As a born and bread Christian fundamentalist, I was raised on a strict moral code. There was a difference between those of us who were truly Christians and those who were Christians in name only. “We don’t drink, we don’t chew; we don’t go out with girls who do,” was a common tongue-in-cheek saying I heard growing up. While I personally didn’t know any girls who chewed tobacco, apparently my great grandmother was one of them. My father’s family was so poor, to be called “trailer trash” was a step up for them. But that’s another story.
An integral part of the Evangelical faith, we didn’t have religion; we had a relationship with God. Evidence of that came through the way we lived our lives. Premarital sex was not allowed. Marriage was only between a man and a woman. Abortion was wrong. Homosexuality, in all of its forms, was wrong. Drinking, gambling and swearing were, of course, all wrong.
Politically, we supported the likes of Ronald Reagan, Bush, Sr., and Bush, Jr., all of whom, we believed, exhibited the kind of godly characteristics that kept our nation humble before God. We were groomed to do so by our culture. But when Barrack Obama was elected into office, all bets were off. And so were the gloves.
The evangelicals, a group with whom I have not identified in over a decade, lost their minds. Their power was slipping. The moral control they had built over the last 40 years had lost its impact. Acceptance of LGBT people and marriage equality was growing. Stopping abortion, the party’s platform for decades, has yet to change the Supreme Court’s ruling of Roe v. Wade. Their abstinence platform, an abysmal attempt to stop teen pregnancies and abortions, has never worked.
Barack Obama and the Democratic Party became all that is wrong with America. ISIS growth, based in part on George Bush and congress’s decision to attack Iraq, spiraled out of control, drawing more attention to immigrants. By association, undocumented workers fell into that category. Islam, a religion seen by some fundamentalist Christians as demonic, became its own holy war because of Islamic extremists. And evangelical leaders, who once reveled in the spotlight, suddenly found themselves on the outside.
When their candidates were unilaterally rejected by the masses, the values on which they once stood took a back seat to getting behind someone – anyone – who claimed to share their values. Thus, the symbiotic relationship with Donald Trump began. He needs their votes and they need his status.
But what to do about those pesky morals on which those evangelical leaders built their power platform. Trump, a thrice-married, admitted adulterer, who makes a good chunk of his fortune from casinos and bars, barely capable of making coherent religious statements, hardly admonishes the values or beliefs these leaders say they believe in. The answer was clear. Simply declare trump a “baby Christian,” and believers – the millions who follow the likes of James Dobson, Pat Robertson and other high profile evangelicals – will give him a pass. As Dobson said, “You got to cut him some slack. He didn’t grow up like we did.”
Rather than waiting for Trump to turn to God, many have simply adopted a different view of God: a xenophobic, homophobic, gun-toting, anti-immigrant, ISIS-fearing God of ultra-conservative ideologies. Donald Trump represents the kind of God these evangelical leaders truly believe in.
Telling them “If I become president, we’re gonna be saying Merry Christmas at every store…” and “we’re going to have the strongest Christian lobby” reinforces the Fox News narrative that Christians are the true victims of progress. At the same time, it exposes the dread many of these leaders feel as they realize their brand of Christian elitism is wearing thin on the American public. (By the way, evangelicals have enormous lobbying power.)
The reality is that these Christian leaders are more concerned with mental control over their adherents and maintaining political power by touting the evils of abortion, homosexuality, and adultery, than they care about the purity of the faith they proclaim. Then again, as we saw in 2015, an estimated 400 church leaderswere active members on the adultery site, Ashley Madison, when it was hacked.
Trump’s self-righteous opposition to marriage equality plays into the hands of the religious right, along with his statement he would “strongly consider” appointing justices to overturn it. But then, at the Republican National Convention Trump said, “As your president I will do everything in my power to protect LGBTQ citizens.”
While he was prolife in 1999, in 2016 Trump said abortion should be banned and there should be some form of punishment for women who get one. His attempt at placating his overly zealous and under-educated audience went too far, even for the most conservative among them. But it doesn’t matter whether or not Trump believes, or even does what he says. What matters is that these leaders can ride on his hate-laced, fear-mongering coat tails back into power.
This article originally appeared on The Huffington Post
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