I wanted to write a column about a picture of Jerry Falwell Jr. You may have seen it. He’s posing with Donald Trump, a framed copy of Playboy magazine prominently on the wall behind them. I mean I really, really wanted to write about that.
But writing about that picture is easy pickings, and though I’ve got one in me that’s been percolating for years, a rant against the religious right wouldn’t be anything new. I would also be ignoring the organizations and people where my attention should be focused instead-the people who aren’t the subjects of a screaming Huffington Post headline or guests on tonight’s Hannity.
So let’s talk about them.
Public Faith and a positive way forward for faith-based involvement in society
“I’ve long been concerned about [the] fact that those of us who identify as conservative don’t really feel like our party is concerned with issues of race, and hasn’t been for a long time,” Noble said.
On immigration, Noble added, “We have people in our country, we have children who don’t know anything but America. How do we deal compassionately and justly, recognizing that [immigrants] are human beings?”
Immigration in particular is an issue on which former stalwarts of the religious right, like the Southern Baptist Convention, have backed away from the hysterics of the right-wing media.
“It’s not unusual that we have politicians timid in the face of fear,” Russell Moore, president of the Southern Baptist Convention’s Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission, said in a recent article in The New York Times. “But the task of the church is a different one.”
The convention also recently passed a resolution to “encourage Southern Baptist churches and families to welcome and adopt refugees into their churches and homes.” Moore is also involved in efforts to encourage Republican lawmakers to move on criminal justice reform, pushing for more treatment and rehab-based programs to replace harsh sentencing laws.
Noble and Moore, along with others, are also members of a group of conservative evangelicals who have refused to support Donald Trump’s candidacy for president. Speaking of the religious right, Noble said, “A lot of our leaders have been revealed to be inadequate for the job. They’ve accepted things that 10-15 years ago they would have never overlooked.”
Statements like that have drawn the ire of religious right leaders such as Falwell Jr., Gary Bauer, the Family Research Council and Robert Jeffress, who has referred to evangelicals who won’t vote for Trump as “panty-waisted, weak-kneed Christians.”
Twilight of the religious right
The religious right’s list of sins is long and, unlike the Falwell Jr. photo, not particularly funny.
In the ’90s, my dad, who worked at a small college in Michigan, had the honor of escorting Archbishop Desmond Tutu around campus while he was there to speak to students. To the day he died, my father, an agnostic, spoke of the archbishop’s love and humanity in the face of the horror of apartheid.
In 1985, the Rev. Jerry Falwell, founder of the Moral Majority, called Archbishop Tutu a “phony” and urged his followers to support the apartheid government of South Africa, not just with their words, but also with their money.
For decades, leaders on the religious right have given theological cover to racism, misogyny and hate, sacrificing not just their own witness but, by association, the witness of millions of Christians trying to do good work in a broken world.
Certainly there are many Christian leaders and organizations doing great work and living in accordance with Jesus’ command to love our neighbors. Noble is quick to defend them and points to Moore’s work with the ERLC as an example of positive faith-based involvement in society.
It is also true that there are Christian leaders who have bound their faith so closely to a political ideology that the two appear to be interchangeable. Faith is not subservient to politics, and when religious leaders are in lockstep with a political party on every issue, or with every candidate, a deeper examination of that relationship is necessary.
The silver lining to the religious right’s eagerness to endorse Trump is the hope that it will serve as the final nail in the coffin for the idea that all Christians must fully endorse the views and candidates of a particular political party.
“If you look at millennials, they detest Trump,” Noble said. “They see through him; they recognize he’s flawed; they want nothing to do with him. If that’s the face we say evangelicals should be voting for, we will do damage for generations.”
Note: Alan Noble was gracious enough to give me more than an hour of his time for a broad-ranging interview on several topics of interest to faith-based voters. I will follow up this column with another in a few days that dives into the particulars of Public Faith and how they hope to add a positive Christian voice on issues as wide-ranging as climate change, immigration, racial injustice and the state of Christian leadership in the public sphere.
John Graeber is a writer in Chattanooga who has also contributed to Glide Magazine. Follow him on Twitter at @jbgraeber. The opinions expressed in this column belong solely to the author, not Nooga.com or its employees.