© 2016 by Rachel Douchant.

Alt-Right Christians? Not really.

March 22, 2017

I'm as disappointed as the next guy when it comes to the election of our current president.  But Sarah Posner, writing for the New Republic, fails to make a convincing case that Donald Trump's election has revealed a seething underworld of Alt-Right Christianity in the evangelical movement.  

 

1) Her most glaring mistake is that she fails to take into account the main reason that the vast majority of evangelicals voted for Donald Trump, namely, Hillary Clinton.  For many, this was a 'hold-your-nose-and-do-it' situation.  Their concern?  Moral Relativism. Yep, or so the Pew research claims, anyway, according to a recent talk I heard by Tim Goeglein.  I guess Hillary just seemed too determined to directly undermine traditional values with policy, while Trump seemed to be just... well... haphazard.  Someone who might do something you don't like by accident is a better bet than someone who wants to do something you don't like on purpose.

 

2) I know lots of evangelicals.  As an academic, I probably know more who might be called 'left-leaning' (on some things) than would be representative of the evangelical population.  I also know lots of very intelligent, thoughtful, conservative evangelicals, but I know plenty of roll-your-eyes, uncle-at-Thanksgiving evangelicals too.  And none of them sound anything like the weirdos Posner scrounged up to interview about Alt-Right Christianity.  I grew up steeped in the evangelical world, and hadn't heard of a Christian Reconstructionist till I was in grad school.  They're very 'out there' theologically. This is not a large group of people, although I don't doubt that they've had some nefarious influence.  I'm not saying we shouldn't be worried about them.  I'm saying that they don't explain Trump.

 

3) I'm not sure who Posner would like to convince, but quoting the Southern Poverty Law Center is not the way to gain credibility with Joe Schmo conservatives.  The fact that some racist thinks that the SPLC is racist doesn't make the SPLC a reliable source of information.  Their lens for assigning titles of 'white nationalist' and other such slander is not just far left, it's also inaccurate.  Charles Murray may be a lot of things, but he's never uttered a nationalist word in his entire life.

 

 If you're claiming to take 'bad guys' down, at least be accurate.

 

4) On the other hand, her point that the rise of the moral majority had less to do with abortion and more to do with Bob Jones University was fascinating.  And considering who made the claim (repentant co-founder of the organization), I have no trouble believing it.  The rise of the Christian, right-wing political bloc is a sore spot even for many Christian right-wingers.  The originators of the movement eventually rejected it, and even apologized profusely for it (and not necessarily because they'd changed their politics or their religion).  However, Posner still has a blind spot with regard to the real motives that underlay the complaint about government interference with Bob Jones.  Many evangelicals who might have thought it was wrong or just weird to disallow interracial dating relationships might still object to the use of coercion to change that practice at a private, religious university, because of the (very real and now, quite prescient) concern that the same sorts of interference would be applied to other, more mainstream, issues.  If secular forces were going to undertake a crusade to control the culture, evangelicals were sure as H-E-double-hockey-sticks going to undertake their own crusade.  I'm not a fan of the religious right; my point is that you won't understand them any better by assuming that racism is their animating motive.

 

5) And finally, she just overplays the role of the Alt-Right in general.  Evangelicals can't be the puppets of the Alt-Right if the Alt-Right is largely smoke and mirrors.  They're a very small, very noisy group, who will never, ever, make significant progress in the evangelical movement.  If anything, the current tendency of evangelicalism to be quite open to concerns about things like race and economic oppression is what Posner's weirdos are complaining about - and a far better indicator of the way evangelicals are actually going.  The fact that Russell Moore has been so bold as head of the public policy arm of the Southern Baptist Convention, and been so well-tolerated, is evidence of that. You've got a few churches complaining that he was too explicitly anti-Trump, and after one meeting and a clarification on his part, everybody's basically copacetic.  If what Posner says about evangelicalism were true, Moore wouldn't have gotten anywhere near the position he holds today.

 

This article makes some interesting points, don't get me wrong.  But by diagnosing evangelicals from a perspective that doesn't really understand them, it only adds to the alienation that motivated many Trump-supporters.  Is that what we want?

 

 

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