More on Tuesday’s gathering of evangelical leaders and activists with the presumptive Republican presidential nominee:
First, Yahoo News has posted a transcript of an audio recording of the gathering. I encourage you to read through the entire document with care.
Second, I thought that Michael Gerson’s Washington Post editorial regarding the meeting was absolutely first-rate. Gerson, a Wheaton alum and former speechwriter for George W. Bush, is one of the most insightful evangelical commentators on contemporary American politics. Please read his latest op-ed, which expresses more eloquently than I could the discouragement and disappointment that we are both feeling. Here is just a sampling:
. . . we are seeing a group focused on the rights and privileges of their own community, rather than the welfare of others — the poor, struggling and vulnerable. Many in that room do wonderful good works. But they have reduced Christian political involvement to a narrow, special interest — and a particularly angry and unattractive one. A powerful source of passion for social justice — a faith that once motivated abolitionism and various movements for civil and human rights — has been tamed and trivialized.
. . . Evangelical Christian leaders, motivated by political self-interest, are cozying up to a leader who has placed bigotry and malice at the center of American politics. They are defending the rights of their faith while dishonoring its essence. Genuine social influence will not come by putting Christ back into Christmas; it will come by putting Christ and his priorities back into more Christians.
Finally, for those of you with the time and appetite for a serious work of history that would place what we’re seeing in a larger context, I would recommend One Nation Under God: How Corporate America Invented Christian America, by Kevin Kruse. I reviewed this book at length when it came out last year. I don’t agree with all aspects of Kruse’s argument about the origins of popular belief that the United States is a Christian nation, but his book is chock-full of insights that might help us think historically and Christianly about the present moment.
Particularly chilling is Kruse’s recreation of the Nixon White House and that president’s shameless manipulation of gullible evangelicals. Nixon held worship services once a month or so in the East Room of the White House, and he regularly used them to court influential donors, influence key congressional votes, and promote a partisan agenda generally. Evangelical leaders who accepted the president’s invitation to take part were uniformly convinced of Nixon’s sincerity dismissed charges that the religious services were political. The reality was rather different. Kruse quotes Nixon aide Charles Colson, who later experienced a dramatic conversion to faith in Christ and repented of his role in Nixon’s administration:
Sure, we used the prayer breakfasts and church services and all that for political ends. One of my jobs in the White House was to romance religious leaders. We would bring them into the White house and they would be dazzled by the aura of the Oval Office, and I found them to be about the most pliable of any of the special interest groups that we worked with.
Regarding the East Room worship services specifically, Colson elaborated:
We turned those events into wonderful quasi-social, quasi-spiritual, quasi-political events, and brought in a whole host of religious leaders to [hold] worship services for the president and his family–and three hundred guests carefully selected by me for political purposes.
More broadly, Kevin Kruse’s careful study points out all of the ways during since the mid-twentieth century that arguments for America’s Christian identity have been intertwined with other commitments, whether to capitalism, patriotism, anti-communism, or eventually, to the Republican Party. The entire book is a huge cautionary tale. If only we could get some of the evangelicals at Tuesday’s gathering to read it.