What explains the Christian right’s love affair with Donald Trump?
He’s profane, twice-divorced and a self-promoter. He has made a living on building casinos and objectifying women. He worships wealth and struts with arrogance. He shows little to no Christian commitment.
Trump is the antithesis of Protestant piety, humility, fidelity and honesty.
Yet conservative Christians cheered when he “waltzed” onto the platform at a faith-based gathering, according to a news story by Brian Kaylor, contributing editor for EthicsDaily.com.
Kaylor reported that ticket sales for the Faith & Freedom Coalition conference “skyrocketed” after Trump was added to the lineup.
Conference attendees gave Trump “thunderous applause during standing ovations for his speech.” They flocked to have their photographs taken with him.
Why the adulation for one who has mocked so much of traditional Christianity for so long with his widely publicized lifestyle?
One answer is that the conservative Christian activists at the gathering were more conservative than Christian. Politics was more important than piety.
The event after all was sponsored by Ralph Reed, who has used for decades the Christian community to advance his political ideology. The fact that he would put the word “faith” in the name of his newest organization underscores a cheeky disregard for genuine Christianity.
Surely many evangelical Christians find Reed’s regiment of rightwing Christians to be inauthentic representatives of historic Christianity.
A second possible answer is that some conservative Christians may not really know enough about Trump to know that his lifestyle is anathema to their core beliefs.
On face value that may sound farfetched. But consider how some evangelicals and fundamentalists have retreated from the larger culture into a seemingly airtight Christian subculture.
They home-school their children, seeking to protect them from worldly influence. They watch only Christian TV. They may only read selective Christian news sources, such as Baptist Press, which has yet to report on Trump’s F-bomb speech in April, or the Christian Post, which failed to mention Trump’s use of profanity over the weekend, describing Trump only as a “business mogul.”
A third possible explanation is that conservative Christians have heard the dog-whistle from some of their leaders. As dogs hear the high frequency that humans can’t hear, some audiences hear messages that others may not hear.
Have religious right leaders given the dog-whistle to politically active conservative Christians to look past Trump’s dismal moral record?
Franklin Graham gave a certain sound about Trump on Easter morning – of all times.
The head of the James Dobson-founded Family Research Council, Tony Perkins, sent a signal through the Christian Post that Trump is OK. Perkins validated Trump as a person with good moral values when he added Trump to the lineup at the October 2011 Values Voter Summit, a conference that advertises itself as a champion of traditional values.
Would a good shepherd ever identify Trump as a champion of traditional moral values?
A fourth explanation is that some conservative Christians have pivoted away from piety, humility, fidelity and honesty as core values in the public square.
Given the sexual and financial scandals that have roared through conservative Christianity, some may have decided that it is safer to be anti-health care, anti-taxes, anti-Islam, anti-undocumented immigrant and anti-climate change science.
Making those issues the litmus test for the moral candidate is a lot less risky than depending on politicians to walk their talk about what used to be traditional family values.
A fifth answer to why conservative Christians cheered for Trump is that they hate President Barack Obama.
They can overlook the character flaws of any presidential candidate if that individual can defeat the president or will degrade his personhood. They view Obama as an illegitimate president born in Kenya who is a secret Muslim with a socialist agenda.
Never mind that such an attitude is devoid of facts and tainted with bigotry. For the faithful at the fringes of reality, Trump is a hero for denigrating the president.
When Donald Trump becomes the star at a conservative Christian conference, Christianity is in crisis.
Robert Parham is executive editor of EthicsDaily.com and executive director of its parent organization, the Baptist Center for Ethics.