The impact of 81% of evangelical Christians voting for Donald Trump, more than voted for George Bush, has had a significant impact on how the world Perceives the church in the west, but not necessarily how other Christian conservative peoples have perceived America.1 underlining this explosive shift in American politics is a deep dissatisfaction that demonstrates that voters no longer trust career politicians. This political shift has particularly stunned what had been a centrist liberal Consensus in the west. In eastern Europe in particular, we now see what are essentially extremist parties making progress and even in wester Europe their influence is increasingly evident. The electorate in America simply decided to do away with politicians they concluded did not represent their views.
Why has a unified ‘LeftChristCon’ emerged in the USA?
It is of supreme significance that the pro-life lobby is clearly affecting the electoral fortunes of America, years after Roe V Wade the American establishment is still essentially locked in a moral debate about abortion. The moral debate has now moved on though. After years of watching the liberal right shift progressively towards the left, the electorate has pressed the pause button followed by a rapid rewind by Donald Trump. The Catholic church, in particular, is determined to hold on to the moral centre ground.
In this modern secular world where Life and abortion is a matter of choice, this political intransigence is incomprehensible and confusing to the liberal mindset. When the American Catholic church can be described as increasingly right-wing, then we can be sure that underneath the headlines a much more profound and fundamental change may well be taking place in the realignment of attitudes and ethics. Catholics are determined to see Catholics in positions of influence, such as the Supreme court.2 That the Catholics in America are also now part of this new right-wing resurgence is testified in the fact that since 1986 six of the appointees to the Supreme Court have been Catholic and Brett Kavanagh, President Trump’s current nomination is a Catholic. The media though have not understood the nuance of this distinction simply lumping the evangelical church together under one band. This is a mistake. The resurgent right wing as portrayed in the media is not, in fact, a homogenous group. It is actually a rainbow collation of theologically diverse Christians. It would be better to describe it as a moral collation rather than a unitary right-wing fundamental coalition. The depth of feeling of pro-life Christians on the state of politics in America including Catholics is not to be underestimated despite the Pope’s interventions into American politics.3 I would go as far as to say biblical conviction on pro-life has for many years been responsible for a deep wound in the psyche of the biblically focused and Christ centred wing of every denomination, and it has raised a fundamental question ‘does anything take a moral priority, over the right to life?’
With Trump, the diverse group have seized an opportunity to take back lost ground, and the pain of that break in the previous cordial and relatively polite co-existence in the political marketplace has at root a binary narrative along which the current fault lines lie and from which those on the political right draw their moral self-affirmation.4
The resultant dolly mixture of ideologies
There have been many separate community grievances feeding into the political upheaval in America, such as the white underclass feeling they have been left behind by globalism, they have concluded that the current liberal consensus is the culprit for their misfortunes and adding insult to injury they believe that the progressively left travelling liberal elite are imposing on them morals that they can barely stomach.
The media sees this coalition as rallying around three fundamental issues Pro-life, anti-gay and anti-Muslim ideologies. Whilst all these elements exist in differing quantities, I would say that true north for this divergent group is the pro-life lobby without which the other issues could not have brought Trump to power. It is essential in my view a biblically inspired pro-life resurgence at root, a one-horse issue around which a number of grievances have coalited.
We see evidence for this in the significant differences of views that resides with pro trump supporters. A similar analogy would be the one-horse race of UKIP, a political party in the UK, which touted one key central idea which squeezed many people who would not ordinarily travel well together onto the same ship. Once UKIP achieved its objective of a Referendum on Brexit, it disintegrated, and this may well be the fate of the diverse range of political bedfellows that brought Trump to power, once the supreme court in America is once again right-leaning, we will have to wait and see.
David Myers, Professor of Psychology at Hope University, points to a January 2016 American National Election Studies Survey, showing that of the evangelicals who supported trump, a third attended church weekly, of those who did not attend church regularly more than half supported him, but the views of the two groups would diverge significantly. It is the non-attenders who were more likely to hold racist and anti-Muslim views.’5
Have evangelicals lost credibility?
Evangelical leaders in the states are unlike their cousins in Europe are not afraid to publicly express their theological convictions. Not so in Europe. Most politicians would be surprised to learn that virtually all ecclesiastical leaders of almost every denominational persuasion believe that abortion is a sin under almost every circumstance. But they consider it insensitive to publicly express it. If a list of clear fundamental questions were put to followers of Islam, Judaism or Christianity in Europe it would be surprising to most observers that there would be not much difference in opinion with their American counterparts. And whilst some variance is seen in the views of church leaders, even in the Anglican communion, the debate has already been settled with the Anglican church in the rest of the world making clear they are prepared to disfellowship any communion which departs from traditional biblical views. Whilst in the Uk the debate on pro-life and sexuality appears to be raging, nevertheless, the Anglican church in the UK cannot take the risk of departing from what is considered orthodoxy on pro-life and pro-family doctrine. The values of Muslims and Jews on Gay issues would be surprisingly similar to many bible following Christians of all denominations. The media seems oblivious to this or simply ignores it. The loss of credibility would assume that the church has departed from its values and beliefs, whilst the world would love the church to change some of its values, it does not yet appear to have lost credibility if credibility means staying true to those values.
Whoever answers the question ‘have evangelicals lost credibility?’ will fall into one side of the now exposed segregated worldviews which are violently jostling for power. The fact is the centrally binding theological ideology that ties pro-Trump voters together “pro-life” offers no middle ground. The reporting of the issues surrounding Trump’s presidency highlights the divisions with celebrated writers like Katha Pollitt traducing and belittling Trump supporters as being a laughing stock.6 She is, of course, a well know left-wing writer and would be treated with suspicion on the other side of the moral divide, so the question, of course, would be who is Laughing at evangelical trump supporters? The left-wing picks on comments made by perceived evangelical leaders such as Franklin Graham. Unfortunately, these commentators are missing the fundamental issue, every Christian is a theologian and on the whole committed Christians hold the same view on Abortion regardless of denomination and regardless of what church leaders say. The thorny and emotionally explosive theological opinions taken out of context can be said to be putting the church in the worst possible light. This fear of being taken out of context has strengthened the development of the soundbite in political circles, a pre-considered bite-sized political statement that is hard to misconstrue in order to avoid the kind of political attack seen in Pollitt’s articles where she picks on some of the most salacious statements of such leaders to make a point.7 That all sides of the political and ecclesiastical divide are doing this is clear.
Tony Perkin, of the Family Research Council, sees the Evangelicals as essentially becoming tired of being pushed around and “bullied” by the liberal left throughout the President Obama era.8
The left turns to former evangelical leaders like Tony Campolo, looking for supportive soundbites to shore the left view. Tony Campolo’s views find no real traction in the evangelical church of America and at best, muted support elsewhere, it is precisely because he is a lone voice that his stance has been widely reported to promote the idea that change is happening in the evangelical church, but his impact in the evangelical world has been virtually negligible. Individuals like Tony Campolo are no longer regarded as followers of Christ within biblically conservative churches and if Tony Compolo’s experience is indicative such evangelicals who embrace a liberal point of view become isolated because of their stance on sexuality a course which Tony Campolo says has left him completely isolated and cut off from the rest of the church which does not share his stance.9
Whilst Pope Francis has a strong social message, it would be wrong to read his public statements as disguised affirmations of a liberal biblical view. The media does not really seem able to grasp that the church is “socially left and ethically right” and hold this view perfectly in Christ. The roots of evangelicalism lie in the recognition of a genuine personal faith in a Christ who died for Sin and challenges us to use all our resources to help and defend the poor and powerless, socially left ethically right. The term I would coin to describe Bible-believing evangelicals is ‘LeftChristCons’, all other labels eventually break down as the true believer can only move so far along the LefChristCcon scale before they are no longer a follower of Christ.
This is why we have Pope Francis speaking out against unfair immigration policies, but at the same time holding a conservative view on sexuality. Pope Francis initial public statements have given hope to the church and gave a boost to the Christian left in the USA. The evangelical church in Europe is more left-leaning than its American counterpart on issues of social concern. The media expresses the hope of an emerging organized Christian left in the USA taking Pope Francis as a champion.10 Actually, he is a ‘lefchirstcon’ widely reported to speak out favourably to support gay people on a return flight from Brazil. But his clarifications on the subject have been less widely reported. He has since clarified that the Catholic Church must be free to publicly advocate its positions on homosexuality, and went forwards to point out when visiting the Philippines that policies being fostered on the Philippines surrounding homosexuality are an attempt by the rich west to impose its values on poorer nations a sentiment shared by many African nations. 11
That the left-leaning part of the evangelical church is attempting to make its voice heard in the USA is clear, hundreds of clergy attended a rally at the U.S Senate to block the President’s attorney general nominee Jeff Sessions due to his previous controversial statements on race. There are many other examples of the Christian left mobilising, the really difficult thing to measure is how many of those are ‘LeftChristCons’ because at the extreme end of the ‘Christian left’ are not evangelicals but liberals who are a tiny percentage of the Christian community and are indistinguishable from liberals in the general community.12
Left wing liberals have always made common cause with left-wing Christians and Christians on the right have done the same with the political right. But the common thread that cuts through all shades of political ideology and returns the Christians to a centrist stance is the key issue of abortion followed by the general principle of morality. In US history, left-wing religious activism fought for civil rights and made progress as it was not then perceived as part of ongoing politics but outside the political system. Now, most of the religious left can be found in the Democratic Party which consists mainly of those deemed secular and most strongly opposed to religious opposition to LGBT rights.13
Europe, as with the USA, has seen a rise of the religious right. Back in 2016, The Financial Times studied how the far-right had begun bringing Christianity into national narratives. The fear of Islamisation, migration from Syria and Africa, fears about terrorism have all been deployed in raising the political right flag, particularly the affirmation that Europe has Christian roots.14
The political right in Europe has historically struggled with suspicion from the masses due to the actions of previous right-wing regimes like the Vichy regime in France which supported totalitarianism.’ But recently the eastern nations are courting not just right-wing ideology but an extreme right-wing ideology which always attempts to wrap itself in the Christian flag. Hungary is provided as the best illustration of this, with the Prime Minister Viktor Orban pushing for an ‘illiberal state’ to protect ‘Christian Europe’ against the ‘invaders’ and by this, he means Muslims in particular. 15
However, the church has always been a moderating voice in the west and is resistant to such extremes. Theresa May herself said on Radio 4 in 2014. “there is no central evangelistic move as we see in the USA existing in the UK but that there are people of faith in all of the central parties, who along with the Anglican church are against the alt-right use of Christianity abasing Islam and the ‘other’. 16
It will be interesting to see if the Labour or conservative parties in the Uk will be able to drown out the natural instinct of the LeftChristCon in the Uk. So fare the wider church has followed rather than lead on moral issues and seems to have lost it’s ethical nerve. With Paedophile priests and adulterous leaders the church seems to have lost its prophetic edge, who wants to listen to a possible child abuser? it would be simplistic to infer that this loss of the prophetic voice is a recent phenomenon borne out of recent scandals in the church, but the church has been willing to follow and in many cases support the liberal move to the left for decades and in some cases at the expense of a clear prophetic dissenting voice on many issues not just poverty or morality.
Social priorities are always a winner with the social conscience of the evangelical Christian. But, at the core of every true Christian is the understanding that Sin is the root of all our ills, and whilst caring for the widow and orphan is an evidence of true Christianity, morality cannot ultimately be subjective, Christ has declared he died for all forms of sin, therefore when a clash of moral values emerges the LeftChristCon finds him/herself in a dilemma, just ask Tim Farron former leader of the Liberal Democrat party who under pressure denied his convictions as the leader of the Liberal Party but upon resigning publicly apologised for denying when in office his true Christian convictions.
I would go as far as to say that just as we have seen with Trump in America, UKIP is a warning that if pushed far enough the polite equilibrium that exists in the public square could easily result in a similar national political rainbow sweeping an unlikely and unconventional and maybe even obnoxious individual to power. Labours heartland in the north appeared to be quite soft and haemorrhaged to UKIP, and conservative strongholds in the south also saw at the height of UKIP’s popularity a leaking of voters to that party resulting in the promise of a referendum. It is not beyond the imagination that a failed Brexit could see a resurgence of a collation of the disaffected voter. What is less clear is a central narrative like pro-life that could hold them all together. But if a moral narrative that also carried a social message was picked up by the popular mases I have no doubt t that the British ‘LeftChristCon’s’ would support it even if some the values being espoused caused them to hold their nose.
Background Research – Karen lewis
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