As is my rule with these things, I’ve taken a few days to hold off on publishing anything on Charlottesville. That said, it’s been a couple days now and for several reasons I think it’s a good time to post the following on white nationalism, evangelicalism, and Charlottesville.

Here is the simple, disturbing, and depressing fact that we must lead with: Evangelicals aided and abetted in the election of a man whose sympathies with neo-Nazis can no longer be in doubt—and, honestly, should not have been in doubt prior to last weekend anyway.

We need to be clear that what the neo-Nazis at this rally were promoting is very near to the heart of Trumpism and that point has always been very clear to anyone with the eyes to see it. The entire Trump campaign was filled with dog whistles that signaled his support for white nationalist groups and leaned heavily on well-established racist tropes. Let’s review:

These are just the things he has done in recent memory. But he has a long history of racism—housing discrimination, calling for the execution of the Central Park 5 who have since been exonerated by DNA evidence (not that that matters to Trump), saying “blacks are lazy,” and so on.

Here we should pause and note that the only thing potentially more disturbing than Trump’s history on race issues is his history of misogyny. It is remarkable and disturbing that I had forgotten until earlier this week that just last October he had been caught on a hot mic bragging about sexually assaulting women. This is the depth we have sunk to: the fact that the president is, by is own admission, a serial sexual assaulter has become backpage news in the midst of potential nuclear war with North Korea, obstruction of justice in the Russia investigation, and now this clear public alignment with neo-Nazis.

All of these things are matters of public record. They are not secret. And yet many prominent evangelicals supported him. Here’s a list to start on:

  • Jerry Falwell Jr
  • Mike Huckabee
  • Eric Metaxas
  • James Dobson
  • Wayne Grudem
  • John MacArthur

To the best of my knowledge, none of these men have repudiated Trump after all that has happened in the past seven months. Several of them, including Falwell and Metaxas, have in fact dug their heels in. At this point the only difference between them and someone as farcical as Dinesh D’Souza is a prison term.

We should linger on this point, in fact, particularly as it concerns Trump’s support of neo-Nazis: As best I can tell there are three possibilities in play here for why these men would support someone like Trump despite his obvious racism.

  • They didn’t see his racism.
  • They saw it, but did not care.
  • They support it.

If it is the first option, then we’re talking about the insularity of white evangelicalism and how oblivious we are to the sufferings of our neighbors. This is something to be lamented and repented of—and the repentance cannot be an empty public apology. It must be marked with behavior consistent with this repentance. Here they could do worse than starting by reading a book like Aliens in the Promised Land and searching out non-white evangelicals to discuss these issues with privately. (Here in Lincoln a group of white evangelical pastors now meet semi-often with local black pastors. I pray that such meetings will become more frequent in other cities as well.)

If it is the second possibility, then we’re talking about the seared consciences of many evangelicals who can continue to participate in political parties and movements that create enormous human suffering and who seem to be capable of justifying it by telling themselves that somehow the Democrats would be worse. Again, this is something to be lamented and repented of.

But here we need to turn the screws a bit more: The pastoral epistles speak plainly about the qualifications for Christian leadership. In 1 Tim. 3, Paul says, amongst other things, that leaders of God’s people must be both blameless and vigilant. Blameless, of course, does not mean wholly without sin. If it meant that then no one could serve as a shepherd of God’s people. It does mean, however, that a man must be above reproach, such that no one could bring a serious accusation of unrepentant sin against him.

Here is my question: If “supporting a man who publicly supports neo-Nazis and then refusing to renounce and repent of this decision after the fact is not a serious form of sin… what is?” I dare say that if a prominent evangelical leader expressed support for Planned Parenthood many would be raising this very question about him—and they would be right in doing so. But, then, why are we not equally disturbed by men who give their support to someone like Donald Trump?

Likewise, if a man cannot see something as plain as Trump’s white nationalism, how can he be trusted to be vigilant enough to lead God’s people? His judgment is plainly faulty. Why should he be entrusted with a position for which good judgment and vigilance is an essential characteristic?

Finally, if it is the third option, then we are in range of church discipline, defrocking, removal from jobs in full-time ministry, and so on. I sincerely hope I do not have to explain why on this point.

Whichever option we’re talking about here, we’re dealing with something extremely serious and something that exists at the highest levels of many evangelical ministries and churches.

This is, admittedly, a rough and exceedingly aggressive post. I understand that many will find my aggression off-putting and perhaps inappropriate for someone who is far younger than many of the men named above. There are two things I would say in response to this:

First, in Job we find Elihu, the youngest of the five men who speak in the book, making some severe criticisms of the friends and of Job himself. At the end of the book, Elihu is the only speaker not condemned by God. God reprimands Job and severely condemns Job’s friends. He says nothing against Elihu.

Likewise, in Psalm 119 the author speaks of having more insight than his teachers because he is committed to God’s word. Finally, in 1 Timothy Paul tells Timothy to let no one look down on him because of his youth.

Though it is not the normal pattern in Scripture, there are ample examples from the text of times when the young are given room to correct their elders who are in serious error. Again, in this situation we are dealing with leaders within evangelicalism who have supported a man who supports neo-Nazis. If this situation does not qualify as a unique situation where the young are given license to correct their elders, I do not know what would qualify.

Second, the deeper issue here is that this year has been something of a moral apocalypse not only for evangelicals, but for our republic. The absence of moral foundations is at this point undeniable and the results are devastating. If we would have credibility when witnessing to those to both our right and our left, we must have the courage to speak plainly when we see serious sin happening before our eyes. As I have considered this year and how to make sense of it I have found myself returning regularly to the example of one of my heroes, Francis Schaeffer.

Schaeffer, when confronted with the hippies, beatniks, and student radicals of the 1960s, routinely would say that these dissident groups were right to rebel against the world they grew up in. Schaeffer saw the safe, bourgeois 1950s in America as a time of deep spiritual darkness, a time in which people were governed by selfish concerns with personal peace and affluence and which produced a plastic, lifeless culture. Here he is in Pollution and the Death of Man:

The hippies of the 1960s did understand something. They were right in fighting the plastic culture, and the church should have been fighting it too… More than this, they were right in the fact that the plastic culture – modern man, the mechanistic worldview in university textbooks and in practice, the total threat of the machine, the establishment technology, the bourgeois upper middle class – is poor in its sensitivity to nature… As a utopian group, the counterculture understands something very real, both as to the culture as a culture, but also as to the poverty of modern man’s concept of nature and the way the machine is eating up nature on every side.”

It is precisely because he spoke so clearly on this point that he was able to be heard by the young people who washed up at Swiss L’Abri throughout the 1960s and 70s. We should learn something from that. If we would preach the Gospel and see the lost come to faith, if we would see our non-Christian neighbor come to saving faith, we must live lives of courage and beauty and fidelity, such that the non-Christians watching us would see something compelling, something they cannot explain but that they know they are drawn to.

This is what I want to say next: Supporting a man who supports neo-Nazis is incompatible with such a lofty goal. Yet even as I write that sentence I feel the force of its absurdity. This is what a segment of America’s evangelical movement has come to: We would attempt to convert our neighbors while also supporting a man who supports neo-Nazis.

As the saying goes, if it were not so sad it would be funny.

It is not funny.

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Posted by Jake Meador

Jake Meador is a 2010 graduate of the University of Nebraska-Lincoln where he studied English and History. He lives in Lincoln, NE with his wife Joie, their daughter Davy, and son Wendell. Jake's writing has appeared in Christianity Today, Fare Forward, the University Bookman, Books & Culture, First Things, Front Porch Republic, and The Run of Play.

  • Joe S

    Here we go again. There are 100 honest/credible reasons for rejecting Trump but NeverTrumpers prefer to repeat the lies… and then they have the chutzpah to talk of character!

    • C.T. Casberg

      What…what lies? Every one of these incidents is well documented by a variety of sources, often happily confirmed by Trump or his staff. Some of them are likely part of public records by now. Unless…no! You don’t think…you don’t think the Trump administration is spreading hateful lies about itself? What cunning!

      • Joe S

        He isn’t a racist, white supremacist neo-nazi. Nor are most of his supporters. He’s disavowed the tiny number of white supremacists who say they support him countless times.

        • wmrharris

          You’re right on the supremacist / neo-Nazi part: that’s not Trump. Why? Because to be so would imply a set of ideals or principles, and his very transactional approach is the very opposite. What is striking in the President’s comments are his inability to speak to American ideals, ideals that most take for granted. As he has shown, that’s not his “voice.”

          Rather than being a supremacist we might better think of it as an extension of his fundamental narcissism where it all needs to revolve around him. I don’t know as it’s ideological as it reflects the small bubble in which he operates. this smallness of his self-perception with its inability to see past the self that forecloses the necessary empathy for leadership of a republic.

    • BWF

      “I did try and [tuck] her. She was married. I moved on her like a [birch].” (Bracketed words were bowlderized).

      How is that for character?

      • Joe S

        His base doesn’t care about bowlderized words. Nor do they care about the statement. Move on. Pick a character fault they will find credible. There are plenty of them.

        Oh… 13 dead in Barcelona today (so far). He’s tweeted something about it. The news cycle will swing back in his favor. You missed your chance.

  • Mo

    Alas, I was waiting for your commentary and indeed it was worth waiting for. I truly hope to be as critically yet humble as you are in your writings. As the unraveling of our society continues to progress, articles like this remind me that maybe just maybe there is still hope.

  • I read a fascinating interview with Megan Phelps-Roper last night. She left the Westboro Baptist Church after questioning her elders and being unsatisfied with their answers. I think she demonstrated more faith in the possibility of redemption by doing so.

    Perhaps an atheist such as myself has no right to make judgments. I do believe in a secular, humanist form of sin and redemption as described by Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. in Letter from a Birmingham Jail:

    How does one determine whether a law is just or unjust? A just law is a man made code that squares with the moral law or the law of God. An unjust law is a code that is out of harmony with the moral law. To put it in the terms of St. Thomas Aquinas: An unjust law is a human law that is not rooted in eternal law and natural law. Any law that uplifts human personality is just. Any law that degrades human personality is unjust. All segregation statutes are unjust because segregation distorts the soul and damages the personality. It gives the segregator a false sense of superiority and the segregated a false sense of inferiority. Segregation, to use the terminology of the Jewish philosopher Martin Buber, substitutes an “I it” relationship for an “I thou” relationship and ends up relegating persons to the status of things. Hence segregation is not only politically, economically and sociologically unsound, it is morally wrong and sinful. Paul Tillich has said that sin is separation. Is not segregation an existential expression of man’s tragic separation, his awful estrangement, his terrible sinfulness? Thus it is that I can urge men to obey the 1954 decision of the Supreme Court, for it is morally right; and I can urge them to disobey segregation ordinances, for they are morally wrong.

  • Kim

    While I commend your reading of Scheaffer, the quote you posted is taken entirely out of context. The book “Pollution and the Death of Man” is a book about care for the earth and a proper view of the natural world in context of God as Creator, and isn’t about this topic at all. The stated quote (taken from page 24 in the text I own) is actually referring to the “plastic culture” as a culture that endorses the use of what is disposable and “nature” in this quote is actually a reference to nature – the natural world that God created. The chapter this selection is taken from is one in which Shaeffer is rebutting pantheism. Its easy to pull bits and pieces (particularly of a stand up guy like Sheaffer – some feel using his name gives credence and power to their words) out of a text and misuse them to support your point (which, in this case, was not the point Sheaffer was making at all).

  • M.J.Davis

    I am impressed by your self-assurance. Only someone who is an impartial judge of character — only someone who has accurately evaluated all of the relevant evidence — would have the confidence to denounce the President as a neo-Nazi supporter. I lack your self-assurance. Much to my chagrin, I confess I am biased. I do not have all of the relevant evidence at my fingertips, and even if I did, I lack your insight into the human psyche. Indeed, if I tried to imitate you, I likely would slander a fellow human being. You, by contrast, do not have to worry about the justice of your judgments. All progressive people agree with you. Your critics cannot accept the validity of your insights because they are blinded by false consciousness.

  • David Graham

    Dear Jake,

    I’ve been following MereO for over a year now and have gratefully appreciated the nuanced political-theological analysis which you and many other contributors regularly provide. Regrettably, I found this article disappointing. I know you didn’t intend this, but it kind of comes across as a heavy-handed pat on the back, a victory speech for NeverTrumpers rather than charitable, critical reflection that can function as an effective admonishment.

    What you’re basically saying is that most American evangelicals are either ignorant, indifferent or just plain evil. Now this may very well be true, but as you know there are complex judgments involved. Does your list of Trump’s sins incontrovertibly reveal a white supremacist at heart? Even in the light of Charlottesville, can we really determine the personal attitudes of a man as impulsive, inconsistent and reactionary as Trump? And what of the meaning of political support? Can a goodwill choice of a perceived lesser evil be defended as a plausible Christian option? My point is not that your answers to such questions are wrong but that enough evangelicals disagree to warrant a little more empathy, or at least the inclusion of alternative perspectives.

    Let me be clear: I’m a Canadian evangelical theologian who naturally sympathizes with your points. I wouldn’t have voted for Trump and to be honest, I don’t personally have much respect for the list of evangelical leaders you call out. (Grudem’s theological method is almost as bad as his political maneuvering.) My overarching concern is that MereO’s generally post-liberal approach to politics has become too narrow to fulfill the goals laid out in your Patreon Campaign announcement. I want this magazine to succeed. But if MereO is going to be credibly taken as an “evangelical First Things”, it will need to better reflect the diversity that is conservative evangelicalism, adding more contributions from those who represent the old-school religious right (or “revanchists”), pragmatic libertarianism and even Trump-esque cultural nationalism.

    • hoosier_bob

      I’m not exactly sure what point your comment is seeking to make. I’m an ex-evangelical who walked away from the movement precisely because it was becoming too defined by a kind of white nationalism. That was especially true during the eight years of the Obama Presidency.

      As you note, evangelicalism contains a number of factions. These factions ended up under the evangelical umbrella for fairly pragmatic reasons. In my view, it’s worth revisiting the basis of that alliance and asking whether this current grouping makes sense any longer. I would probably count myself as a pragmatic libertarian, whose views on these issues generally fit a two-kingdoms approach. I see certain benefits to being in dialogue with post-conservative evangelicals (like the writers here), and post-liberal mainliners. I find a certain value in dialoguing with progressive evangelicals, when they’re not just repackaging the DNC’s political platform in faux biblical garb. But I don’t see much pragmatic value in sharing institutional space with revanchists or cultural nationalists. And I suspect that they feel the same way about folks like me. The rise of neo-evangelicalism in the years following WWII occurred because disparate camps of orthodox Protestants saw a pragmatic value to cooperating. But a lot has changed in the ensuing 70 years. And pragmatic alignments that made sense then probably don’t make sense any longer. That shouldn’t mean that we treat each other as non-Christians. But it does mean that we may not have enough social experiences in common to make it easy for us to share the same institutional space.

      As someone who grew up in a blue-collar context (but who’s now a corporate lawyer at a multi-national law firm), I will say that I don’t believe that most Trumpian nationalists are racists in their day-to-day affairs. But they live in a subculture where race and class are synonymous concepts, and they have difficulty articulating legitimate class grievances without bringing race into the equation unnecessarily. And evangelicals have often perpetuated this. Consider the “cultural Marxism” conspiracy that’s widely peddled in apologetics course at evangelical seminaries, where the emergence of the meritocratic elite is attributed to a plot concocted by the Jewish scholars of the Frankfurt School. So, there’s a tendency to transform legitimate grievances about self-serving elites into illegitimate grievances against Jews.

      The emergence of the meritocratic elite in the 1980s and 1990s has reshaped our culture in remarkable ways. Many of the problems facing working-class whites are due to the inability of our political structures to adjust to the rapid emergence of this new class and their unrivaled access to power in a global, information-based economy. But it’s not just our political structures that have failed to adjust. The institutional structure of Protestantism have also failed to adjust. The mainline churches largely serve the elites of 2-3 generations ago. And evangelical churches still largely serve middle-class whites. Evangelicalism has made some inroads within the meritocracy, but this movement has little to show for itself institutionally. Tim Keller’s City to City project is about the extent of it. And that’s largely because we’ve been trying to plant churches among the meritocratic elite that still fit within the white middle-class social structure of evangelicalism. In other words, we’ve been trying to integrate elites into evangelicalism in ways that don’t provoke the ire of the revanchists or the Trumpian nationalists.

      I’m not exactly sure what MO’s new project is. But the world has changed a lot since the pragmatic alliance we’ve come to know as evangelicalism was formed. I see no reason to accept that outdated alliance as a given. If the folks associated with MO are looking to dialogue on reaching the meritocratic elite, then they should just do that. There’s no need to find a role for revanchists and Trumpian nationalists in that discussion.

      • M.J.Davis

        In “On Trump and Repentance,” Jake Meador relied upon cherry-picked evidence, much of which lacked probative value, in order to justify his denunciation of the President and some of the President’s evangelical supporters. Mr. Meador’s sloppy analysis and lack of charity were surprising. Indeed, so out of character was this particular essay that it elicited a gently-worded rebuke from David Graham, to which you have responded. You argue evangelicals are badly divided, and you have employed various metrics to describe the divisions among evangelicals, e.g., “white nativists” versus “Burkian globalists” and “populists” versus “elites.” While I question the validity of the metrics you have employed, I agree deep divisions exist. So what happens next? Mere Orthodoxy could ignore the people you pejoratively describe as “revanchists” and “cultural nationalists” and attempt, instead, to engage the “meritocratic elite” in conversation. Maybe the latter will respond. I doubt it, but I could be wrong. For my part, I’d like to see constructive dialogue across the partisan divide. Our country desperately needs robust conversations about a whole host of cultural, political, and economic disputes. However, such conversations will not occur, much less bear fruit, unless participants are committed to resolving disputes in good faith by means of evidence and logic.
        * * *
        I have no idea what’s being taught in evangelical seminaries, but your comments about the Frankfurt School strike me as being a bit too glib. Do you really think it’s possible to understand the origins of early 21st century progressivism without a working knowledge of Theodor Adorno and his colleagues?

        • hoosier_bob

          I agree that it would be more profitable to seek dialogue rather than engage in finger-wagging. But managing disagreement has never been something that evangelicals do well, especially when it comes to social issues like race and gender. As Molly Worthen documented well, much of evangelicalism’s attraction historically lay in its ability to provide certain answers to otherwise complex social issues. So, it’s unsurprising that never-Trump evangelicals have sought to moralize their differences with Trump’s evangelical supporters. I would argue that they’ve made the same error when it comes to dialoguing on questions of gender.

          I see evangelicalism breaking up in a three-way split, particularly centered around questions of race and gender. Group A consists of older evangelicals (cultural nationalists and revanchists), who tend to hold to more traditionalist views on both race and gender. Group B consists of younger, educated evangelicals, who tend to hold to more meritocratic (libertarian) views on both race and gender. Group C consists of folks like the Gospel Coalition crowd, who hold to meritocratic views on race and traditionalist views on gender.

          I suspect that we’re at a point where Group B is likely to leave the evangelical fold. It has the money and resources to build its own institutions. The model of “church” for these Christians is still taking shape. But it will gradually disabuse itself of traditionalists, seeing them as deadweight to its overall project. It’s important to note, though, that these folks are not progressives. If anything, they’re likely to adopt a more two-kingdoms, libertarian view of social issues. Like the meritocracy generally, this will be a church culture that avoids explicit morality (whether of the left-wing or right-wing variety). It will trust that people have the wisdom to make good choices. This group will remain small in number, but will have influence disproportionate to its size.

          Group A will be fine because it represents the space that evangelicals have traditionally occupied. It will fade with time as its members age, but will remain a force for years to come.

          Group C finds itself in a precarious position. It cannot join with Group B because members of the meritocracy will not want to be saddled with social ties to people who hold traditionalist views on gender-related issues. But Group C is having a rough time finding a place within Group A, as Russell Moore is quickly learning.

          The MO writers, despite their youth, fall squarely within Group C. In some ways, I view this blog and others like it (Gospel Coalition) with interest because of their experimental nature. Group C is trying to carrying out a hostile takeover of evangelicalism from Group A. The more that Group C can minimize its differences with Group A (e.g., around issues of race), the more quietly it can operate. The more those divisions move to the fore, the more Group A becomes aware of Group C’s intentions. That’s why Group C spends so much time railing against progressive evangelicals and Group B (libertarian) evangelicals.

          In an odd way, I find the Group A position to be more intellectually consistent. Race and gender are both social constructs, and one is either going to hold to traditionalist, libertarian, or progressive views on such issues. And I don’t see why one would hold to different views on one from the other. For as long as I can remember, I’ve held to fairly libertarian views on both. And I can easily understand why people may hold to traditionalist or progressive views on both. But Group C’s position strikes me as enigmatic: Why adopt libertarian (and sometimes progressive) views on race, and then traditionalist views on gender? It makes no sense to me.

          As for me, I’ve largely cast my lot with Group B. I don’t really mind Group A. Our positions on issues are dissimilar enough that we aren’t really fighting over institutions that we have in common. We have very little overlapping cultural turf. It’s Group C that tends to annoy me. That’s because they needlessly engage in moralistic attacks against Group B to buy themselves credibility with Group A. I get tired of these vain attacks. And it gives me a fair bit of joy to see them face blowback from Group A for engaging in the same kind of shenanigans.

  • Paul Morelli

    There is something missing in this commentary… many christians and conservatives did not vote “for trump” but “voted against Hilary” … many christians voted to defend life and the 66 million children killed by abortion… some christians voted also to hopefully get non activist supreme court justices which they believe has more effect on the future of the nation than any decision he can make in 4 years…. these 2 items alone would have made the difference in the outcome of the election. Remember, just because some voted for him does not mean they endorse him in everything he says or does. for some the abortion issue is so important they would vote for anyone just because of this one issue.

    • hoosier_bob

      As of a couple of months ago, nearly 80% of white evangelicals approved of the job that the President was doing and about 65% strongly approved. The data simply don’t support the notion that white evangelicals were holding their noses and voting against Hillary.

  • Roger Edward Harris

    This article must have been written by the same hate mongers trying to suppress free speech, tear down statues and rewrite history were the Democrats weren’t the party of slavery, Jim Crowe, the KKK, the filibusterers of the Civil Rights Act and the Voting Rights Act. This is blatant hate speech.

  • I very much appreciate this article.

  • Darrell

    Great essay. Thank you.

  • M.J.Davis

    The almost simultaneous publication of “Social Conservatism vs Tribal Nationalism,” “On Trump and Repentance,” and “Paul and the Slave Girl” suggests the editors of Mere Orthodoxy have decided support for President Trump is morally unjustified. Is that, in fact, the editorial position of Mere Orthodoxy?

  • OrthoAnabaptist

    Thank you Jake. This is spot on. Take courage and continue sounding the alarm, no matter what.