no longer worthy to share the stage with men of God, anointed to bring the good news of the Gospel to the sinner. But times have changed.
Today, we see Christian leaders falling all over themselves to get in a picture with a thrice-divorced county-clerk who tried to deny marriage licenses to gay couples; express support for a reality show child molester; and, even more inexplicably, support a philandering, racist, and xenophobic presidential candidate.
What began as an attempt to infuse American politics with fundamentalist Christianity in the 1960s with, perhaps, good intentions, as I wrote in When Religion and American Politics Became One, has turned into a power struggle between the Religious Right elite, and the progress of American culture.
Author and historian, Stephen Miller said, “If 1976 was the Year of the Evangelical, then 1980 was the Year of the Evangelical Right.” Jerry Falwell’s Moral Majority, established in 1979, found favor with presidential hopeful, Ronald Reagan. Reagan found favor with Falwell’s evangelical community. It was a relationship that began more than a decade earlier, according to historian, Darren Dochuk. But in 1980, the political and Religious Right merged on a national platform.
The issues on which the relationship was built were abortion, feminism, and gay rights. Falwell believed the country was headed in the wrong direction and that a majority of people agreed with him. Political strategist, Paul Weyrich, who was the first to bring in the fundamentalist voting block in the 1960s, wrote in a 1999 letter:
“[W]e have assumed that a majority of Americans basically agrees with our point of view. That has been the premise upon which we have tried to build any number of institutions, and indeed our whole strategy. It is I who suggested to Jerry Falwell that he call his organization the ‘Moral Majority.’ The second premise has been that if we could just elect enough conservatives, we could get our people in as Congressional leaders and they would fight to implement our agenda.”
Fast-forward to the 2016 election and what has become embarrassingly apparent is that the Religious Right has lost their grip on power. None of their chosen candidates, all of whom claimed God told them to run, became the Republican nominee. To the chagrin of the Republican establishment, and the Religious Right, an outsider came out of nowhere and stole the nomination.
The fractured Religious Right, now valuing power over principle, sold its proverbial soul to the devil. Former 1988 presidential contender, Pat Robertson, once pondered, what would it be like to have a government run by ‘’Spirit-filled Christians,’’ if ‘’every member of the Cabinet was Spirit-filled, the President was Spirit-filled, and the Senate and the House of Representatives were Spirit-filled?’’ Now, he’s thrown his support behind a candidate who has been accused of sexual assault 12-times and counting, and who said, “I will be asking for forgiveness, but hopefully I won’t have to be asking for much forgiveness.”
Jerry Falwell famously said of the 9/11 terrorist attacks:
“The abortionists have got to bear some burden for this because God will not be mocked. And when we destroy 40 million little innocent babies, we make God mad. I really believe that the pagans, and the abortionists, and the feminists, and the gays and the lesbians who are actively trying to make that an alternative lifestyle, the ACLU, People for the American Way, all of them who have tried to secularize America, I point the finger in their face and say, ‘You helped this happen.’”
Now, Jerry Falwell, Jr., the president of Liberty University, maintains his support of Donald Trump, despite Trump’s continued allegations of sexual misconduct. Liberty University students are so embarrassed by their president’s, and by default the university’s association with the embattled candidate, they released a letter stating in part, “We are Liberty students who are disappointed with President Falwell’s endorsement and are tired of being associated with one of the worst presidential candidates in American history.” They went on to say, “Donald Trump does not represent our values and we want nothing to do with him.”
For the Religious Right, supporting Donald Trump has nothing to do with Christian values, but everything to do with a final grasp for power, control and status. They continue to pour millions into anti-human rights laws, with a disregard for those who get hurt in the process.
The evangelical church has a long history of shooting its own wounded warriors, usually in a twisted act of piety. While Sandy Patty and Amy Grant never achieved the status they once held before their falls from grace, they moved on with their lives, mostly unabated by the self-righteous who disassociated with them. Yet, they still stand as examples of the Christian Right’s backwards values of straining out a gnat, but swallowing a camel.