Anyone with access to news knows that the past five days have shaken everyone who believes the US should be a place of respect for people of all races and religions. More fundamentally, it should be a country with the moral authority to confront violence and the violation of human rights. Moral authority is the quality of being respected for moral commitments based on evidence from acting in accordance with basic moral principles. Sadly, recent events show how the US and the Evangelical community are quickly losing their moral authority.
Faith leaders often serve as a source of moral authority for a country and community. Unfortunately, among the many faith communities in the US, the Evangelical community has recently been the weakest and the most in danger of losing respect for whatever moral authority it has left. Evangelicals stood out in the last election for looking the other way as Trump displayed his total lack of a moral fiber. Now the Evangelical community stands out again in its tepid response to the events in Charlottesville.
Granted, several Evangelicals denounced the alt-right. For example, Ed Stetzer at the Billy Graham Center called for Trump’s advisors to help him speak against the violence. The Southern Baptist Convention issued a declaration condemning white supremacists. The problem with these announcements is they are half measures that avoid speaking to the heart of the problem, which Trump himself.
Worse, some, notably Franklin Graham, defend Trump and shift the blame onto the government of Charlottesville. (See the excellent summary article in Christianity Today). One can only conclude that Graham is so enamored of power that he is unwilling to assert any moral limit on what this President can do before Graham says “enough”!
Half measures are not going to do the job of guiding the country in its response to Charlottesville, or the rise in hate crimes in general. Recent events show Trump supports the alt-right and will not condemn it. Just look at the past year. Violence against minorities has risen sharply under Trump. There has been a 91% rise in hate crimes. According to the Southern Poverty Law Center, 31% of people who commit hate crimes specifically reference Trump as a justification. Trump’s role in the violence and rise in hate crimes cannot be avoided, and must be called out. The Church should lead this effort rather than defending Trump or side stepping how the problem has grown with him in the presidency.
This pattern of moral equivocation within US Evangelicalism is more than unfortunate. It predicts an inevitable crisis within Evangelicalism that is already evident in the split between the white US Evangelical community and the rest of the Evangelical world (not just the US minority population). Recent statements like these about Charlottesville, whether half measured criticism or outright defense, contribute to the broad perception that US Evangelicals are more concerned with politics than truth, more interested in power than morality, and unwilling to correct their own when they violate the most basic understanding of Biblical standards for mercy, justice, and humility. Those in the Evangelical community who are offended by what they, and there are many, need to find their voice and hold their leaders to account for protecting Trump.
It is past time for the Evangelical community to admit it erred in defending Trump and say enough is enough.