Growing up in a north-Dallas Baptist stronghold, I never enjoyed the routine of going to church every Sunday, and my family definitely had a less than stellar attendance record. But that certainly didn’t deter me from pursuing my own understanding of my faith as a Christian. I was always taught to treat others the way I expected to be treated, to always give forgiveness even if it wasn’t earned, and to live a life that reflects the love and kindness that Jesus showed towards others. From my perspective, that all sounds like common-sense Christianity. And yet, it’s not. As I’ve been sorting out my own spiritual identity, I’ve had an experience similar to most others born and raised in the South, which is bearing witness to white evangelical communities that seem to constantly spout their own brand of Christian politics that reeks of hypocrisy.
These are the same people that we love to ridicule on social media, pointing out how they’ll happily share pictures from their overseas mission trip while at the same time condemning those risking their lives to come to America. In any other political climate, it might be easier to just let it sit in the back of my mind and not acknowledge it on a daily basis. But that’s not where we’re at right now. Instead, we’ve found ourselves in a place where white evangelicals feel emboldened to continue raising their voice in the most controversial political conversations in an effort to transform America into their own vision of a wholesome Christian nation.
It’s certainly not fair to say that all followers of a certain religion should fall toward a certain side of the political spectrum based on a single person’s interpretation. If you bring up the phrase “love thy neighbor,” there are a million ways that people try to spin it. But what seems to define the white evangelical interpretation, especially when it comes to political issues, is the exclusivity that they assign to it: “love thy neighbor … as long as they’re white, straight, cisgendered, Christian, wealthy, and American.” And that’s a mentality that clearly manifests itself in their politics. In one poll conducted by The Washington Post and the Kaiser Foundation, 53 percent of white evangelicals said that an individual’s poverty was the result of a lack of effort. During the saga of Brett Kavanaugh’s Supreme Court confirmation hearing, 48 percent said that they would have wanted to see him confirmed even if the sexual assault allegations against him were true. Sixty-eight percent of them don’t feel that the United States has any responsibility to accept refugees, and more than half view America’s declining white population as a negative thing.
This is by no means a new trend in American politics. What we know to be modern evangelical mobilization has been around since the Moral Majority, a political organization associated with the Christian Right that was a prominent force throughout the 1980s. That mobilization has only intensified under the Trump administration, which has relied heavily on its religious voting base. It’s always been the same talking points, the same fear-based tactics, and the same idea of righteous condemnation that have been the central points of the evangelical political movement.
As much as I’ve watched these people proselytize on Facebook or appear as guests on Fox News, it’s hard to determine where my personal breaking point was. I’ve never been shocked to see evangelicals make statements in opposition to LGBTQ+ rights or reproductive rights because that’s just what I’ve come to expect. If I had to guess, I would say that it might have been when I saw their absolute lack of sympathy for the plight of immigrant families fleeing to the United States, many of whom are certain that risking death on the journey here is worth it if it means escaping the violence afflicting their communities.
It doesn’t take a biblical scholar to understand that these people are spitting on the basic principles of a gospel that commands us to not oppress the foreigner, criticizes those who refuse to help the poor, and condemns the passing of judgment upon others. Interpretation of scripture varies depending on the individual, but to simply ignore the messages of the gospel altogether for the sake of furthering your own personal political preferences is nothing but selfish and disgraceful. I constantly have to remind myself that this subset of America’s Christian population is just that: a smaller part of a politically diverse whole.
There shouldn’t be a universal expectation for how we as Christians should sit on the political spectrum, because while our faith might be rooted in a singular belief in Christ, everything in between seems to vary from person to person. The intersection of religion and politics is an inherently complex issue that has been a contentious debate for thousands of years, and it’s probably going to stay that way for the foreseeable future. But it shouldn’t be too much to ask that we refrain from looking like hypocrites to the rest of the world.