President Donald J. Trump’s unhinged narcissism has bloomed into blasphemy. Earlier this week, Trump quoted approvingly a conspiracy theorist named Wayne Allyn Root who had compared the president to the supreme being.
Trump tweeted out a thank-you for Root’s “very nice words,” which the president quoted: “President Trump is the greatest President for Jews and for Israel in the history of the world, not just America, he is the best President for Israel in the history of the world … and the Jewish people in Israel love him … like he’s the King of Israel. They love him like he is the second coming of God.”
That may have been the nadir of Trump’s fevered week of outlandish statements, head-spinning reversals and usual stream of loopy distortions of fact, incredible denials and outright lies. Many of us (unfortunately) have become inured to the president’s daily outrages; we have grown accustomed to his constant bullying, his racism, his xenophobia; we have adjusted to his nonsensical rants and war on facts.
Still, there is one group of his loyal supporters who should be unequivocally outraged by Trump’s blasphemy: conservative Christians. Leaders of the Southern Baptist Convention and ultra-right theological institutions should have called press conferences, released fiery statements of disapproval, publicly called the president on the carpet. But there has been precious little of that. Franklin Graham, where are you?
There have been very few positive developments to come from the Trump administration, very little that has boosted civic life or fostered the values of democracy. But Trump has inadvertently made one contribution that will enhance the common good: He has stripped away the already-fraying mantle of moral superiority worn by political leaders of the Christian right. They can no longer be taken seriously as arbiters of morality or virtue.
The decline of the Christian right as a highly regarded political force has been a couple of decades in the making. Several of its leaders have been caught up in scandal. Georgia’s Ralph Reed, for example, never recovered his influence after federal investigators disclosed that he was secretly paid to lobby for one group of Native American casinos while publicly engaging conservative Christian organizations to act against a rival group. The Southern Baptist Convention finds itself in a long-overdue accounting for decades of sexual abuse by some of its pastors, many of whom preyed on young women while other church leaders turned a blind eye. Moreover, many millennials who grew up attending ultraconservative churches simply don’t agree with some of the tenets of their faith, such as the harsh opposition to same-sex marriage.
But it took religious fundamentalists’ enthusiastic embrace of Donald J. Trump — a twice-divorced adulterer and serial sexual molester who rarely sets foot in a church — to finally strip away its tattered veil of virtue. Graham, one of the most outspoken of conservative Christian leaders, is Trump’s toady, endorsing the president’s every act — no matter how vile, profane, cruel or racist — and asserting that Trump’s presidency is the will of God. After this, it will be very difficult to take him and his cohort seriously as religious leaders.
Their “Christianity” never represented the values of those who attempt to follow the teachings of Jesus Christ. When Jerry Falwell founded the Moral Majority in 1979, he launched a political movement that insinuated itself into the fabric of the Republican Party. He and his allies created a founding myth that associated the movement with the Christian right’s opposition to Roe v. Wade, the 1973 Supreme Court ruling that legalized abortion, but the myth is just that. (It took Falwell six years to recognize his opposition to Roe?)
The truth is that Falwell and other leaders of the Christian right were furious with then-President Jimmy Carter, who would not allow their racism the imprimatur of federal government assistance. Some ultra-right Christian colleges were refusing to admit black students, and the Internal Revenue Service finally got tired of their obstinacy. In 1976, the IRS withdrew the tax-exempt status of Bob Jones University in Greenville, South Carolina. (Its founder had claimed that the Bible endorsed segregation.) That is what motivated Falwell and his friends to start a political movement.
It’s past time for their influence to end.