There is a long history in the U.S of masking crimes, hatred and atrocities with a thin veil of Christianity. That tradition goes all the way back to eradicating an indigenous population and “Manifest Destiny,” in the name of God. I could go on, the record is replete. The evangelical movement is but the latest cloak for evil. Despite all the talk of God, faith and values, the subtle (and not so subtle) machinery of white supremacy and bigotry is evident in the movement, nationally.
You see it in the long history of blatant racism at Bob Jones University, a school that would not accept blacks even after the state schools integrated. You see it in the ministry of a Kenneth Hagin Jr. when he, from the pulpit, admonished his parishioners not to “mix the races.” You see it time and time again. It is because the evangelicals have become more overtly political the past 30 years or so that their hypocrisy has taken center stage nationally.
According to recent survey results published by the Public Religion Research Institute, 67% of white Evangelicals say it is somewhat or very important for a presidential candidate to share their religious beliefs. We’ve known that for years. Indeed, every Republican candidate works vigorously to persuade voters, not that they can make effective public policy but that they are the most Christian of the bunch. Naturally, Mitt Romney was handicapped this year as he sought to woo the evangelical base. Repeatedly, Romney struggled to reassure voters simply because of his Mormon faith. It didn’t help that Robert Jeffress, pastor of a 10,000 member church and a prominent evangelical leader, spent months openly declaring that Romney was in a “cult.”
Romney’s struggle underscores the historical reality that a presidential candidate needs at least some Christian credentials. In our history, one couldn’t imagine a Muslim being elected. Much harder to imagine, someone labeled by a national evangelical leader as a cult member being elected. Yet as we turn the page, things have changed. Among white, mainline protestant voters, Obama leads Romney 50% to 37%. However, among white evangelicals, Romney leads 68% to 19%. Remember, 67% of evangelicals claimed that there was importance attached to a candidate sharing their religious beliefs. Yet, the numbers are completely inverted- 68%- in support of a candidate who is, by the admission of one of their national leaders, in a cult.
It’s interesting that in all the reporting I’ve seen on this, the rationale is always that reservations evangelicals have about Romney’s faith are outweighed by their “dislike” of Obama. This leaves one to wonder what they dislike so much. His desire for healthcare reform? His plan was Romney’s plan from Massachusetts, actually (but even Harry Truman wanted national healthcare). His support for gays? Mitt Romney once said he would be better for gay rights than Ted Kennedy. His spending? I don’t recall any protests while Reagan or George Bush exploded the deficit to then record levels. Honestly, I can only think of one thing- his color.
Given a clear choice between a Christian and a non-Christian (as defined by Robert Jeffress), you’d think it would be obvious for evangelicals. Then again, racism can blind people from many things. A good case in point is Franklin Graham’s February 21st interview on MSNBC. When asked, Graham couldn’t bring himself to say that he believed Obama was a Christian. Further, Graham contended that he could not really answer that for anyone. However, he insisted that you have to look at a person’s actions in making any judgment on the topic. Interestingly enough, Graham had no problem answering in the affirmative for Rick Santorum. Even more shocking, however, Graham was also able to give a Christian nod to Newt Gingrich, a man whose moral failures are well documented.
Let me be clear, I’m not a Democrat. I believe in justice and that is on neither party’s radar these days. I must also make clear that not voting for Obama does not automatically make anyone a bigot or racist. It’s only when the same people who made religious belief the critical issue for years suddenly renege that it becomes suspicious. Throughout evangelical history, given a choice between a Christian and a non-Christian in an election, the results would be perfectly predictable, until now. Maybe this is the same shifting logic that has prompted Robert Jeffress to now endorse Romney. Perhaps we should just be honest, my evangelical friends.